A third of London transit drivers have signed a petition calling on management to cancel an “offensive” advertising campaign by a city radio station.
The concern centres on a Virgin Radio ad campaign that has featured a picture of pop singer Katy Perry wearing a Madonna-esque cone bra with whipped cream canisters protruding from it.
Melissa White is the operations steward and co-chair of the women’s committee for Local 741 of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU). She said 100 of the London Transit Commission’s (LTC) 300 drivers signed the petition, which requests that LTC general manager Larry Ducharme “cease the promotion of the advertising campaign by Virgin Radio immediately,” and that a bus with an exterior “wrap” advertisement be taken out of service until the image is removed.
It also requests that the LTC “no longer provide advertising space for businesses that depict woman (sic) or any other group in a demeaning and/or derogatory manner.”
“Not only are your employees feeling embarrassed to drive this vehicle but they feel that this ad is offensive and inappropriate not only towards them but also to the many women and children who use the transit system,” it reads. “We believe the message of this ad campaign incites sexual harassment towards the operators of this bus.”
At the Jan. 30 meeting of the LTC board of directors, White provided a copy of the petition to London Community News and city Councillor Sandy White, who sits on the board.
She said it took about three weeks to gather the signatures.
“Two women were sexually harassed by comments directly related to the ad,” White said. “We worked a long time to establish buses as our workplace. We can’t choose what bus we drive. We take our workplace with us and our workplace was a source of harassment.”
Councillor White, who brought up the concerns of citizens who have contacted her to express their displeasure, was aghast she and her fellow directors were not informed of the petition’s existence by upper management.
“You told them and they didn’t tell us?” she exclaimed.
The union steward confirmed the local had expressed concern to management and to the radio station.
White and fellow city councillor Harold Usher, who also sits on the board, had an exchange over the controversy during the board meeting (before the petition was revealed) as it discussed the LTC advertising policy. The board voted to accept as information a report from staff detailing the commission’s advertising policy, which it requested in November.
The policy states that though the regulations of the Advertising Standards Council of Canada are used as direction, the LTC will have the final say on ads it sells on its vehicles “to ensure conformance with good taste and consisten(cy) with community standards.”
Selling ad space on the interior and exterior of transit vehicles, on benches and bus stop shelters, generates about $5.6 million for the city each year. A survey of 35 transit commissions in Ontario conducted by staff revealed 20 manage advertising on their vehicles in a fashion similar to the LTC.
Councillor White said a handful of London residents had contacted her to express their disapproval of the advertisement, and that they deserve to have a voice.
Usher countered their right to be heard doesn’t mean they should be able to dictate the agenda for the majority.
“I would prefer the buses only had LTC colours and logos on them, but with our economic situation I have other concerns,” Usher said. “Just because they deserve a voice doesn’t mean they get their way.”