Sunday, September 17, 2017
Binding Our Gaping Wounds
Just last week, one of our sisters was relieved on her route. As soon as she stepped out of her bus, she was brutally attacked for no apparent reason. She suffered a concussion, black eyes and other related injuries. Of course, our useless corporate local news media didn't report on it. Not a peep. Crickets sound off from all their perspectives. Not that it's entirely their fault. I haven't heard any statements from our transit management either. It seems eerily quiet in response to our anguish. In fact, the last time any mention was made of an assault was in June, when three people were arrested and charged with spitting on and pepper-spraying an operator on Lombard. That incident occurred June 9, but since then there have been 29 other instances of operators being either menaced, threatened or assaulted.
29. Let that sink in for a moment. Silence from management, news media, our union. I Googled it, and could find no recent reports on our collective plight. As of this post, we're at 63 acts of violence against our frontline transit workers in Portland. Sixty-three. Last year, there were 55 total. At this rate, we could have over 80 by year's end. I sure hope not, but it's possible.
It can happen over the seemingly silliest thing. Not giving a courtesy stop. Requiring a passenger to abide by transit code. Another driver passing them by in Drop Off Only mode. Asking that music be muted as to not be a distraction or discourteous to fellow passengers. Waking up a sleeper. We all face the danger in the daily duties of our job. Whether you're an operator, a supervisor, mechanic... it seems we're targets for society's slugs.
A rail operator was hit with a pipe. At least nine operators were spit on, some in the face. A bus was caught in the crossfire of a gun battle. We've been punched, slapped, and had liquids thrown upon us. Several of the 63 were of the "menacing" variety, meaning the operator was threatened with physical violence. In another state, an operator was recently covered in a passenger's urine, just because she didn't like the operator's tone while saying "Have a nice day." How many other professions face such threats? Cops have tazers, pistols, shotguns and Kevlar vests. We're left unprotected, and suspended if we do allow our biological defense mechanisms to play out naturally.
There were 55 total incidents of violence against us in 2016. Since March 18, when the district announced its new "don't ask don't enforce" fare policy, meant to relieve operators from arguments at the fare box, there have been 50 assaults. That lets the air out of the "most arguments start at the fare box" theory. While it was a positive attempt by management to stop the violence against us, these assailants seem to find something they believe validates their criminality.
The great majority of our passengers are polite and respectful. Many are quiet, some are downright rude. The smallest percentage, those who assault us, are growing in boldness. Earlier this year, a Canadian was murdered by an awakened passenger early one morning. These incidents aren't isolated to Portland, Oregon. It happens everywhere. Society is growing a population of bold assailants, many of whom are mentally ill. Help for this segment of humanity has dwindled to a trickle since the Reagan administration. The result of neglecting treatment is coming back -- to haunt US.
Legislatures are slow to act. They "study" something until they're blue in the face, but little action is being taken. We've testified about our plight, but all we seem to receive are sympathetic nods and empty promises. I'm praying it won't take the sight of another operator in a casket to inspire leaders to some decisive actions to further protect us from the dangers of today's hostile minority.
Since we can't count on management, news media or union leaders to publicize our peril, it's time we took it to the streets. Where our support might make a difference. People who use transit daily don't like trouble. When their ride home is interrupted by some ignorant or drunk asswipe, it's inconvenient to them. To many, it's very upsetting to see someone who is entrusted with their daily safety pummelled for no good reason. They come to our defense... sometimes. It's time they realize how many of us have endured dangerous situations or assaults. I'm one of the former, on more than one occasion, and it wasn't my fault. I was just doing my damn job, all right?
I applauded the brave efforts of Fred Casey and Mike McCurry in their quest to have our legislature strengthen penalties against those who assault us. Now, I join my brother Henry Beasley in an effort to educate the public of our collective plight. My fellow brothers and sisters, we need to let our riders know that we're mad as hell and not willing to take it lightly. Not just here in Portland, but all over the world. We're all at growing risk of menacing and assaults.
For the week of September 18-24, I will join other operators, hopefully worldwide, in a show of solidarity. I'll wear a band aid on the right (passenger side) of my face to illustrate our plight, from the driver side. Our fellow union members at ATU 1197 in Jacksonville, Florida displayed bandages on their face during recent contract negotiations. It was a great idea, and inspired Brother Beasley to ask bus operators here to spread the word about the uptick in violence against us.
I hope you join me, even if you don't drive a bus. If someone asks why the band aid remains as the week progresses, I'll explain the increase of assaults on operators. Most won't notice, or pretend they don't. There will be some, however, who will ask what it's about. If enough of us participate, we could make a difference.
One fellow suggested that such a show without some "official" announcement from our union is a waste of time. My response is this. A river begins as a trickle, and other tributaries add to it until it becomes a roaring river. It's time to roar, brothers and sisters. Please add your voice, and together maybe we'll overcome the sound of the crickets.