Monday, January 15, 2018

Cruel Sickness

We were instantly wise to this scam. What kind of "family"
allows people to beat up their brothers and sisters?
A dysfunctional one, of course.

It seemed like there was a light at the end of the tunnel when management and our union came to agreement on our latest contract. Then I noticed the light dimmed shortly after we approved the contract. Seems they left their high beams on just long enough to blind us, then added fog lights for special effect.

Management seemed to be getting the hint that we were due some valuable concessions. We weathered the Great Recession and saw our benefits go under the knife. Decades-long promises were broken in two, as if they never existed. We watched in horror as our honored retirees were lied to and insulted. Then last year, when it seemed we'd be heading to binding arbitration (because "vital services" like transit are not allowed by law to strike in Oregon), our outgoing GM conceded to some vital contractual terms and agreed to a contract with our union leadership. Management  acknowledged our need to recover after assaults, agreed to an extra two contractual days off, and gave us raises, among other "wins." Then it got petty, downright mean, and spiteful. We also learned just how much disdain they actually have for us.

Now they've screwed us out of the two extra days and have yet to change another insulting policy that further places operators in danger when we're too ill to drive.

Imagine becoming violently ill while driving your shift. Common sense and training tell you it's no longer safe to continue driving in service. Not safe to keep driving your fellow citizens down the road in your 20-ton six-wheeler. You've just soiled yourself, or a light-induced migraine has nearly rendered you blind, or last night's goulash is splattered all over the floor. You're weak, scared about this silly "time loss" edict management bullies us with, and not thinking lucidly. Not only are you in no condition to operate safely, but you're miles from your garage, even further from your home, and you need help. So you push "Operator Ill" on the Computer Aided Dispatch console. A few moments later, a Dispatcher calls on the radio.

"I'm too sick to continue in service," you tell them. "Please fill my run and I'll take the bus back to the garage." If you feel okay to drive yourself but not the 20 people who just filed off your bus, mumbling insults as they shuffled past, you're willing to take the bus back to the barn and head home. That would be the logical thing. But no.

"I'm sorry," the Dispatcher tells you, "but you'll have to lock up the bus and wait for the relief driver who's been sent to finish your run."

"Okay," you reply. "How about I just drive the bus back to the garage? The passengers just boarded my follower's bus, and I'm empty."

"That's not how it works," the voice says. You can tell our Dispatcher brother is annoyed, but not at you. It's as if Big Brother is breathing down his neck. "I'm sorry, but you'll have to find your own way back. You can't have a ride with the other driver in the company car, and the supervisor isn't allowed to drive you back either. Do you need medical assistance?"

This is where it gets tricky. You'd think our agency has our backs, right? No, not in the least. Not in Portland, Oregon anyway. You're screwed, outta luck Chuck, and not thinking rationally. Nah, you think to yourself, it's just a virus. Just get home and ride it out. Still, your head is screwed on crooked and it hurts too bad to turn it right.

"Nah," you answer, "I'm okay. I mean, I'm not okay, but I can get the bus back to the garage. I'll just do that."

"I need you to lock it up," Dispatch says. A pleading tone follows. "Are you sure you don't need medical?" This is actually your only avenue for rescue at this point. If you ask for medical assistance, you will be transported to a medical facility. Sometimes, you don't know it but you might actually be experiencing a serious issue that needs immediate medical attention. Heart attack? Stroke? Kidney failure? Who knows? You're probably not the best one to decide whether you're physically capable of driving a bus anywhere, let alone your garage.

Brother Dispatcher is trying, under strict guidelines, to determine how to help you. But his hands are tied. Some foolish edict has handcuffed them to an impossibly cruel policy that strands its operators when they desperately need to be aided and supported. Instead, Dispatch has to hand you the horrible truth: management wants you in the seat, and if you can't be there, you're of no value to them. Replacing you with a fresh body is the only answer. Your well-being is not a high priority.

The Dispatcher's voice sounds resigned, ashamed they have to say what they do. But management is calling the shots, not our brother on the other end of the line. Realization sinks in. You shake your head, trying to figure out what exactly it is you're supposed to do. Are we "valued" members of the "family," or simply expendable parts to be discarded when we become momentarily defective?

Meanwhile, a road supervisor has arrived. With one look, she can tell you're not well. Speaking with Dispatch, she confirms you are in no condition to drive safely. You ask her to drive you back to the garage, but she declines. She's not allowed to do this, as it's "against policy." Although she was recently promoted to supervisor and knows what you've had to endure just to get to this moment in time, she cannot help you. She'd actually be risking suspension, or worse, to do the right thing for her brother operator.

How utterly abandoned you feel at that moment. Not only are you suffering physically, but you're also tormented, disoriented, not sure what to do. You've been abused by the same people who just gave you a "Customer Service Award." It's beyond cruel to do this to a fellow human being, but to subject a valuable public servant to such abuse is criminal. The people who run the agency are employees of a public entity, who tend to value the dregs of society more than their own professional operators. It's madness in motion, and you're too ill to think clearly enough to fight back.

