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January 21, 2008

TTC Drivers Suffer Severe Stress, No Compensation

"When people are injured, I mean certainly city workers, police officers, there's an expectation that if it's not their fault, which it isn't, that they should be compensated for it."

TTC Drivers Suffer Severe Stress, According To Report

Monday January 21, 2008

When you think of stressful jobs, occupations like soldiers and policing likely come to mind.

But a new report suggests being a TTC driver is just as anxiety-inducing, with almost 200 bus, streetcar and subway operators suffering from same the kind of severe stress as survivors of combat and natural disasters.

Among the kinds of abuse transit drivers have faced over the years: being shot at with an air rifle, punched, and head-butted. In the five years leading up to 2005 at least 181 drivers claimed post-traumatic stress disorder, a rate four times that of Toronto police officers.

Employees say there is no shortage of horror stories.

"The first suicide I had was many years ago," recalls subway driver Bryan Tollefson, who now suffers from post-traumatic stress, something he links to his years with the transit service. "I didn't think it bothered me at the time, but I think must've affected [me] somewhat."

On average employees missed about 49 days of work, and the traumatized drivers missed close to 9,000 workdays in all. Others missed time for anxiety and depression. Bob Kinnear, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, said operators are put in a difficult position.

"I would much rather be a civilian on the street and have someone, you know, verbally abusing me or potentially assaulting me because I'm going to react as an individual and I'm going to protect myself," he said.

"Our operators are in a very, very difficult situation when they've got the uniform on. We've had members that have actually been disciplined for defending themselves. And that's where the TTC needs to step in and be a little more understanding to the situations our members find themselves in."

TTC Chair Adam Giambrone agrees there should be compensation for injured workers.

"This is a whole process when we have 9,000 unionized employees. We have to figure out what this means," he said. "When people are injured, I mean certainly city workers, police officers, there's an expectation that if it's not their fault, which it isn't, that they should be compensated for it."

Operators say that between fare hikes, overcrowded vehicles, and schedule problems, the transit-riding public can be angry and frustrated at times. In 2006 the number of reported crimes on Toronto Transit Commission property jumped 24 per cent, from 2,744 to 3,415. On average it's estimated a driver is assaulted once a day.

The cash-strapped TTC is working to make its vehicles safer for drivers, with plans to install plastic shields on buses and streetcars. It has already put more security cameras on buses, streetcars and subways in an attempt to deter such attacks from taking place.

"When they say they're going to do better ... I don't know how they can do better," Tollefson asked. "There's always the question of money, isn't there?

And in a sad and ironic turn of events Monday, a TTC bus driver was attacked on Donlands, north of the Danforth. He's wasn't seriously hurt, and one of three suspects is in custody.

also see Toronto Transit Financial Penalties on Injured Workers

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