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Giambrone under fire on eve of TTC debate

By Jeff Gray

With city council poised this week to debate the contentious issue of stripping transit workers of the right to strike, TTC chairman Adam Giambrone is among those facing criticism for accepting political donations from their union.

A small panel of citizens put together by councillors Cesar Palacio and Cliff Jenkins - both rightward-leaning critics of Mayor David Miller - has been campaigning to have council ask the province to declare the Toronto Transit Commission an “essential service.” The mayor and Mr. Giambrone, along with both TTC managers and the union, oppose the idea.

Panel member Tom Atkinson said the TTC chairman and others on Mr. Miller’s executive committee have created the “perception of a conflict of interest” by accepting donations from Local 113 of the Amalgamated Transit Union before the 2006 election.

Citizens panel member John Leckie, who worked on the recent federal Conservative campaign in Don Valley West, said that in addition to the donations, unions can muster a large number of campaign workers: “I would say we’re looking at the tip of iceberg here, in terms of the money.”

Mr. Jenkins said union and corporate donations - which he refuses - should be banned: “I know that people making donations do it for the intent of having influence. … What’s the union getting for their money?”

But Mr. Giambrone - who took the maximum $750 from Local 113, along with four other councillors on the nine-member commission - argued the donation was a small fraction of the more than $35,000 his campaign raised.

“This is more about optics for certain councillors than it is about substantive issues,” Mr. Giambrone said, adding that he would support a council-wide ban on corporate and union donations.

The issue of donations comes up regularly at city hall, as many councillors have accepted campaign funds from developers, from firms seeking multimillion-dollar contracts with the city and from the city’s other unions, now starting bargaining.

The political battle over a TTC strike ban, delayed for a review by bureaucrats after the union’s surprise April strike stranded thousands, is expected to raise the temperature at this week’s city council session, which begins tomorrow.

While Mr. Jenkins and Mr. Palacio are trying to persuade councillors to back their call for a ban, other motions, such as a compromise move to restrict strikes as in Montreal - where workers must maintain rush-hour service - could also hit the floor.

But those in power at city hall remain opposed. Mr. Giambrone pointed to a recent C.D. Howe Institute report that concluded strike bans increase labour costs.

Unions banned from legal strikes can use their strike funds to pay fines for illegal ones, Mr. Giambrone argued. New York City has long banned transit strikes, but suffered a major labour disruption in 2005.

Mr. Miller’s spokesman, Stuart Green, dismissed that notion that a $2,500 donation from Local 113 to Mr. Miller’s $1.4-million fundraising effort in 2003 - he refused corporate and union donations in 2006 - had any effect on his position.

Mr. Miller, who clashed with the union after its 2006 illegal strike, also asked the province to order it back to work in April.

While the mayor did say then that he was “reconsidering” his opposition to a strike ban, he has since said he opposes the idea, which was voted down at his executive committee.

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