After two Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) workers were violently assaulted earlier this month, the union representing them has joined a Canada-wide effort calling for more protection.
They called on all three levels of government to create a national framework to protect workers and better deal with the incidents.
Marvin Alfred, president of ATU Local 113, said TTC data shows that 67 transit worker assaults occurred in the last quarter of 2021 alone.
“And that is just the assaults that have been reported,” he told reporters. “These numbers are especially high – we understand that our ridership has been significantly reduced because of COVID-19.”
John Di Nino, the president of ATU Canad, said this is a trend occurring across Canada.
“We are in crisis when it comes to operator assaults across this country,” he said. “Right across the nation, we’re seeing a pattern of operator assaults and transit worker assaults,” he said.
“Let me be clear, workers don’t feel safe and protected by their employer, and something needs to be done immediately.”
He said, “thousands” of assaults are reported annually across Canada, with “thousands more” going unreported.
De Nino said this leaves transit workers “vulnerable with little or no protection.”
Di Nino said beyond recently reported assaults, operators have been spat on, bullied and intimidated. Others have been threatened.
“This needs to stop, and it needs to stop now,” he continued. “Across Canada, there are more than 2,000 reported assaults annually on drivers.”
Di Nino said they are appealing to “all levels of government.”
“We need to sit down with transportation ministers in every province, municipalities, federal government, and figure out how we’re going to tackle this on the national front,” he said. “An injury to one is an injury to all.”
Di Nino also called for the implementation of better systems to both report and track assaults when they occur.
“We just need to understand how these assaults are happening, why they’re happening and how we can mitigate the risk,” he said.
Di Nino also called for de-escalation training for transit workers, saying their jobs put them in a “tough and vulnerable position.”
“They need to know and have the tools of how to move away and de-escalate the situation,” Di Nino said.
The TTC told Global News that it provides ongoing support to anyone injured while on the job, and said it will continue to work with the unions.
Stuart Green, a spokesperson for TTC told Global News that there are “a number of things we can do, and are doing.”
“The conversations are ongoing with ATU 113,” he said. “We’ve committed to that.”
TTC executives met with the union on Tuesday morning to discuss the influx of violent assaults. They are planning to meet again next week.
A ‘tremendous amount of trauma’
Anna Cohen is a TTC bus operator. She shared her story at the press conference on Wednesday.
Cohen said she was driving a bus in June of 2020, at around 12:30 in the morning, when a man ripped a phone handset off the console of the bus and used it as a weapon to assault her.
Cohen said the man hit her in the face and head “numerous times.”
“That assault caused, of course, a tremendous amount of trauma,” she said. “I still suffer from PTSD, and also he broke a bone in my orbital that caused — and still has caused — facial deformities around my eye area.”
Cohen says she will need surgery in order to fix the deformities.
Speaking at a separate press conference on Wednesday, Toronto Mayor John Tory said he has had some “very constructive discussions” with the executives from ATU Local 113, including Alfred.
Tory said he has committed to working with Alfred, and TTC CEO Rick Leary, to “see if we can adopt practices” perhaps already being implemented elsewhere, to “provide more protection for these workers who serve us.”
Tory said transit workers often serve the public in ‘”odd hours of the day.”
“So I think they are in need of that kind of protection,” he said.
Tory said the city will be “endeavoring to do some more things” including “potentially a public information campaign in the wake of these discussions we’ve been having.”
— with files from Global News’ Marianne Dimain