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Bob Kinnear, union leader for TTC workers photographed at the Chelsea Hotel in Scarborough, February 23, 2011.

Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail

A struggle for control of the main union representing Toronto Transit Commission employees burst into the open Friday, with the union's U.S. parent organization pushing out Local 113 president Bob Kinnear and 16 other top officials.

The move came after Local 113, under Mr. Kinnear, approached the Canadian Labour Congress with unhappiness about how they were being treated by the international Amalgamated Transit Union.

The ATU claims the move ran afoul of its rules about "disaffiliation," provoking a battle over the local's headquarters and $10-million in assets.

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Under an ATU-imposed trusteeship, these assets are now under the control of the international union. But local leaders have secured a court hearing in two weeks to argue their case.

The TTC would not comment on what it called "this internal union matter."

"The TTC is working to ensure this matter has no impact on service," spokesman Brad Ross said in a statement. "The collective agreements between the TTC and its unions remain in place."

Late Friday afternoon, the local's new leadership issued a release in which they characterized the situation as a move by "members of Local 113 … to restore union democracy following a unilateral attempt by suspended president Bob Kinnear to remove the Local from its 120-year-old union."

However, a letter from the ATU parent union to the Toronto local, obtained by The Globe and Mail, took responsibility for the move. The letter said the international union had acted to push out the local's leaders because they had begun a process that could ultimately lead to the local leaving, violating the union's constitution and general laws (CGL).

"Furthermore, President Kinnear's actions not only violated the CGL, but the bylaws of Local 113, as he improperly bypassed the Local's requisite decision-making process," alleged the letter, signed by ATU international president Lawrence Hanley. "As a result, the effective functioning and the performance of the local union's duties are impaired."

By Mr. Hanley's order, control of the local has been placed in the hands of Emanuele Sforza, a Toronto-based international vice-president of the ATU. He did not respond to requests for comment.

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According to documents filed by Mr. Kinnear's lawyers in court, the international ATU constitution contains "unconscionable and penal terms," including a provision that forces the local to surrender all of its assets if it splits from its parent. The international union's constitution also blocks any split if just 10 members – or 0.1 per cent of the 10,000 members of Local 113 – oppose the move.

Mr. Kinnear's lawyers argue these provisions violate the right to free association of Local 113's members guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as their rights under Ontario's Labour Relations Act to choose their representatives in collective bargaining.

In a letter to the ATU obtained by The Globe and Mail, Canadian Labour Congress president Hassan Yussuff criticizes the parent union's move and declares that the CLC's normal protections that would prevent other unions from raiding Local 113 for members are no longer in effect.

The local represents about 10,000 employees of the TTC and is midway through a four-year contract. Because the TTC was deemed an essential service in 2011 by then-premier Dalton McGuinty, the union can no longer strike.

But there continues to be friction between the union and management. They have clashed over the TTC's drug-and-alcohol random-testing policy and the possibility that elements of the city's transit system could be privatized.

Mr. Kinnear said the local has not received enough support from the international union in these battles, claiming it is treated with "disdain." He said the local, based on its affiliation with the Canadian Labour Congress, used a provision of the CLC constitution to spark a probe into whether it was being represented properly. "Unfortunately, the American-based union has taken this heavy hand and trusteed the board," he said.

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The Maryland-based spokesperson for the international organization of the Amalgamated Transit Union was not available to comment Friday.

Mr. Kinnear has been the elected leader of the often-fractious TTC union since 2004. He has been at odds with the international union for some time. He recently lost a bid to win a post as an international vice-president.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article included an incorrect percentage breakdown for the number of union members needed to block a split.

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