We've been beaten, battered and bludgeoned. Stabbed, spit upon and slapped. I thought management said we're a F-A-M-I-L-Y? At least that's what was advertised on our deadhead signs for months before this message mysteriously disappeared. Problem is, they're disciplining US for protecting ourselves.
STOP ASSAULTING OUR OPERATORS!
This is the message our union and management should be screaming at every opportunity via every media outlet. Since its silence is deafening, I will do the shouting. Damnit, the absurdity has reached new levels with every assault, and I'm fed up! We ALL are. Except our management, evidently, who seems to be furious with US for defending ourselves. This is asinine, inhumane and infuriating to any normal human.
Our union reps recently defended a brother who has been assaulted SIX times in the past year. He was summoned to a disciplinary hearing because he "left the seat" after being punched and tackled his assailant. Well gee, did they expect him to hand the guy a lollipop and kiss his hand? Offer him a refreshment, maybe even buy him a bottle of booze at the closest liquor store?
After being assaulted the sixth time, this operator is suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is something our nation's brave soldiers suffer after the horrors of warfare, and many sadly take their own lives because their anguish is unbearable. Yet bus operators are expected to be super-human. We're supposed to take our beatings meekly. We're suspended for fighting back. Our brother's plea to consider his own PTSD was reportedly ignored, and he was suspended. When I heard this, it felt as if management had leveled a gut punch and slapped us several times when we hit the ground. This isn't supporting your front line employees, it's being outrageously punitive.
It is natural for a human being to not only defend himself, but to at least prevent his assailant from inflicting further damage. Management has stated we're not allowed to do so, even though Oregon State Law allows us this basic right. Its ambiguous policy is that we're allowed "reasonable self defense" when attacked, but we're subjected to a panel of Monday Morning Quarterbacks who lambast us for our actions after our bodies have experienced Fight or Flight Syndrome. We don't have time to call and ask their opinion during an attack, we have to react instantly to preserve our own safety. Some victims endure pain and traumatic flashbacks for months afterward. For someone who's been attacked even once, our agency's rules are biologically impossible to adhere to. This operator, after having endured bodily injury and PTSD from five previous assaults, couldn't take this latest insult. So he tackled his assailant, didn't inflict any injury, and returned to the bus to hit the silent alarm. He waited 22 minutes for police to arrive. By that time, the bad guy was long gone.
This is an operator with no history of violence. We're vetted to the extreme, with the slightest of previous incidents thoroughly investigated prior to being employed as an operator. But PTSD is something many of us, myself included, deal with on a daily basis. Some managers have never been behind the wheel of an in-service bus. They've never dealt with passengers who consider mayhem a hobby. They're insulated from our world, which is the reality of transit. They deal in numbers, we transport those unable to understand proper behavior, let alone practice it.
There is wide disconnect between transit management and its frontline workers. It's so bad, union workers went to Salem to lobby the Oregon Legislature to increase penalties on our assailants.
The recent fare policy fiasco is another indicator of management's lack of perspective. It thinks that by not prosecuting fare evasion that it will protect operators from fare issues. It actually makes the situation worse, because now we have nothing in our arsenal to keep some of the troublemakers off our vehicles. If nobody has to pay, they're not invested in a safe, peaceful ride. It also erodes the respect we should reasonably expect as professional drivers. Most passengers pay and are courteous. It's the bad apples who cause trouble, even when they get a free ride. They have no respect for anybody, especially us.
I've read widely of abuse, even murder, of transit operators worldwide. It's a pandemic, and all the agencies have come up with so far is caging us like zoo animals in a pathetic band-aid to this monstrous problem. New hires are shaking their heads as they try to sort through this nightmare. They can't believe the mental health disaster we face daily, and are appalled at the seeming lack of concern for our well-being.
Our brother was suspended for, among other things, "violence in the workplace." As if it was his own fault he was assaulted. We are responsible for the safety of all inside and outside of our vehicles. We expect passengers to behave in a manner consistent with agency code. When they break the rules, it endangers the safety of our peaceful passengers if we don't refuse service to troublemakers. This assailant did exit, but not before leveling a punch at the oft-beaten operator. Instead of focusing on the criminal's behavior, they suspended the operator. This is intolerable and irresponsible, and we all deserve an apology. This punitive action disregards our safety. Our brother deserves compassion and aid. Instead, he's been served with the most horrible of insults.
Safety Is Our Core Value? So why then, are we brutally served the core? Where is the value? Come on folks, this statement is ludicrous. We're owed not only an apology, but an entirely-revamped system that values, rather than dehumanizes, US.
I recently spoke with an operator who stated she's been assaulted 12 times on the job. Some would argue this number suggests she has a "bad attitude." Perhaps she does, but even gentle people bite back after being mistreated. If an office worker is assaulted, do you think her management would punish her rather than the assailant? If she fought off a rapist, would she be suspended? Not in any rational world. We don't live there; transit operators work in the trenches, and it's an often an irrational environment.
My wife and I never thought this job would be so treacherous. Police officers and firefighters go to work with the full realization they might not live through a shift. But even cops shake their heads and tell us they wouldn't do our jobs. We're on our own. Not allowed to carry any sort of implement that could be construed as a weapon. No pepper spray or mace. Just sit there and take a beating, and maybe you'll still have a job if you don't raise your hand in defense. If you live through it, don't complain to the media without management approval. Free speech is one thing, but if you puncture the fallacy of this "safety" mantra bubble, the backlash is severe. We all know nothing is free... everything comes with a price.
Transit workers are vigilant protectors of the communities we serve. Dispatchers tell us we're "the eyes and ears of transit." When we see people in jeopardy, we call for help. A Portland operator was recently hailed for heroism when he alerted a sleeping family their home was burning, saving their lives. A Milwaukee, Wisconsin operator spotted two young children walking alone and stopped to help, learning they were lost, so she brought them aboard and alerted police. We don't just drive, we are unofficial members of every neighborhood's watch program. Yet, when we're assaulted or involved in a collision, it seems we're automatically at fault.
One reader recently lambasted me for being negative. "Bitch, bitch, bitch," they wrote, also saying that I need "a new job." No, I truly love my job. I enjoy providing people a smooth, safe ride. To endure abuse in silence, however, is something I cannot do. When my fellow operators are being pummeled and then suspended, I'm gonna bitch. Passionately, with gusto. If management pitches conflicting policies at us, I'm gonna take a swing.
Without communication, there is no understanding. When only one side communicates, the majority loses. We should not cower beneath the shadow of blind compliance. The truth is light, just a step away from the darkness of silence. Winter is over... I'm ready for sunshine.