Wednesday, May 23, 2018

VP Candidate Profile: Gordon Duncan

DEKE'S NOTE: Gordon Duncan, a Powell Garage Bus Operator, is running for ATU 757 Vice President. His is the second set of answers I've received.

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Gordon Duncan, VP Candidate
1) Who are you, and which office are you campaigning for? What makes you our best choice? Why do you want to serve in this capacity?

My name is Gordon Duncan and I am running for the office of Vice President Assistant Business Representative. I feel I am the best Candidate because I bring 14 years experience in ATU 757 positions ranging from Shop Steward, Liaison, to Executive Board Officer.

My sole purpose for stepping up and getting involved was to see that every member has the opportunity to grow and work in an environment free of intimidation and threats of discipline from employers who think we are just a number not a human being. To be that bridge between management and employee to help both sides understand each other. I wish to serve as Vice President because I feel our local has lost its way when it comes to our members. I would like to be a catalyst in bringing our members voice back to leadership's attention. We have grown so much as a local but left a lot of members behind.

Communication has been lacking as well as understanding just what the issues are at each property. We need to re-evaluate our priorities to our members and move to resolve them, something which I feel has slipped by the wayside. I have always been vocal as to the needs of the membership and will continue to do so. We face so many challenges in the future and need to start now to be ready for those challenges, not when they happen. Our local needs to be proactive, not reactive as we have been.

2) What do you believe to be the membership’s main concerns (from your office’s perspective) moving forward through 2020? How would you work toward improving these areas?

Communication with its members on human rights issues, working conditions, discipline, contract violations (grievances). Assaults (which I will address in the next question).
I would work with the leadership and officers to be engaging with membership, making regular property visits that will allow members to talk directly with leadership on hot topics concerning them. We must take those back, and put a plan of action together with property officers, shop stewards. I believe actions speak volumes and shows you have heard and are willing to act on the concerns. I also believe if we show that we stand with them not ahead of them we will get members to be more involved in meetings and special events.

3) Assaults are on the rise every year. Do you believe operator barriers are the answer? What are the pros and cons of the barriers? What else could be done to stop this escalating problem?

This one is close to my heart. As one who has twice been assaulted while preforming my job, I believe we as leaders need to do more to bring pressure on employers to take this ever increasing issue seriously. It does not matter what type of assault it is, an assault is an assault. It is demoralizing when we have slow response time do to lack of area coverage from supervisor or police. The barriers are only a stop gap. Laws need to get tougher, and our international leaders need to actively get involved on this issue. Employers need to work with the union to put a program in place that helps those who are assaulted. This can be a traumatic event in most cases, and needs special attention.

4) Since we cannot strike, how can we ensure that our union membership concerns will be taken seriously by management? Do you have any creative strategies to ensure constructive dialog and positive actions?

This a tough one because I believe we need to actively try to reinstate our right to strike, to at least work towards changing the arbitration procedure. Baseball arbitration does not work and in Washington state they have a style that the arbitrator can choose those thing from both side and form a contract that benefits both sides and keeps the interest of the public also. This would entail lobbying the legislature for change. Otherwise we need to use our public relations/media guy to bring major issues to the board of director and to the public. Our local has not been real receptive when it comes to changes in these areas. I would like to see this change.

5) The local media message is controlled by management. How do you propose to engage the media and help the public understand the issues we face?

We now have a media person on payroll and he needs to be used more, or at least write up some creative messages for our leaders to take to the media. Also, we have been slow to respond to management media messages. This has to stop, we need to act fast with a response that is factual not the shoot from the hip response. To gain credibility with the public and local leaders we have to present our union as professional, and knowledgeable on the topics.

6) Social media is a very active and volatile tool within our membership. How will you use it to communicate with US?

Social Media can be a tool to engage and inform members from all locations. We just need to be careful because we have all seen it get way out of hand. Not all stay within the rules of professionalism. I would really like to see us explore this avenue of communication with caution. We still need face to face interaction to keep things real.

7) Members are upset with the arbitration process and how the union communicates decisions to the membership. Is this process broken? If so, please state your ideas on how to improve arbitration procedures.

As I mentioned earlier yes it is broken, our members deserve solid up to date information. I do believe that if we do they can handle changes that can occur during negotiations. We need to work on changing the process of arbitration or regain our right to strike.

8) What’s your favorite union movie, and why?

Well I am not really a movie guy, so 9-5 lol. At least management got his. Ok ok you got me!

9) How do we get more members involved, attending meetings and adding to the overall discussion?

Easy, open communications, regular property visits, show concern for what they do every day. We are all in this together. Fast response time on calls or emails. Don't project yourself as better or above members. And just for the record, this is a two-way street, members need to realize that this is their union and we work for them. Respect goes both ways.

10) I’ve only asked questions on a few points. Please let us know what other issues you believe are vital as we move forward.

