by Noaman G. Ali
“We said we would be willing—and this was just dialogue, wasn’t offers passed back and forth—that we’d take this,” Bob Kinnear makes a zero with his fingers, “provided that the Toronto Transit Commission maintains the level of service.”
But according to Kinnear, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 (ATU 113), which represents over 10,000 TTC workers, the City’s negotiators rejected the proposition during bargaining last year.
“You know why? Because for Mayor Ford it’s all about an ideology that they have.” Rob Ford and his crew would rather give a pay increase, so that in the end they can blame tax increases on the workers.
BASICS caught up with Bob Kinnear for an interview at a community event organized by Ward 9 councillor Maria Augimeri to discuss Mayor Rob Ford’s imposition of cuts to city services.
Despite the highest ridership figures ever, the TTC recently announced major service cuts to dozens of routes, and also jacked up fares from $2.50 a token to $2.60, and from $121 for a Metropass to $126. That’s increasing fees despite cutting services. Kinnear says the union is absolutely opposed to fare hikes and service reductions.
A one-percent increase in wages for TTC workers translates to $10 million a year. At two-percent per year over three years, that’s at least $60 million the City could’ve saved.
“The service cuts being proposed [this year] are $14 million. Not only could they maintain service levels with no reductions, they could even add $6 million in improvements,” had they accepted the wage freeze, Kinnear notes.
The offer to take a wage freeze in return for maintaining service levels resembles the recent bargaining offer made by City workers to freeze wages in return for maintaining services slated for cutting by Ford’s administration.
But as Kinnear points out, these were simply moves made to gain public sympathy against a hostile employer, but workers’ pay is not actually the problem. “The problem with transit that needs to be addressed to maintain the costs, at the very least, if not reduce them, is provincial funding.
“The TTC currently receives about 28% to subsidize transit costs. Every other transit system in North America is subsidized much more. In Chicago, you’re talking 45%, New York City, 50%, both the federal and state level governments make contributions. In Toronto we’re collecting 72% out of the fare box, there’s not another transit system anywhere that does that.”
The other problem is the ideology that sees investments in our society as costs to be avoided.
“There’s a difference between a cost and an investment,” Kinnear says. “You don’t say fixing the roof is a cost, so to save money we’re not going to do it. Eventually that’s going to leak into your walls and the cost to repair that will be tenfold.
“That’s just ass-backward thinking. But it doesn’t surprise me coming from an ass like Ford.”
Ford’s worldview is different from Kinnear’s because their worlds are very different. Where Ford grew up rich and comfortable, Kinnear points to his own upbringing by a single mother and the importance that public transit and social services played.
“My mom didn’t have no money. If the community centre cost me money to go, I wasn’t going. I learned to swim at a young age. I grew up in Cabbagetown, and at the youth centre, played basketball, even got a t-shirt for my team, made me feel part of it. Had to pay nothing for it.”
He was never very good at basketball, but those kinds of social services kept him away from less savoury activities. But now, every use of city pools will cost people $2, and many other user fees are planned.
“The only car we had was the streetcar on Queen Street. It’s important socially to the city that people have the ability to move around the city, whether it’s to see my grandmother or other relatives, there’s a social value to ensuring that all people can move around the city efficiently.
“It pisses me off that politicians, particularly the right-winger and conservative politicians, don’t recognize that or talk about it in that framework. It’s an asset to the city and not a liability, and they’re treating it like a liability.”
He also notes that putting money in policing as opposed to social services is not good policy.
“I grew up in an underprivileged community. What Councillor Adam Vaughan was saying about [the choice between] community centres or police stations—I’ve experienced both. The cost of having me in a police station and all of that was much more than six months in the community centre. Again, it’s an investment not a cost.”
Kinnear hopes to see the people of the city and its workers working together to build a better future. “What I would like to see is more involvement from the community. Come down to the Commission meeting. Meet us, we’re not those bad people that the Toronto Sun writes about.”
Together, Kinnear says, we have to fight the cuts. “Anybody can tear down the city, that’s easy, but we need to continue to build and invest, particularly in our children and the services that affect our children.”