June 14, 2019 8:12 pm
Updated: June 14, 2019 8:36 pm

Kelowna bus driver’s dismissal for texting behind the wheel justified: arbitrator

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A text about getting takeout for dinner has cost a Kelowna bus driver his job.

Tim Wesman was fired after being caught texting behind the wheel with passengers on board.

The 59-year-old man was driving the 97 UBCO bus down Harvey Avenue in January when he picked up his cellphone and started texting.

Another driver saw him and reported the incident, which was caught on surveillance video.

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According to arbitration documents, the video shows Wesman holding his cellphone with both hands and driving with his wrists for about 30 seconds. His top speed while doing so was 45 kilometres an hour.

Wesman’s employer First Canada ULC fired Wesman after investigating the incident.

The driver filed a grievance over his employer’s decision.

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Amalgamated Transit Union No. 1722 didn’t dispute the video or that Wesman was driving distracted.

However, it argued that Wesman’s dismissal was inappropriate.

“The issue is whether dismissal is an excessive response,” according to arbitration documents.

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The union said it was seeking an order that Wesman be reinstated with a short suspension instead.

According to arbitration documents, Wesman had recently lost his stepfather, was stressed about his own personal health as a cancer survivor, and felt the urgent need to see his ill girlfriend after work.

He sent her a couple of voice-to-text messages making plans for supper:

“Do you want to have supper together at your house when I get off in a quick game of chess before I go home are you up to that [sic],” he wrote.

“I’ll get you the phone the Mekong again and place an order and I’ll pick it up as before if you like Bergen do sushi up to you [sic].

“If you’re sleeping or tired that’s okay.”

The union argued this was an isolated incident that happened in the spur of the moment because of a strong emotional impulse.

It also pointed out that other employees caught in similar circumstances have been suspended.

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But the company argued that it was justified in firing Wesman because he not only put lives at risk but also initially denied using his phone while driving.

Arbitrator Ken Saunders noted that Wesman had only worked for the company for a short period of time and was evasive when asked about the incident.

“Texting while driving is among the most severe infractions a professional driver may commit,” Saunders wrote in his decision. “In this case [Wesman] acted with a reckless disregard for public safety.”

Saunders ultimately sided with the employer, saying that under the circumstances, Wesman’s firing was not an excessive response.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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