Jannis is now in the Supreme Court being heard. If this goes against unionized labor it could be very bad for unions. One way to keep it from becoming our downfall is to get re-engaged with our members. I feel we are already behind the ball on this. Without our members support we will not make it as a union and management will surely take full advantage of it. We have to take it seriously and not down the road but now. Also, we need to improve relations with employers so as to have effective dialog in things that concern our members as well as negotiations.


Monday, May 21, 2018

Reality Requires Tact

A friend found this gem somewhere in AZ.
Photo courtesy of Jeff Moss.

At a certain point in a bus operator's career, driving becomes second nature. It's the people that you're constantly learning to deal with. Passengers, managers and other motorists present challenges each trip. We deal with so many different, yet also often similar, personalities that making a mistake becomes inevitable.

Our management seems even more dysfunctional than our looniest passengers. Many have never sat in an operator's seat, yet they believe they know better in every aspect of our job than those who actually do it. A mayor has no earthly idea what cops and firefighters deal with, yet their ego-encrusted positions give them supposed inklings of how these brave public servants should behave. Often, operators deal with situations that are damned-if-you-do-whatever. Choose to follow district code, the passenger could react in many different ways and our management will have their backs and attempt to fry our backsides. We're presented with so many no-win situations on a daily, even hourly, basis that it's impossible sometimes to know which method of "customer service" bullshit we should follow.

Sometimes, discussions on a bus can be peppered with salty language. The usage of the word "fuck" is about as common as a Valley girl's saying "like." It's a lazy way to converse. True, this obscenity has many uses in language, but it can be offensive to some. To ask passengers to use more refined vocabulary often offends them. We risk getting complaints by not controlling a situation we sometimes shouldn't venture into. A manager will ream us for any complaints, whether we follow code or try to appease the offended. Upper management has no use for "grey areas," and I think they often have little "grey matter" to discern what constitutes proper procedure in many situations we constantly deal with. Yet their positions are comfortable. They don't have to deal with knife-wielding maniacs on a transit vehicle. People don't spit or throw urine in their faces. They read memos on subjects we handle up close and personal. They make decisions on numbers they pull out of the nanosphere of the filtered and protected air around them. We do so while breathing in the toxins of those in ill-health, surrounded by filthy vehicles and billions of airborne pathogens that slither aboard.

Sure, Deke is complaining again without offering "solutions." It's not like anyone with decision-making power gives a damn about my opinions. They don't have to. For some reason, harassing those of us who do the work of transit is more important than doing the work necessary to improve our working conditions. That's mental illness for you. Repeat the same irrational things while expecting a myriad of different conclusions, few of which are weighted toward the operator's benefit. No wonder we suffer such alarming rates of depression, work-related injuries and illness. Management actually brags about their record of declining Workers' Compensation cases. It's not that cases are down in number, it's that they care about numbers more than people.

So the next time you complain about an operator's actions, remember you're most likely refusing to accept your part of the blame. We tell people not to cross in front of our bus because of safety, not because we're assholes. When you walk in front of a bus, you risk becoming another hood ornament of Impatient Ichabod in the Infiniti who takes that opportunity of a stopped bus to speed around it across double-yellow lines. We ask you to let us know when you're going to take your bike off the rack because of your safety. On my route, I board about 20-30 people each shift with bikes. It's impossible to remember each face and match it to a bike on the rack. Informing the operator of a 20-ton beast before you step in front of it is ensuring that operator uses the safety protocols designed to keep it from rolling over you. Rolling past Foolish Freddy who just raced across six lanes of traffic to try and catch your bus is a lesson in safety: don't do that. If you're late for some engagement, it's not our fault. Don't expect us to endanger those on the bus who had the foresight to arrive at their stop early. Take responsibility for your own actions, and thank us for our vigilance rather than whining with a false sense of superiority.

Had a motorist in some little beater cut me off the other night. Out of frustration and fear, I honked my displeasure. Then the brainless bastard slowed down in front of me and made a right turn with his middle finger extended. Wasn't sure if he was telling me his IQ or driving test score. Luckily for him, I cover the brake pedal whenever I'm not accelerating. I just nodded my displeasure and continued keeping the remaining fools around me safe. They have no idea what a car looks like underneath a 20-ton vehicle, and I hope to keep them thusly ignorant.

If any of you have logical solutions for the dilemmas we experience, feel free to explain them. Sometimes, I don't have to offer any. After all, I'm just a bus driver.

Sunday, May 20, 2018


DEKE'S NOTE: As promised, I have asked each candidate for the top three union offices to answer a list of questions about their qualifications and goals. Chris Day, candidate for President, is the first to submit his answers, so here they are. His responses are presented as he wrote them, for your consideration.

1) Who are you, and which office are you campaigning for? What makes you our best choice? Why do you want to serve in this capacity?

