An Ontario Superior Court judge has ordered Bob Kinnear reinstated as the elected leader of the Toronto Transit Commission's largest union, reversing a move by the U.S.-based Amalgamated Transit Union to throw him out and take direct control of its Local 113.
In a ruling released on Tuesday, Justice Michael Penny issued an injunction siding with Mr. Kinnear and deeming the U.S.-based ATU's move to put the local union into trusteeship an attempt to "silence opposition and to spread misinformation to the members" and "quell dissent."
It's the latest twist in the bitter infighting that has seized the TTC's main union and burst into the open earlier this month.
Before his sudden exile, Mr. Kinnear had been trying to advocate for a member vote on a split from the international union.
It accuses him of "plotting in secret" to have his members join Unifor, Canada's largest private-sector union.
Mr. Kinnear, a former janitor and bus driver who has served as the elected head of ATU Local 113 since 2003, said in an interview that he still needed to discuss the ruling with his lawyers and speak with union members about what happens next.
"It's been a tough couple of weeks, I can tell you that," Mr. Kinnear said.
"What's important is that the members of 113, their democratic rights have been recognized," he said.
While it was unclear just when Mr. Kinnear would be able to resume his elected post, one thing was clear: The union's intense internal battle is far from over.
Manny Sforza, the ATU international vice-president who took over Local 113 after Mr. Kinnear was deposed Feb. 3, issued a statement saying the ruling to reinstate the democratically elected union leader "undermines a long history of union democracy in the province."
Mr. Sforza said Mr. Kinnear and Jerry Dias, president of Unifor, were "involved in a conspiracy … to deceive" members of Local 113. "This is an empire building exercise … that has nothing to do with the interests of public transit workers in Toronto."
The simmering fight boiled over after Mr. Kinnear moved to bring in the Canadian Labour Congress to investigate his grievances against the parent union, which he accused of taking dues from Local 113 members but providing little in return – a charge the ATU rejects.
On Feb. 3, Local 113's parent union responded by tossing Mr. Kinnear and his entire executive board out and seizing control of the union hall, even as Mr. Kinnear's lawyers were set to seek an injunction blocking such a move. All but a handful of Kinnear loyalists on the executive would later return to their posts, after signing what Mr. Kinnear described as "loyalty oaths."
Late Tuesday, Local 113 announced that 12 members of its once 17-member executive board had met in emergency session and unanimously passed a no-confidence motion in Mr. Kinnear and two of his supporters, who did not attend. The board also demanded that he stop his legal action and his move to bring the CLC into the dispute, the union said.
At issue in the court case, heard last week, were rules in the ATU's international constitution that make it almost impossible for Local 113 to split from its U.S. parent. For example, under the ATU's rules, just 10 of the more than 10,000 members could block the move, and even if it were successful, the union's headquarters and its $10-million of assets would still belong to the international union.
Justice Penny found that there is an "arguable case" that these terms are "grossly disproportionate and unfair and they may indenture the membership to the International [ATU] forever."
Tim Gleason, a lawyer for Mr. Kinnear, said the ruling was a major breakthrough for other Canadian locals seeking to leave U.S.-based international unions.
In an interview, Unifor's Mr. Dias called the ruling a "landmark decision" on the rights of Canadian workers. He said Mr. Kinnear was attacked by the ATU for simply standing up for democracy.
"He has been vilified. There has been a concentrated effort to destroy him. And he's feeling it. But the bottom line is all Bob Kinnear was trying to do was give his members a choice," Mr. Dias said.