Thursday, June 15, 2017

Another Slap in the Face

Gee, let's protect those who harass transit workers
and disrupt service, like this guy.
I'd rather not.

A few months ago, several Amalgamated Transit Union 757 members testified before an Oregon House of Representatives committee on House Bill 2717, which increases penalties for those convicted of assaulting public transit employees. As it stands now, an assault on one of us is only a serious crime if we are rolling wheels while in the seat. The new bill broadens the scope to include assault on any transit "employee... assaulted while acting in the scope of employment."

The new bill would provide more protection to operations employees who may not be driving at the moment of an assault, but are performing duties related to transit. This would (hopefully) include operators who are waiting to relieve another operator, supervisors in the field, and mechanics making sure our wheels keep rolling. It's a step forward, considering an increasing number of people think nothing of punching, stabbing, slapping, spitting on or threatening us simply for doing what we're paid to do.

Earlier this year, the Oregon Senate decided to sponsor SB 357A, which is another criminal-coddling measure that will reduce the penalties for those convicted of Interfering with Public Transit. Several people have testified in support of this bill, saying that the law as it stands disproportionately affects people of color. One person in support of the bill states "Fear-based protective measures which are achieved through the increased criminalization of poverty have been proven not to protect society, instead only increasing the historical burdens weighted upon the shoulders of communities of color and low income." I'm sorry, but breaking a law isn't the fault of society, but of the person who commits the crime.

Interfering with Public Transit has little to do with "poverty." Sure, poor people can't always afford to pay, and jailing them for fare evasion is similar to a form of debtors' prison. Why not separate Fare Evasion from IPT? To reduce punishment for the larger problem of troublemakers interrupting the flow of transit would only encourage more mayhem on our rides. Our transit agency has a new habit, as a brother of ours states, of "trying to be everything to everybody, while failing on every front." Management has eroded any sense of control of our vehicles, when it was once understood that we were truly Captains of the Ship. This bill would further erode our ability to maintain a peaceful and safe atmosphere for the majority of those who pay their fare AND behave in a civil manner while riding, by coddling people who don't pay. Fare evaders are often the main source of trouble and disruption of our duties. It doesn't matter what color their skin is, or the amount of money they have. I've had miscreants and social mutants of all points on the socio-economic scale.

Instead of further weakening penalties for criminals, shouldn't we be working toward a safer transit system for all? Those who shout obscenities, harass other passengers, insult and assault operators and other transit employees are like ragweed growing in a park once graced with flowing, perfect grass. Nobody wants to get down on their hands and knees to remove the problem plants, but failure to do so allows the weeds to reproduce on a greater scale. Many fare evaders I deal with ask if they can ride free, and are usually polite about it. As the district has instructed us, I no longer refuse rides for lack of fare. I still warn them they're riding at their own risk, but this falls on deaf ears because the word is out: nobody in management or law enforcement seems to care if you pay.

Separate the two, but don't lessen the penalties for troublemakers. In fact, since incidents are mostly caused by those who have mental illness, why not increase funding for their treatment? Jail sentences don't do anything for their ailments or lift them out of poverty. However, insisting that operators act as mental health professionals while continuing to erode our benefits is beyond insulting. We're the scapegoats, it seems for every negative transit occurrence, be it mayhem, murder or collisions. It's easy to blame us, rather than take responsibility for poor management and legislative failure.

Whatever happened to common sense in government? Oh wait, those two terms shouldn't be used together, because they rarely happen concurrently.

Deke's Note: Please remember to call your state legislator and voice support for HB 2717, which stiffens penalties for those who assault us. The bill is moving slowly through the House, and is now languishing in the Ways and Means Committee. No vote has been scheduled, but now is the time to add your voice. If we don't speak out as ONE, we can't blame anyone but ourselves for allowing it to fail.


  1. Hear, hear, Deacon In Blue! Another awesome perspective on which to focus our collective efforts -- the legislative process!

    Well done, Deke! Keep up the good work!


  2. Thank you Brother Deacon In Blue!!! Stronger penalties against Transit Malcontents sends the right message. Here again is a problem that could streamline to a solution if only we still had our right to STRIKE!!! Were oh were did our right to strike go???

    1. What is lost will never be recovered. Our service is too vital to the economy to again be allowed the right to strike. We are forever screwed.