My name is Christopher Day and I am a candidate for ATU757 President 2018-2021.

Over these past 11 years there has been a number of issues that has taken place that our union should have been a stronger representative for us. I believe that our union officers need to be held accountable for all their actions they take on the behalf of our members. The only way our members can hold our officers accountable for their actions is to be able to have the ability to see what our officers are doing. I will bring transparency to our members so that together as a team we can improve our union so that we can strongly represent each other when addressing labor issues with our employers. My interest in the technologies of today has provided me with enough skills to help bring our union to a more current level that will help improve organization and communications. An interactive secure website will allow our members and officers the ability to exchange information quickly and efficiently. Providing such a thing will allow our members more opportunities to participate in our union.

I want to serve in this capacity because I feel our members are in need of transparency so that we can mend the divides that are taking place within our union. The more our members see of our union the more interest will build. Each member has their own strengths and we need to combine these strengths so that we can be an unstoppable team/family.

2) What do you believe to be the membership’s main concerns (from your office’s perspective) moving forward through 2020? How would you work toward improving these areas?

I have heard many concerns from our members. I would say the strongest concern would be how our union officers are handling our contract negotiations. There are large gaps from the time a contract expires to the time a new contract is ratified. When a contract is ratified our members later learn of things that have been overlooked that effects the members in a negative manner.

Our contract is the most important part of our work environment. It is a document that needs as many eyes as possible viewing it looking for its strong and weak points. To do this we need to create a contract workbook that all members have access to. This workbook can be created in electronic form and available online so that members can freely interact with the workbook. Such a workbook will make it easier to collect supporting documentation as to why an improvement needs to be made or what is working. Having this available during a current contract will help with preparations of the contract expiration. This will help negotiators when the time comes to step up to the table. Even though it is just the negotiators stepping up to the table it is the entire membership in that workbook that is being presented. That is how I would work towards improving our contract negotiations.

3) Assaults are on the rise every year. Do you believe operator barriers are the answer? What are the pros and cons of the barriers? What else could be done to stop this escalating problem?

I have been assaulted twice. The first assault my cheek bone was fractured in 4 different places. The second assault re-fractured my cheek bone and caused nerve damage that most like will not fully heal. With the assaults that happened to me I would say that if there was a barrier in place then most likely I would not have been harmed as much.

Though I feel that the purposed barriers most likely would have reduced the harm I received I do not feel that the purposed barriers are the full answer to this issue.

The positive side of an operator barrier is:

That it would prevent a surprise attack and allow the operator an opportunity to react to the assault.

The negative side of an operator barrier is:

That the barrier doesn’t fully enclose the operator allowing the ability for things such as liquids to get thrown past the barrier.

If an emergency took place the operator is at risk of being trapped by the barrier.

The glare from the additional glass causes more visual issues.

That steps are being taken to protect the operator but not the other passengers.

It will take more than a single solution to reduce or stop assaults on operators. Laws with strong penalties can help reduce some assaults, advocate riders would help, removing all fare responsibilities from the operator would help, a video monitor system such as in a bank that has a monitor so that those who enter the bus see that they are being recorded, making all cameras on the bus so visible that those who enter the bus can see the large number of cameras that are on the bus recording them, public awareness programs and a stronger presence of fare inspectors and/or police. There is no one correct answer for this issue. It is an issue that does needs to be addressed.

4) Since we cannot strike, how can we ensure that our union membership concerns will be taken seriously by management? Do you have any creative strategies to ensure constructive dialog and positive actions?

I have learned that with TriMet we need strong documentation that supports our position. When the research is done and documents collected and presented to TriMet they tend to listen better. Rather than relying on TriMet providing documents through document request we should be relying on our members and our research skills to produce the documentation needed to get TriMet’s attention. By having an interactive secure website members can submit information and documentation to help build a strong case that TriMet cannot ignore. As more members start working together to achieve our goals members will be more receptive to participate in actions such as not working overtime or other things that can be legally done to bring awareness to TriMet management.

5) The local media message is controlled by management. How do you propose to engage the media and help the public understand the issues we face?

Our involvement with our community will help bring awareness to the issues we face. The media will follow where our community is going so we need to become more involved with our community needs so that our community can help us gain the media’s ear.

6) Social media is a very active and volatile tool within our membership. How will you use it to communicate with US?

Social media has been an area that I have been very active with. When answering a person’s question on social media more than just the person who asked the question sees the answer. For me social media is one of the strongest tools I have to communicate with other members.

7) Members are upset with the arbitration process and how the union communicates decisions to the membership. Is this process broken? If so, please state your ideas on how to improve arbitration procedures.