Most of us will deny that we need medical help even when it's obvious to those around us. Many people have died because they weren't treated at a critical moment. Their friends and family listened to their plea not to call for help, not wanting to be "a burden." These crucial moments are when we need help the most, and should not be making decisions for ourselves. This is precisely when responsible people make decisions for us that ultimately save many lives. A family member will usually override our request and call for help anyway. Because that's the right thing to do. Our brothers and sisters, unless we're in obvious medical distress, can only ask us if we want help. If we're in no condition to make the decision, we could die from management's neglectful policies.

Operators from transit agencies around the world shake their heads at Portland's lack of empathy for its transit drivers.

"They'll ask if you are okay to continue," a Tempe, Arizona operator said. "When you tell them no, they send someone to get you. And, yeah they'll take you home if you don't look well enough to drive." Wow, what a concept: compassion.

Others from Vancouver chimed in, saying they would be transported wherever they needed to go, hospital or home. A New York City operator, however, said he'd be on his own "without pay" if he called in from the road. The majority I heard from said their agency would take the steps to ensure their safety. Not mine, not in Portland. And our management should be ashamed, for this and many other reasons. It's disgraceful, inhuman and tells us they have no regard whatsoever for our well-being. Calling a taxi, at the very least, would be the right thing to do.

Driving behind a deadheading bus the other night, I noticed our employer has realized we're not a "family" after all. If we are, it's weirder than Little House on the Prairie meets Dirty Harry. Our rear signs no longer tell people to "Join Our Family," but to "Join Our Team" instead. What, Mommy and Daddy, are we bad kids? You're punishing us as if we are. Yet we make the wheels roll, and you count the change that trickles into the fare box.

It took me a while, but I now understand what my brother told me when I was new. "This is the best job I've ever had," he said, wistfully adding "but the worst company I've ever worked for."

BANG. Management, you're out of line. On this and many other issues. If you can't understand where you're wrong, then you should step aside and let us run the show while you try to walk a mile in my shoes. Oh wait, I'm sorry, I forgot. You might get an overdose of oxygen if you step down from that ivory tower long enough to drive a bus in service. The first week you even tried, you'd get the flu and be disciplined for the two weeks you took to recover.

We're exposed to every pathogen that slithers onto our bus, so we're constantly fighting bugs. I'd rather fight them though. At least they're predictable and exit the system. We're stuck with you.

Don't forget, brothers and sisters, there's no "I" in "TEAM."
You and I? We're on our own.


  1. Occasionally, our GPS/Comm system goes down. I can't imagine what the Supervisors and Dispatchers do, but the buses continue to run just like normal. What do we need them for anyway?

    1. Are your supes and dispatchers union? If so, they're our brothers and sisters. Often, I've found they can only do what the uppity ups allow them to.

  2. Just a note about NYC. In NYC operators have access to the world renown subway system that takes you pretty much wherever you need to go as fast as possible. I imagine the great majority (maybe all of them) use the subway to get to and from work anyway. So they are not exactly abandoned like the people driving Trimet that has a very sparse network comparably

    1. Good point. In Portland, get stuck on east Burnside if you're a Merlo driver I guess you'd be screwed!

  3. Spot on, Deke! I've pointed out the hypocrisy of the "Join the Family" and noticed they changed that slogan. They're listening social media and bloggers like you and Al, too. Notice the fare box code change shortly after Al's interview with the young man who successfully drove a bus out of the yard? With that being said, your job is done yet! Keep bringing the darkness of TriMess to light!

  4. I am so disappointed in what your alter ego posted about "Mini Runners" stealing runs. Since you use a nom de plume I guess it's ok if I post anonymously. "Join the Family" yet you have just managed to put a wedge between brothers and sisters due to you being childish, pompous and selfish. How many "Minis" have supported you through the years? How many have bought your book? The company changes the scheduling for whatever reason and immediately you lash out to "the family". I am so turned off to you right now by what your alter ego posted that I'm not sure I can support or follow you any longer. Be mad at the company but don't lash out on your brothers and sisters for a change they had no control over. By the was lashing out at "Newbs" as you put it was not a way to make new people feel welcomed and part of the "family". Think before you write. Words do have consequences.

  5. I want to add a few more things to your alter ego's insulting/divisive comment on another forum. I have been with the company for 10 yrs. I was full-time but due to physical/emotional reasons I could not take the stress or physical toll of being in that seat for 10hrs. I had 2 choices 1) get another job 2) drop down to Mini. I went back to Mini. The first signup my name was the very last on the list beneath the "Newbs" ( I took my lumps and signed what was available) Al is your biggest supporter and promoter he also was a "Mini" for like 15 yrs. Words are powerful and hurtful, we wear the same uniform, drive the same routes, have the same SOP, have the same bs, the only difference is that I work less hours than you. I wish I could be full-time but I am not capable due to reasons stated above. I am deeply hurt, offended and let down by your alter ego's divisive, arrogant comment. Just for the record I did purchase your book and I did enjoy it .