Responding to what they called a recent avalanche of media-fuelled criticism, ATU Local 113 called Tuesday for a series of town hall meetings so transit workers and TTC customers can work out ways of improving services while building a new level of respect and support.
“As a union, we will be prepared to listen to constructive criticism and take it to heart,” said Bob Kinnear, President ATU Local 113. “We’ll listen to customer complaints if they are presented in a reasonable way and we are given the courtesy of a courteous reply.”
Kinnear said the objective of the meetings will be to repair the damage that has been done to their reputation and their relationships with fellow Torontonians.
In the meantime, Kinnear pleaded with TTC patrons to stop harassing and insulting transit workers by waving their cell phone cameras in their faces or spitting on them.
“Stop calling them lazy and overpaid,” he added. “Stop the video stalking of drivers when they stop for a washroom break. We’re entitled to washroom breaks, like any human being should be.’
After the recent fare increase, TTC employees braced themselves, once again, for an increase in insults and assaults. “But the recent media focus on a handful of TTC workers has made a bad situation much worse,” he said.
Many operators now hesitate to take a washroom break for fear of ridicule or embarrassment if their picture ends up in the newspaper or a YouTube video. (Kinnear pointed out the common problems of chronic urinary retention: urinary tract infections, kidney infections, kidney failure, bladder cancer and prostrate problems.)
He asked the media not to publish such pictures or video because it only gives readers and viewers one side of the story. “Things aren’t always black and white, even when they might seem black and white to some people,” he said. “People are entitled to defend themselves and tell their side of the story.”
Kinnear made it clear that the union takes criticism seriously and wants to address the issues. But he took TTC Chief General Manager Gary Webster to task for failing to take responsibility for managerial decisions that also angered many customers. Like the recent token fiasco. Or the staff cutbacks, chronic government underfunding and St. Clair cost overruns.
In order to improve rider satisfaction, Kinnear admitted that some of his employees need customer service training and counseling. Some more than others, he said. “We want a better relationship with our customers, because, frankly, it is hell out there right now,” said Kinnear.
At the same time, he wants the public to understand that transit workers do not set fares, decide how many vehicles are available or control the traffic or the weather.
“We are doing the best we can, given the circumstances and the tools we are presented with,” he said.
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