TriMet prolongs and delays mediation so that the system will get bogged down. By delaying mediation it brings more cost to our union. TriMet is able to do this because our contract has no language that penalizes for failure to follow the contract. Though contract laws do not allow for set penalties to be in contracts it does allow for language to recover loss from contract violations. Our contract could have language in it that would cover losses such as representation cost along with wage loss for contract violations. Even though TriMet would most likely continue to delay the process our union would be able to recuperate the cost of representation.

We are having too many repeated incidents of contract violations. This clearly indicates that management is ignoring our arbitrations and not changing their behavior. We need to improve our contract language and assure that we are following as well as our employers.

All of our grievances need to be digitized and logged so that members can track and follow how our union is addressing grievances. As grievances are entered in the system all communications and documents need to be tacked on as it progresses. Constant follow up needs to take place so to assure that members are aware of what is taking place with the grievance and it is not being stalled. Maintain such a data base would make it easy to address repeat violations and possibly provide a quick resolve.

8) What’s your favorite union movie, and why?

“Made in Dagenham” made in 2011.

The movie is about a Woman who fought for equal pay as a sewing machinist for an auto giant in 1968. It showed how hard she had to fight not only the auto giant but also her union to receive proper representation. If you haven’t seen it I would recommend checking it out.

9) How do we get more members involved, attending meetings and adding to the overall discussion?

Many of our members already have their plates full of many things and that makes it difficult to participate. Members also express that our meetings lack productive structure and their voices are not being heard. Our union needs to not keep asking for members to come to our union, our union needs to find ways to get out to our members. Our union needs to view our members work schedule and find ways to schedule meetings that most members in the area will be off. Our union needs to participate with social media where our members are at so that questions can be answered. Our union needs to find ways that our members can still participate with union business if they are not able to attend union meetings. Our member’s social media discussions should be included in our union meetings topics and a report given back to the members of the social media discussions. Activities such as this can spark more interest in participation.

10) I’ve only asked questions on a few points. Please let us know what other issues you believe are vital as we move forward.

A very important continuing issue at hand is the care of our retirees. Our current retirees are finding themselves being pushed in a corner while new members are being put on a different retirement plan all together. We need to stabilize and fix the needs of our current retirees and we need to address how our new member’s retirement plan is being conducted. Our current retirees have worked very hard to get where they are now and we need to make sure they are taken care of. Our new members need to feel secure about their retirement plans as well so we also need to address all retirement needs and stop allowing divides to take place.

BONUS QUESTION: Did you read “JUST DRIVE – Life in the Bus Lane?” Did you post a review on Amazon? (LOL… just messing with you on that one.)
I am sorry to say that I have not read “Just Drive – Life in the bus lane” and there for have not posted any reviews on Amazon.

Thank you for giving us candidates the opportunity to participate and allow members to see how all of us respond. Best wishes –Chris Day

Speaking Positively is Your Big Stick

It's union officer election time again here in Portland. I've been busily formulating a list of questions for the candidates of the top three offices: President, Vice President and Secretary/Treasurer. It's my goal to give each a voice on this blog so that you can compare them and make your choice based on their answers.

I have voted in United States Presidential Elections since the time of Reagan. In these four decades, I've sadly watched our national political discussion decline into a third-grade playground argument between bullies. It is my heartfelt desire to push these campaigns into a different shade of grey, avoiding the personal attacks we tend to allow elections to devolve into. Although I disagreed with Ronald Reagan's political beliefs, I admired his debating skills. He tended to avoid personal attacks per se, but hit his opponents with rhetoric as his main weapon rather than insults. Reagan won using charm and humor, even when his facts left one wondering who was correct.

President Reagan was a master at baiting his opponents. Tip O'Neil, Speaker of the House of Representatives at the time, had a difficult time deflecting Ronnie's use of humor and folksy charm when debating heavily-partisan issues. These two political enemies actually became friends. Sometimes, it's not the issues that matter; you either like a candidate or you don't. Reagan beat Carter in 1980 because he came across as the strong man, Carter the weakling.

I've sent a list of questions to the candidates for the top spots in our union local's 2018 elections. Those who respond will have their words posted here. You'll read their responses and hopefully this will aid you as you decide who is best qualified to represent us.

Speak up, brothers and sisters who beg our votes. It's your time to convince us. Let us hear your best voices.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Lack of Managerial Common Sense Adds to Our Problems

Deke's Note: "Deke," someone once wrote to me, "all you do is write about what's wrong without offering solutions."

Well, I thought to myself, if nobody admits what's wrong, where do ideas on how to fix things come about? But then again, this guy was right. I don't have all the answers. However, I do have some ideas. Here are a few.

* * * * *

If you want to improve customer service then fix the model, because it's broken into a million pieces. People call in to complain about operators without even knowing the rules and regulations which guide us every day. They also often lie about what actually happens. Most of the complaints (actually called SIPs here, an acronym for Service Improvement Program) should never make their way to the operator. Often, the complaint isn't even sent to the correct driver. There should be an investigation at the initial point of contact. What did the driver look like? Male or female? (SIPs have actually gone to drivers said to be of a gender not their own.) What was the time? (Complaints are often sent to the wrong operator.) Did you get the correct bus number? (Yeah, right.)

