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TTC union leader Kinnear seeks contempt order for rival Sforza

A Toronto judge has ordered Bob Kinnear reinstated as the elected leader of the TTC’s largest union, reversing a move by the U.S.-based parent of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113 to throw him out and take control of the local.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

The struggle for control of the Toronto Transit Commission's largest union is due back in court on Thursday, where lawyers acting for the union's recently reinstated president, Bob Kinnear, will try to persuade a judge to find a rival leader in contempt of court and throw him in jail.

Mr. Kinnear, the elected leader of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 113, was deposed Feb. 3, along with the local's entire executive board, when the U.S.-based ATU put its Toronto local under a trusteeship, and put ATU vice-president Manny Sforza in charge.

Mr. Sforza accused Mr. Kinnear of plotting in secret to have the local split from the ATU, and deliver its members to Unifor, Canada's largest private-sector union. All the executive board members except for a few Kinnear loyalists soon returned to their posts.

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On Tuesday, an Ontario Superior Court judge ruled the trusteeship was really about "quelling dissent" and ordered Mr. Kinnear reinstated, the trusteeship lifted and Mr. Sforza out of Local 113's union hall. However, hours later, 12 members of the 17-member executive board sided with the ATU and passed a motion of no-confidence in Mr. Kinnear and two of his key supporters.

On Thursday, Mr. Kinnear's lawyers will be back in court, asking a judge to declare Mr. Sforza in contempt for allegedly violating Tuesday's order, arguing that he should face jail and a fine. Tim Gleason, a lawyer for Mr. Kinnear, said his side had received information that Mr. Sforza allegedly attended the executive board vote Tuesday night that condemned Mr. Kinnear in absentia.

Mr. Kinnear's lawyers are also seeking an order that would forbid Mr. Sforza and ATU from "threatening, intimidating or otherwise communicating directly or indirectly with any officer" of Local 113.

Requests to interview Mr. Sforza were referred to Kevin Morton, Local 113's secretary-treasurer and a member of the executive board who supports remaining in the ATU.

Mr. Morton said Mr. Sforza immediately left the union hall and obeyed the judge's order as it arrived via e-mail on Tuesday afternoon. However, Mr. Morton said Mr. Sforza then returned to attend the board's hastily called emergency meeting on Tuesday night, and gave advice to members. But Mr. Morton said Mr. Sforza was there at the request of the local's executive board, and so did not defy the judge's order.

"He followed the rules to the letter of the law," Mr. Morton said.

"He's no longer a trustee. He has no power. Five hours before, he could tell me what to do. Now I could tell him to get out of the building if I wanted to."

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Days after the bitter infighting that has seized the TTC's main union burst into the open earlier this month, Mr. Kinnear appeared at a press conference alongside Jerry Dias, the head of Unifor, arguing that Local 113 should be allowed to vote on leaving the ATU and joining Unifor. On Tuesday, Mr. Sforza said Mr. Kinnear and Mr. Dias 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." Previously, he had produced e-mails purporting to show that Mr. Kinnear had been communicating with Unifor officials before the trusteeship was imposed.

The simmering fight boiled over after Mr. Kinnear brought in the Canadian Labour Congress to investigate his grievances against ATU, which he accused of taking dues from Local 113 members but providing little in return – a charge the ATU rejects.

Tuesday's court ruling also took aim at 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.

On Tuesday, Ontario Superior Court Justice Michael 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 forever."

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