Union discredits TTC workers re: drug test

TTC union's opposition to drug & alcohol testing makes TTC workers look guilty.

Last Tuesday,
TTC workers are already subject to drug and alcohol testing after a serious incident, on reasonable suspicion, post-treatment and pre-employment, writes Byford in the Toronto Sun.   In fact, 30 times last year, TTC employees tested positive for impairment in these tests – or, equally damning, refused to provide a sample.  It’s a real problem when your business is safely driving passengers around a busy city.  When the public is rightly urged to take transit as a safer option to driving, when going out for a night on the town, it’s imperative that transit actually be a safer option.  Byford is right to bring in random testing to provide an additional incentive to not show up for duty impaired.

Does random drug & alcohol testing cast an aspersion on TTC employees?  No.  But, the union’s visceral opposition to it certainly has.

Random testing was approved by the TTC board of directors in 2011, but not implemented for financial reasons.  According to Byford, that board of directors has now approved the budget required to get serious about safety.  Kudos to them.

The union – in this case Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 – however, has fought random testing every step of the way.  According to ATU113 president Bob Kennear, speaking with Jerry Agar on CFRB Newstalk1010 Tuesday, “This casts an aspersion amongst all of our employees. The  TTC has yet to prove that there’s any systemic problem at the TTC.  It’s important to note that we do have 13,000 employees at the TTC so there will be an incident or two, that happens in any large body of employees.”

But here’s the thing:  Does it cast an aspersion on TTC employees?  No.  And, yes.

TTC CEO Andy Byford sent this memo to staff saying he will introduce random drug & alcohol testing. [credit: Brad Ross, TTC]
TTC CEO Andy Byford sent this memo to staff saying he will introduce random drug & alcohol testing. [credit: Brad Ross, TTC]
Random testing doesn’t, in any way, reflect poorly on the reputation of the TTC, its employees as a group, the ATU113 or any individual employee.  In fact, it does the opposite:  It reflects positively on all of them.  They look like professionals who are committed to operational excellence and passenger safety.  They should take pride playing a leading role in making public transit the safest and most reliable transportation choice available to the public.

Bob Kinnear should have picked up this initiative and waved its flag proudly, claiming the high ground for his members.  But, he didn’t.

In fact, by decrying this initiative – by fighting it tooth and nail – by screaming his opposition from the tallest mountaintop and on every media outlet, he has cast a shadow of disrepute on every member of his local at the TTC.  Where they could have been responsible, professionals, standing up for public safety – the members of ATU113 have painted themselves as a clutch of ne’er do wells more concerned with covering up the criminal behaviour of (what is hopefully) a few drunkards and addicts who show up to work unable to safely perform their duties.

Why, in God’s name, would Kinnear want to do that?  The first hint is the pat answer he tried to foist on Newstalk1010’s Agar.  He bemoaned the fact that Byford acted “unilaterally” instead of waiting for the end of a kangaroo arbitration process.  The TTC and the union have disagreed on this issue before, taking the matter to arbitration.  Arbitration in Ontario, of course, is a joke.  This one has dragged on for years, with no resolution in sight.  Farcical arbitration is every union’s secret weapon in contract negotiations and ATU113 wants to keep it strong.  But, they should compromise on this issue, for the good of the public – and themselves.

Smart TTC workers will applaud Byford for this action. They’re hard working, dedicated operators who take pride in excellent performance and unparalleled safety.

Rather than stand idly by, while the kabuki theatre of arbitration continues on unending, Byford recognized the TTC has a real problem with impaired drivers.  A real problem that threatens real lives and requires real action.  Bravo Byford, for stepping up.

And, Bravo to the hundreds of smart TTC workers who will also applaud (perhaps privately) their CEO for forcing this matter.  They’re smart, dedicated public employees who show up ready to work safely, do a good job and who take pride in their performance.  They can and should be proud of their safety record and this new initiative to weed out the addicts among them who threaten public safety.

A reasonable short-term compromise is possible

A reasonable short-term compromise that the union should readily agree to is this one: Immediately commence random (or, better: 100% and mandatory) breath alcohol testing at the start and end of every shift for every employee in a safety-sensitive position.  This would ensure no one impaired by alcohol is working in a safety-critical role at the TTC.  No one can argue with the efficacy, and ease of use, of modern breathalyzer technology. Simple.  Fast.  Fair.

Testing for impairment from marijuana or other drug use, is a more difficult matter.  The TTC should wait on the establishment of a national standard for detectable marijuana impairment.  I don’t believe such a standard yet exists, but it will come before the federal government can legalize marijuana use nation-wide: something that’s been promised for next spring.  So, this won’t be an interminable wait.  Who could disagree with this approach?

I’m sure we’ll see!