It's easy for someone to call in a false complaint. This is an insult to us all. It should be very difficult for a complaint to reach an operator, because I'll bet a forged fare it usually comes from an entitled brat who didn't get their way. They vow revenge for being told to follow district Code and to Respect the Ride, then put in a call to the CS line. I've heard countless stories from ops who received SIPs for things they never did, nor would dream of doing. Some truly outrageous stories make it to us that never should. Especially in this digital age, with cameras everywhere but where we pee. (Yet.)

Part of our job involves a bit of enforcement. Please fold up the stroller is one rule passengers often argue. It takes finesse to know how to make this request, and when to ask it. If my bus is nearly empty and not about to take on a full load, I'll usually inform the passenger of district policy regarding their baby carrier. Most of the time they know, and if the load is light, I don't insist they pull out the diapers, baby bag, groceries, and loads of other items necessary to transport tiny humans just to fold up a stroller. It takes time, for one thing. I'm not going to move the bus while Mom is bending over  the stroller. She could take a nose dive if I had to brake suddenly.

Sure, if I have to pick up an ADA pax and I have two baby strollers on board, somebody's got to make room. Most people are polite about it, usually the one with the least amount of stuff in their stroller. Not requiring this on a light day might stretch the rules a bit, but it avoids an argument and possible SIP. I've had a mom say, "But I just got her to sleep! Can't I just leave her in the stroller?" Hey, I get it. Babies are a full-time job. It's wonderful when they finally slip into snoozeville. But if something happens and I have to brake suddenly, Baby Ride topples or slides into something causing its blood to spill, nothing good will come of it. So yeah Mom, baby comes out.

When Mom gets angry with us and calls in with a falsehood about our being "rude" or "argumentative," it's probably retaliatory. People hate authority figures telling them what to do. Management knows this, but makes little or no effort to protect its front line workers from vicious and false attacks. Nor do they support our authority. When a complaint comes in, there should be a team to do an initial investigation. If it doesn't pass a smell test, it should hit a circular file, also know as the trash can. Bus operators should be added to this team to make the process more fair. We know what happens "out there," and it's usually not what callers describe. A few simple, well-placed questions can be valuable bullshit detectors.

After a six-month period, if an operator doesn't receive any more related SIPs, they should be removed from our record. There's nothing worse than being passed up for promotion because of something that may or may not have happened six years prior. We learn from our mistakes; if we don't we can repeat mistakes that could injure someone, which is something none of us want. If operators were treated with less suspicion and more integrity, it would have an immediate impact on morale, and... customer service.

* * * * *

Stop patting yourselves on the back regarding "on time performance." We don't care. Truly. We were trained to operate safely above all. Schedule is a distant second. I've heard of a few operators getting awards for their OTP, but it's just a piece of paper. It has no value and holds little interest for us. Lump it with your dreamy "customer service" detritus.

Once again, this speaks to a lack of respect for us. You want us to be on time? Then realize we're not robots. Things happen on the road that are beyond our control. Traffic, for one. Thousands of people are flocking here annually, and they're not leaving their Priuses behind. There are traffic patterns we recognize. Do you? When there's an accident on one of our poorly-designed freeways, the inner arterials are going to back up... quickly. Also, the traffic lights in this city are horribly-outdated. When a former engineer tried to point this out, the state stepped in and fined him for "impersonating an engineer."

Stop putting the onus on scheduling. They can only do so much, outside of having a different paddle for each day of the week. Except for some circumstances that require an occasional schedule tweak, you need to extend schedules and give us more time.

* * * * *

Portland needs a massive street and traffic signal overhaul. Of course, when traffic is heavy, lights cycling regularly help streamline vehicular flow on busy streets. But at night, many lights to change when there is no traffic at all on the cross streets. It's a waste of time, and money due to unnecessary fuel consumption. It's very frustrating to sit at a red light late at night when there are no vehicles to take advantage of the green light on a minor cross street. Especially when you consider most schedules are tighter at night than during the day, even though passenger loads are usually constant.

* * * * *

Once again, I can't stress enough the need to re-design the downtown transit mall. I recently noticed that the words "BUS ONLY" in the transit lanes have been re-painted. Nice. It only took what, three years? They were getting so bad you couldn't make out the words in the best conditions. However, nobody seems to be listening. These markings and words virtually disappear at night and/or when it's raining, which it does a LOT here. What could be done to streamline the mall and make it safer? Painting diagonal lines in a color other than white in lanes where auto traffic is prohibited. Flashing red signs warning people to NOT turn onto certain streets, instead of the puny signs above eye level, might reduce the amount of motorists who routinely turn directly in front of buses and light rail vehicles. Common sense seems to have taken a back seat to a ridiculous fear our city seems to have by not wanting to offend motorists for insisting they follow simple traffic law.

