Monday, March 20, 2017

Do the "Right Thing"




It's been a busy few weeks for me, so I was sorely tempted to take the week off from blogging. Last night however, I heard that one our brothers was assaulted while he was on duty. Now I'm a bit steamed around my collar, so it's time to decompress.

Our good brother and stalwart defender of every union member, Henry Beasley, long ago introduced what he believes would be the decent response to any assault upon one of us. Out of respect for his steadfast insistence that management adopt this, my preference is to call this the Beasley Doctrine. It calls for our immediate removal from service to facilitate our healing/recovery as well as the safety of our passengers.

When an operator is physically assaulted, which happened 55 times in 2016, our soul has been forever altered. To continue driving afterward goes against the "Safety Is Our Core Value" mantra we're expected to believe. Unless the operator is super-human and can truly ignore what just happened, their thoughts are almost entirely centered upon the assault. It's infuriating, frightening, and psychologically injurious to be attacked. It's not beyond belief to imagine what would happen to a person in management if they endured an assault while on the job. Most assuredly, they would be sent home to recuperate. They wouldn't dream of losing pay while recovering from a terrifying incident. Yet a union driver whose job it is to safely transport any passenger aboard to their destination cannot expect the same treatment.

The other day, I had the honor of meeting a fellow driver who was sexually assaulted while driving a bus. This brave soul, in unwavering and strong tone, testified before an Oregon legislative committee in Salem in support of a bill that would toughen the penalties for those who assault transit workers. I marveled at her poise while describing her assault. She did every one of us an incredible honor by sharing her horror, in hopes the committee would be moved to recommend government do the right thing by us. What is that? To insist that transit operators be shown the honor and respect we deserve, by demanding that those who assault us in any aspect of doing our jobs be reasonably punished for their actions.

As I spoke with this brave lady whose courage I admire, she told me that it is still difficult to even ride on transit let alone operate a bus. This is obviously a sign of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There have been times in my own career when my safety was threatened. Trapped in the operator seat, it was a 50-50 proposition as to whether I'd be beaten or worse. Luckily for me, my tormentor was apprehended before any possible assault could occur. In our sister's case, her assailant has never been found. She bears the emotional scars of a scene that will never leave her memory. Yet she had the intestinal fortitude to tell her story, in a powerful voice, with the hopes that her words would help convince that committee to do the right thing.

"Do the right thing," said another brother, one of two who spearheaded this plea to our legislature.

It is time for our management to do right by its employees. It insists we are a "family." How many of you would rest easy until the assailant of a family member was brought to justice? Also, wouldn't you insist that every available option be made available to help your loved one recover? Should they be penalized for taking time off? In our job, it is imperative that we operate with confidence in order to ensure our passengers are safely transported. When fear distracts us, concentration is affected. Without a reasonable expectation that we operate with the full support of those entrusted with our safety, self-doubt can lead to possible distractions. In my experience, distractions are counter-productive to the safe operation of a bus.

To be fair, it is encouraging that our agency changed its fare policy. This act alone is a positive step. But it's reactionary rather than proactive. I applaud my fellow operators for their input and full participation in a process which encourages our management to find innovative ways of protecting us. While it's a bit late, it is an encouraging step.

Whether we are caged, assured that we are valued members of the transit agency family, or left to our own well-being, we remain vulnerable. I understand management believes that by placing a barrier between us and our passengers this will protect us from attacks. It might, however, further induce an assailant to find a more creative way to wreak havoc. Hiding behind barriers might elude an attacker, but those insistent upon violence will find a way around it. Will that barrier stop a bullet? Will the enclosure create yet another vision barrier? Might it also offend those passengers who are kind and polite to us?

My recommendation is to lose the barriers and educate the public. How to Ride the Bus. What Is Acceptable Behavior? This is What Happens When You Assault a Transit Worker. How to Drive Near a Bus. Transit Mall Rules and Procedures. Considering our city is transit-dependent for a strong economy, it seems odd there isn't a focus on educating it. Our union should take the lead in this regard in the absence of management's doing so.

We should expect management to do everything possible to keep us safe, but also to ensure that when attacked, we are given every opportunity to recover. I have no doubt my own family would automatically afford me this benefit. It's time for my transit agency to become a protective partner in our safety, rather than reactionary and punitive. Our fellow brothers and sisters are a collective family, and when one is hurt, we all feel the pain. It would be comforting to know management shares this bond. When we feel safe, it's a given that the public is further assured of a safe ride.

Slogans make management feel as if it's doing the right thing by its employees, but positive action comforts those who make the big wheels roll. Hopefully, we're headed toward a more meaningful and productive conversation than we have seen in the past decade.


2 comments:

  1. Where is the union in all of this? Why is the union so silent? They take dues and do what with them? As for the "caged" long ago in another life working in banking the "Bandit Barriers aka Cage" did deter robberies

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    1. Most passengers are polite and respectful. By caging us in like zoo animals, it reduces our interactions with those who support us. I drive a bus partly because I didn't like working in a cubicle.

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