Monday, October 31, 2016

Are We Valued Or Not?

My fellow bus operators are truly amazing people. Of course we all work hard to take Portland safely to their destinations. We make transit WORK, along with rail ops, station agents, supervisors, dispatchers, maintenance workers and trainers. Yet the nagging question in my mind is, why do we feel under-valued?

The reason I feel this way is you rarely hear anything GOOD about union employees. As we head into contract negotiations, management feeds the media negative images. We're portrayed as secondary players between progress and the sun, and the resulting darkness is supposedly our own fault.

Overpaid. Greedy. Cadillac benefits. These are just a few of the terms used to describe us. Does it sound like management believes we are valued when you hear these things? To me, it's painfully clear they think we're just a pain in the ass.

Almost every day, I get thanked by passengers for the smooth and safe ride I provide. It feels great! It's a validation for the effort I put into creating a stress-free and comfortable experience for my passengers. Rarely do they call in and offer their praise on the record, which can be a downer. But as an operator, I've learned to accept it as one of many facts of life. When someone takes the time to pat me on the back and thank me for not jerking them around like a kernel of corn in the popper, it's validation enough.

If management wanted to value us, it would be all over the airwaves informing the public about the 44 assaults on transit workers (so far) this year. If I were the general manager, I'd be visiting every media outlet and screaming my outrage. I'd also offer to pay the victims for their pain and suffering in addition to compensating them for as long as they need to recover, without time loss or fear of being fired. My attendance at court proceedings held for those accused of committing assaults on transit employees would be obligatory. I'd visit every site and listen to the operators who make the big wheels roll, the maintenance garages where our outstanding mechanics keep the fleet going, and everyone else who is instrumental in the 24/7/365 operations of this agency. I'd be on the transit mall, looking for ways to improve it and bugging the city to patrol for traffic violators. I'd find a way to thank my employees EVERY day, in person and anywhere else possible. Because without everyone else, I'd have no job.

One night recently, I dreamed I was the GM. My first day on the job, I cut my salary in half and reduced my benefits to match what union members get. My position was restructured to require I drive a bus in-service a few weeks every year. I moved my office from up on high to the lion's den, where it once was, and kept my door open so anyone could come in to chat. Complaints weren't just heard, they were acted upon. Customer service was re-structured so that operators had real-time reports and could explain many of the nonsense calls or flag them for the circular file (trash can). In my new position, I believed it was vital to show the Operations Staff just how truly valuable they are.

In my first day I also formed a task force to ask the state legislature to enact laws protecting transit employees from attack. I asked the Governor to make the governing board an elected body, answerable to the public in elections every two years. To end this first day, I visited the ATU757 office and apologized for past transgressions and asked for a new beginning, a partnership of trust and cooperation.

The results in my dream were outstanding morale, a resurgence to being the Number One transit agency in the USA, and the confidence borne of knowing I was doing the right thing by my truly valued employees.

But hey, I can dream can't I?


  1. Why exactly are union employees devalued ?
    My personal take on that is that it is a method of control.
    It wasn't always this way, just over the last 20 years things have devolved to this level

    1. It doesn't make sense for them to do this. And it's demoralizing the very group they should be celebrating.