* * * * *

I'd love to see the union and transit management make a concerted effort to lobby local police forces to crack down on aggressive drivers around transit vehicles. I've seen other cities do stings, where officers ride buses, note infractions and radio ahead where other officers lie in wait to pull over the offenders. If people were actually fined for disobeying Yield Signals on buses, perhaps the threat would reduce accidents and near-misses caused by this impatient behavior. There's also a lot of road rage directed at transit operators who pull back into traffic after servicing a stop. Motorists actually speed up when they see a bus preparing to merge, tail-gating the car ahead in order to pass us. Even when there's a red light they're speeding toward. Enough is enough. Thousands of dollars in fines await city coffers, and a few stings every year could possibly save some lives.

* * * * *

Passengers are assaulting us at an alarming rate. Each year, the number of assaults rises, yet our management makes little noise, leaving us to feel isolated and uncared for. I'm sorry, but YES, spitting is an assault. It's demeaning to force one's bodily fluids onto another. You don't know what diseases (other than mental) have infected the assailant. Other, more physical assaults are common and often come without warning. The media remains silent to most of them, and have not (to my knowledge) reported on the fact that attacks are rising all over the world. Instead, management argues over what constitutes "assault" and does little to ensure we're protected on the job. We've finally won some recovery time in our last contract when an assault occurs, but it took Herculean efforts from our union to win this "concession" that should be a given. Management needs to scream from the rooftops in fits of rage, but they don't. Like I've said, at least gangsters protect their own. We're sitting ducks. Oh yeah, they're going to cage us. It's a start, but it's a step backward rather than forward. If I wanted to work in a cubicle, I'd join Corporate America. Besides, we have to leave the cage from time to time.

Give operators tools to de-escalate situations, yes. But also reinforce the notion that we are to be respected with the authority to insist our passengers obey the rules. Instead of disciplining us when some whiny malcontent makes false accusations and/or refuses to Respect the Ride, inform the public of what's expected of them. AND, back us up. Don't suspend us for defending ourselves. It's a basic right to keep someone from battering us, to a certain point. We were once respected by management and the public we serve. Now, nobody seems to show us any.

* * * * *

There. I've offered solutions to my complaints. Maybe they're not going to happen, but I believe they are common sense approaches to some of the issues we face. I'm just one voice in a crowd of thousands. If we rise up as ONE, maybe we could see some positive changes take place.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Just Pass Gas, Not Me

When is it a good idea to pass in a turn lane? Never. It's not only illegal, it can also put you (and others) in extreme danger.

People are in such a hurry to get nowhere fast. To the red light... first. Even if it means tailgating the vehicle ahead of them and having to slam on the brakes just before cutting me off, to avoid rear-ending and being rear-ended. It seems as if people think it's okay to break the Yield Law if they're so close to the car ahead they can't see my flashing red signal. Just to get ahead of my bus, which will (eventually) accelerate to or just below the speed limit.

What's your hurry? Late to your own casket? You'd think that would be the last place to hasten towards. We're all treated to the antics of risk-takers on a daily basis, but today was a record-breaker for me. Normally, my horn is used about three times a shift. Today, I had to use it seven times, thrice within a 30-second period. In our line of work, sounding the horn is a warning to those at whom it's directed. NO, do NOT walk in front of my bus upon exiting, unless you want to become a gushing fountain of red upon the hood of Rushin' Rodney... HONK!

STOP! That bus driver you're passing has at least three reasons for leaving the stop he just serviced. First, his blinking Yield Light should be your first hint. Second, that's not a passing lane you're zipping into, but a turning lane. It's used for vehicles who want to leave the road and enter a different by turning left onto it. (Yeah, even cops do this. Saw one almost splatter a crosswalk-using gentleman in a wheelchair into the adjacent field. I didn't honk that time. Cops hate to be reminded they are sometimes worse offenders than those they cite for doing the same thing.) And third, that's what we do... stop, go, stop and go again. You should be looking ahead at the big ol' lane hogger bus and predicting our next move before you get there. We give you plenty of opportunities to proceed around us, so why must you tempt fate rather than simply waiting for the safest moment to pass? Don't be a dumbass, because that's exactly what I call you at those times when your brain functions in disconnect mode. My horn is to alert you of your dumbass-ish-ness. You're welcome that I predicted your asshole move in time to save your life.

* * * * *

Saw a friend of mine at the garage today who I've missed the past few months. He told me a motorist in a large pickup slammed into the back of his bus one day, at full speed. Caused neck, shoulder and sternum injuries to my dear friend. He's been in physical therapy ever since, and is finally returning to work. I hope his Workers' Comp claim isn't denied, but it's not unheard of. Management tends to brag about winning such cases against its employees. Heal fast, my brother.

