Sunday, October 8, 2017

I'm Sick, but Present

If you miss work in public transportation, it's called "time loss." The term itself appears harmless, not daunting or even close to fear-inspiring. To transit operators however, it can be all three.

In cop shows, they take "lost time" with regularity to deal with personal issues. They act as if it's nothing. Employees accrue sick leave regularly. It's meant as a form of protection. In other jobs, if I got sick it was understood my co-workers didn't want me to infect them with whatever icky bug ailed me. Understandable. Nobody wants to be sick. Get plenty of rest, see a doctor if warranted, let it pass, get your ass back in the saddle.

In transit, we're taught from the beginning to show up for work. Sick? Too bad. Weather spitting ice and snow? Stay at the garage if necessary, but drive your shift. Want to be recognized for being a professional? Don't have more than two days lost time in a year, or you can forget about that Lead/Senior/Master Operator patch. You can have 10 years of safe driving, and still not be considered for honored status if illness or injury prevents you from near-perfect attendance.

We sit at the entrance of an overactive bug factory. Each time the door opens, we're exposed to whatever pathogens attach themselves to our human cargo. As fall speeds toward winter, sniffles and coughs will multiply, and so will the chances we'll be affected by some illness. Flu shots can't protect us from every strain, and our immune systems are incapable of always protecting us from the seriously-ill. Our passengers are also subject to catching whatever illness we're fighting, and they don't deserve such disrespect.

My brothers and sisters will nod their heads as I write this next line. Often times we show up to work with fevers/coughs/weak bowels, just so we don't have "time loss."

It's not safe to drive a bus or operate a light rail vehicle when you're not feeling well. Perhaps it's physical, maybe a friend or relative or a family pet has died. One operator described driving with the flu, "puking out the driver window and rolling on." This is called distracted driving. It's not safe when just turning your head to scan exacerbates that hellacious headache or stresses a queasy stomach. You're thinking about laying in bed, being cared for by your family... not predicting what that kid on a bicycle might do next. Our physical condition seems not to matter if there's a collision... if we're not able to prevent it, our record is forever marred (and sometimes our soul too) with a Preventable Accident.

When you're sick, it's very hard to be polite and "customer-service oriented." How many assaults could have been avoided if an operator had felt well and in control of the situation? Not feeling well can also be attributed to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, something else our management doesn't seem to account for when evaluating our performance. What if an ill operator with PTSD reacts violently to the biological fight-or-flight syndrome with a fist? Their physical condition isn't considered, only this ill-conceived weak stance that there should be "no violence in the workplace." It seems okay for people to commit acts of violence against us, but when we fight back we face discipline up to and including termination.

Those of us who have experienced a severe illness or injury often have to use up all accrued sick leave, vacation time and have nothing left to fall back on. Days off pile up, and soon management is looking at you as a liability rather than a valued employee. You can be fired for missing too much work, no matter what the cause.

When an operator becomes ill in the middle of a route and hits "Operator Ill" on their console, they are instructed to pull over at the safest spot, and wait for a relief driver to arrive and take over. Here's the outrageous part: they are on their own to find transportation home or to their own vehicle. The district will not safely transport them, unless the operator asks for medical transport to a hospital. No taxi is called, nor can another driver or supervisor drive them where they need to go. That's just inhumane, as if we're punished for saying "Hey, it's not safe for me to transport these passengers in this condition."

Sensible guidelines regarding missing work are necessary to avoid the possibility of abusing the system. In our case, the guidelines are abusing the worker. We're basically afraid of taking care of ourselves. Meanwhile, our General Manager is praised for his performance and is guaranteed regular pay increases while we fight for every penny. Our health insurance costs rose again for next year, and the paltry wage increase you dole out might just pay for the added cost.

It's no wonder many of us retire into a casket. Some don't make it that far.

Wow, thanks guys. You really "appreciate" us. I'll remember that next time I'm feverish and almost mess my pants while on the job or narrowly avoid being assaulted. But hey, don't worry. I won't miss any work because I'm not supposed to use my sick leave. That might label me a bad employee.


  1. So what did you do with all of your sick hours?

    Employees covered by this Agreement will accumulate sick leave beginning with the completion of the employee’s probationary period at the rate of eight (8) hours for each 160 accumulated straight-time pay hours to the maximum accumulated sick leave.

  2. Just need to point out you accrue Time Loss the first time you call in sick. If you have a 1000 hours of sick time built up you get time loss. a lot of people believe you accrue Time Loss only if you have no sick hours to use.not true.

  3. Sick hours don't keep you from accumulating time loss.

  4. The biggest slap in the face is that frontline employees have to absorb the rise in premiums. Meanwhile, Management only pays $100.00/month for a family insurance with Kaiser. How is it fair that those who make less money than Management and have all the risk pay 150% more for healthcare coverage? Bastards!

  5. Resistance is futile! You will be found and assimulated into the collective. Don't get sick and don't get hurt! That is the american way as a wage earner.