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TTC union rep blames policy change for worker assault

Guard punched by passenger on March 17


(Canadian OH&S News) — The main union for employees of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is citing a recent policy change — which places a subway guard in the last car of a train, rather than in the fifth — as a factor in a recent incident in which a female guard was assaulted by a passenger.

The assailant punched the worker in the face during a station stop on March 17, cracking her denture in two, according to Kevin Morton, the secretary-treasurer of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113. “She lost three teeth and broke her bridge,” said Morton.

TTC media rep Stuart Green said that the incident had occurred on a westbound train at Lansdowne Station at around 10:40 p.m.

“Our Transit Enforcement Unit responded, as did the Toronto Police, about ten or 15 minutes later,” explained Green, adding that police “attended at Kipling Station to take statements and that sort of thing.” The victim was offered medical attention, but declined it.

The TTC enacted the policy to move each subway guard to the sixth and last car on Feb. 13. The guard had been enclosed in a cab in the fifth car, with access to a window to check human traffic on platforms, whereas in the sixth car, the guard is now separated from subway passengers only by a partition.

For Morton, this lack of enclosure has been making employees vulnerable to potential violence. “This person came to her sideways and blindsided her,” he said about the recent assault. He added that the new system leaves guards open to the public, whereas under the old policy, “nobody can come up behind you, beside you. They’d have to come and face you, because you’re actually in a cab and you’re looking outside.”

Both Green and Morton confirmed that the policy change had stemmed from serious air-conditioning problems on Line 2 subways last summer. Because the first and last cars of each train were always cool, guards were permitted to work from the last cars.

“Basically, it was for comfort,” said Morton. “Guards, who are working eight hours, took it upon themselves to do it, because they were sweating like pigs.” He added that it would have made more sense for the TTC to keep the fifth cars air-conditioned instead of the sixth ones, charging that the guards had “put themselves in harm’s way because the TTC didn’t put the air conditioning in the fifth car.”

Green countered that there had been no reported safety incidents during the car change over the summer and that guards still had to leave the fifth-car enclosure occasionally.

“Regardless of which car they’re in,” said Green, “there are still some stops where you have to come out because the platform is on the other side. So in either case, the fifth or sixth car, there’s a change in the side that the doors open, so the guard has to move between the cab and the window.”

Last fall, the TTC began the process of switching to a One-Person Train Operation (OPTO) system by phasing out the guard positions (COHSN, Oct. 4). Morton scoffed at Green’s claim in October that OPTO would make subways safer for employees by eliminating guard assaults.

“No, it’s this cost-saving device,” said Morton. “That’s like saying, ‘I’m only going to have one police officer in a cruiser because it’s safer.’ I don’t think so.” Regarding the notion that OPTO trains are safer than trains with two workers, he added: “I can’t even imagine making that argument.”

Green maintained that the TTC takes the safety of all of its employees very seriously. “We regularly look at our employees to ensure that the working conditions are as safe as possible,” he said.

“The suggestion that moving from the fifth car to the sixth car in the guard position somehow changes the safety of the exposure of the operators is not something that we think is accurate.”