* * * * *

Finally, a light moment to close with. Gave a brief ride to a gentleman today who was looking for his wife. Another passenger offered to help.

"Can't find your wife, eh?" he asked. "You can have mine."

Monday, May 7, 2018

Five Years In, Looking Forward

Deke's Note: It's been fun celebrating my fifth birthday. Again. Yep, Deke N. Blue began this blog odyssey five years ago en Cinco de Mayo. I've spent over a month contemplating my writing future. Even though it might be best if I left this endeavour behind, it's evident I cannot be true to myself if I don't continue describing what it's like, From the Driver Side of a bus. There is no blueprint here, I'm just going to continue "winging it." Hopefully I can keep you entertained and informed. However this plays out, thank YOU for being here, reading and rewarding me with your support. Once there is no more YOU, then it's time to stop. Until then, here's another look into the mind of this bus operator.

* * * * *

It's been a strange six weeks or so since I picked up the keyboard for a serious run at this gig. Between binge-watching TV shows and giving my mind a rest, I've had a hard time resisting the urge to write, even in my journal. It's always been my go-to when life throws curve balls. It soothes me to explain what I'm feeling; resisting the urge took a lot of self-control and introspection. All through my life, as you can surely understand, extreme challenges command my full attention. Reaching out to family and friends, I found that whatever fears and feelings of self-doubt were mostly unnecessary. Your support and patience helped me find sources of inner strength I had forgotten exists.

As I approach 60 (I was born that year...), certain truths are revealed:

1) My employer surely knows my pen name's true identity. Nobody could be so stupid and simultaneously exist. It's a given. If GM Doug were to come up to me and say, "Hey Deke," I'd say "Hey Dougie-poo, how's it hangin'?" However, I don't want the general public to know this. Why? Because it's distracting, and my job comes FIRST, above blogging, book sales, etc. Our job is seriously dangerous, and ferrying passengers safely is my main goal every day. While my ego enjoys an occasional massage, I don't want it to happen at anybody's expense. Driving a bus might have become instinctual to me over the past five years, but it still involves intense concentration, planning and execution. Whenever my mind is distracted thinking about being Deke, bad shit happens. I've had some people who know the truth give me wonderful compliments, but while in the seat, their safety is of paramount importance, not my ego. So please, let's keep Deke somewhat a mystery. Management, if you're reading this, I hope you realize that my goal here is to chronicle, not to insult. We make the wheels roll, you count the change we rake in. It's just like that. Don't let it go to your heads, and I'll do the same.

2) My favorite musicians are growing old, and dying. While this may not seem anything other than a persistent truth, it's very hard on me as an artist. I'm dying, we're all dying. Nobody gets out of this gig alive. Tom Petty's passing was extremely hard on me, and I'm still trying to "get over it." Listening to him as I write this. Why is it so hard? I didn't know him personally, but his music has always struck a vibrant chord within me. Saw him in Portland a decade ago, my only chance to experience him live. He was a rebel, someone I admired. Perhaps I aspire to Tom's brand of bullshit repellent, because simple acceptance has never done anyone good.

Playing fireplace footsie
with the one I adore most.
3) It doesn't matter what bus line I drive, people are generally the same. There are a lot of great people in my city, and I enjoy being their time-travel conductor. Others are not so fun to be around, but they eventually leave. In my new "don't give a damn" direction about the pseudonym, I'll give you a hint for my next signup: if you jump on the 9, you'll maybe get to ride my glide. Hopefully I'll treat you to a smooth one. Bring my book on board, I'll sign it. But only on a break; otherwise it's a distraction, and I don't do that. If you're discreet about it, signing one of my books is about the biggest compliment I'm given, so thank you. Make a big deal out of it, I'm sure to send you packing in a fit of disgust. (Looking forward to seeing you again, my Line 9 regs: Darius, Wendy, John and others.)

4) Portland's media SUCKS. With few exceptions, I'm disgusted with the putrid state of our local information highway. We have a national epidemic of apathy regarding the middle class' state of life, yet all they care about is pot and whether the homeless and illegals have "rights." I'm certainly an advocate for those who have the least in life, but I'm mostly concerned about my fellow middle-class earners and taxpayers. We work for a living, and refuse to bow out of this life. It seems we matter less, and the only time we're profiled is if we're perceived as doing something "wrong." Boneheads! Thanks to Oregon Public Broadcasting's "Think Out Loud" radio program for giving me 21 minutes in January to talk about my humble book, Northwest Labor Press for a nice interview, and to Portland Tribune for giving me a nod. The rest of you? You're corporate butt-kissers. Get real, quit pandering and get back to the business of journalism. Ever heard of it? I'm starting to think: NOT. You pretend to remember, but I was one of you long ago. I'm not seeing any balls out there. Grow some, will ya? Except for the lady journalists, who are tougher than male writers these days. Muns? No thanks, I wear my hair DOWN.

5) Running for office in our ATU757 elections this year? Take note: I won't take sides. It's part of that "journalism thing." Feel free to email me with your platforms, as long as they don't include cutting or demeaning your fellow brothers and sisters who want our vote. Keep it clean, folks. You may not agree with how things have gone and perhaps you can do better, but unless you can run a clean campaign, unlike the last one, I'm not impressed. Too many low blows two years ago, and it disgusted me and many others. Stick to the issues, debate honestly and with pure intentions, and we'll take notice. Avoid ad hominem attacks. Otherwise, you're not going to win.

6) Bus operators are human, no matter what the public expects. We're late sometimes due to many possible factors. Live with it, and don't give us a hard time. You waited a long time for my bus, and I'm sorry that happened. Regardless, I'm the one giving you a ride. I don't know why my leader didn't pick you up. Contrary to public belief, we don't have communications with our fellow operators. Shit happens in transit. Maybe you missed him by seconds. Perhaps he broke down and didn't make his last trip. It's not my business to know how or why it happened. I'm driving the one you're on, and you should be grateful we're rolling. Sit down and shut up, instead of berating me for something I have no control over. If you're late for wherever you're going, I'm on time and you didn't plan accordingly. Accept reality, take responsibility, and learn something from the experience. I'm not to blame.

Trips to the beach are soothing.
 7) Our transit system offers over 80 bus routes. There is no possible way I can tell you when another bus is scheduled to arrive at any given point. I don't drive that one. All I can do is work very hard to ensure this one gets you where you need to go, safely.

8) Buses and light rail vehicles are disgustingly dirty. I don't blame you for wearing masks when you ride, but they likely won't save you from the trillions of pathogens found on our district vehicles. Management doesn't care about giving us clean working environments. They hire operators by the hundreds every year. We get sick or die, there's always a body to replace us. We're dispensable. Our buses are interior-cleaned, on average, about four times a year. They don't put an emphasis on how clean the inside of a vehicle is, only the exterior gets cleaned weekly. Any college students want to replicate the study conducted a decade ago about how much active bacteria lives in transit? Go for it. The squeaky wheel gets the grease; the horribly-dirty bus languishes in silence. The cold virus I'm battling right now is testament to that fact.

9) I'm all for the legal consumption of marijuana. It has many healthy benefits. It's very important that you realize however, that its smell can be offensive to others. You have a right to consume it, but others have the right to not be assailed by your rights. I cannot partake in its many benefits, because I'm bound by archaic federal statutes that require me not to. Although my body aches from the effects of repetitive-motion actions endured in the seat, I am only allowed to enjoy alcohol. Rest assured that I don't imbibe within 12 hours of taking control of the ride you're on. I use it sparingly during my work week, yet I tend to enjoy it more on weekends; I'm not responsible for your safety then. My job requirements are very stringent, and I respect them. The paycheck keeps the bills paid, and I have always met my personal obligations. I just wish the feds would get off their high horse and admit that legislators enjoy the benefits of cannabis and that it's not as dangerous as the pharmaceuticals that claim millions of lives every year. It's a rigged game, folks, yet while it's illegal, I have to obey the edicts the hypocrites hand down. Sure, I'd love to take a few tokes off a joint to ease the pains that constant depressions of an air brake pedal cause, but I cannot. So, I will not. Still, it amuses me how many people don't understand their bus operators' inability to accept their offered gift of primo bud. I had a young man this week appear hurt and insulted at my refusal to accept his wonderfully-fragrant and generous offering. Once I explained my dilemma, he simply gave it to a fellow rider who requested it. I was very amused at this, and touched. It's rare we're treated to a tip, and I really wish I could have accepted this one. That was some dank bud, folks. Just realize we're not allowed to have it on us while on transit property. And if you accidentally leave your tantalizing pot on our ride, it will be tossed unceremoniously into the trash upon our return to the garage. It's still against federal transportation law, and that's what we're bound to obey, at this point in time.

(I'm curious to know tales from other operators given this offering. How do you feel about the use of cannabis among bus drivers? I think it might chill us out a bit, but it could also render us directionally-challenged. How would someone feel if their operator said "Hey man, was I supposed to turn back there? Faaar-out, man.")

10) I just woke my wife singing out loud as I listen to "New Kid in Town." Sorry, honey. Dr. Jameson made me feel better. Great cold medicine, but hard on those who actually sleep in the middle of the night.

Hope you enjoyed this post. It was fun to write. Excuse my rambling, but having a month off tends to make a writer ramble like a politician hunting money. I'll attend to whatever errors I made... later. In the meantime, thanks for reading.

I love to grow roses. Their beauty and scent
beat the hell out of what I see (and smell) as a bus operator.