Deacon Who?

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(Note: Ideas and opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily shared by the transit agency I work for. This is simply an expression of free speech while describing the work bus operators perform.) I have been (and called) many things in this life. Most of all, I'm a writer who happens to drive a bus. In May of '13 I thought it would be fun to write about my job. As a direct result of this blog, I published a book in November of 2017 called "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane" that is available on Amazon. I write to provide insight as to what it's like on a bus... From The Driver Side. Thank you for reading!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Management's Unhealthy Attitude Threatens Transit

Deke's Note: Self-promotion is painful. It's the only way, unfortunately, for an author just getting his fingers wet. Wait, that sounds perverted. But writers do it with their fingers. I'll stop there, before I step in even deeper. Instead, I'll direct them elsewhere.

The book, as if you don't already know is, JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane. It was published last November, and so far book sales are in the hundreds. A rather slow start, but with the help of many -- mostly YOU, dear faithful readers -- it needs to reach a wider audience. The reason I compiled this tome of blog posts was to give the Average Joe/Jane a deeper understanding of what it's like to live in the operator's seat of a city bus. The perception of us is extremely biased in some cases, and truly uninformed in most. Here's a taste of what affects us.

Our transit agency, and those elsewhere, want to control the message. They portray us as unskilled, uneducated goofs who get more than we're worth. It's time we blast holes in that shrewd propaganda and become a force to be reckoned with. We are transit; they are overpaid bean counters bent on beating us into submission.

Transit agencies today are largely staffed with corporatists who have never been behind the wheel of anything larger than a BMW. Their attitude toward us is eerily similar to how ordinary motorists treat professional drivers all over the globe. Transit workers are a melting pot of experience not only in transit, but in scores of other careers. We've built things, organized, managed and excelled in other fields prior to becoming operators. Many who have operated in transit for years are often more qualified to manage our agencies than those doing it. In fact, it would be logical if management positions required applicants to have practical experience, but many of them would be lost behind the wheel. A construction foreman who has never driven a nail or textured drywall would not garner the respect of his co-workers.

Why do transit-novice management wonks think we should believe in them? They certainly don't "have our backs" when a largely-unforgiving public assails us on every front. In fact, their behavior suggests and supports the fallacy that operators are the "bad guys." Passenger complaints  often lack a basic understanding of transit procedure, filled with untruths and even sometimes passed on to the wrong operator. Because management spends very little on public education, we become targets for those who believe they know our jobs simply for having "ridden transit for years."

This push for "on-time performance," while maybe logical to the outsider, is a pressure-cooker for operators saddled with congested routes fraught with obstacles of many kinds. Traffic signals are often ill-timed and don't change to maintain a logical flow of traffic. They're on the same timer no matter the time of day. State officials punished an engineer who pointed out that lights are configured using 100-year-old algorithms. Perhaps they should hire some mathematicians and task them with bringing our traffic signals into the 21st century. Too much to ask, I suppose.

Schedules are now more important than safety or passenger service. If I'm late, that "runner" is out of luck. Why? Because I'm not willing to sacrifice my scant break time at the end of the line to pacify someone who is late to the bus stop. It might hurt my "OTP." If my stats show me late too often, I could be called on the carpet. So the runner is, unfortunately, shit outta luck. It's considered heartless, but also the nature of this beast. We can't achieve perfection, and feel lambasted for not doing so. Management coddles its "customers," who are simply passengers on a public conveyance that cannot be perfect.

Given management's lax attitude toward assaults on front line workers, it seems we're more a nuisance to them than one of the most important lug nuts on the wheel. Last count I saw was 45 incidents so far this year, in which Portland transit workers have been beaten, spit upon or otherwise assailed while simply doing our jobs. If we dare defend ourselves, we're "investigated." Some have been suspended, even when Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ruled their biological response to an attack. In some cases, operators are harassed for time loss due to physical ailments from attacks. One operator was brutally stabbed, nearly died, and no longer works with us because he said he felt little or no support from management. His physical wounds were severe; his psychological scars will remain for life. This operator was highly popular with the community he served. Passengers still ask how he is, a few years after he retired. He had a powerfully-positive impact on many of them, and they miss him. In any logical environment, his impact would have had value with his employer. Logic insists this be truth. However, transit management has become anything but logical. Instead, it's devolved into a firestorm of contradictory policies and union-busting techniques which add to the incredible stress we already bear.

It's utterly ridiculous, yet we've allowed it to happen. Our ATU 757 election results bear witness to this. Despite the fact that perhaps hundreds of union members didn't receive a ballot in time to cast it, a mere 42% responded. Over half of us are so apathetic, we don't see the MAX train bearing down on us as we lie prone on the tracks. Unless we rise up and form a human chain of decency to fight the beast plotting our demise, we're doomed. Strength comes in loud and powerful numbers, not in individual whispers. They will be drowned out by the stronger voices of those in power.

Transit operators across the USA are experiencing much of the same treatment as we are here in Portland. It began with our right to strike being legislated out of existence, with apparently little or no resistance. Then we found that three decades worth of pensions had not been funded. Instead of taking responsibility for its decades-long deception, our "greed" became the focal point of blame. Management then secretly gave itself millions in raises, and the political puppets of a board wagged a limp finger but meted out no punishment. The GM who presided over this retired this year, but not with "Cadillac" benefits. He will live comfortably for life with Rolls Royce bennies including $15,000 per month and free insurance. I'll likely retire into the back seat of a rusty Pinto on the banks of the Willamette River, management's blade-tipped boot implanted in my behind for daring challenge it.

With unchecked power and no retribution for its clumsy misdeeds, management has grown in number. It says it wants to "improve efficiency," but it doesn't understand many of the basic concepts drilled into every trainee. It's flexing muscle it shouldn't have. We have a HR manager who is openly anti-union and a General Manager who, even though he was fired from his last job as head of a Canadian transit agency, was appointed by the board despite a healthy outpouring of objection from the union and the community-at-large. Transit managers in Portland have run roughshod over a hundred years of honorable service. We are dedicated public employees subject to daily abuse from those we serve in every element thrown (or spit) upon us.

As unions are assailed by a strong arm of the ruling corporate interests which currently run this country, it's time we stop taking punches. With some unity and decisive action, we could develop our own arm and throw a few knockout jabs of our own. Figuratively rather than literally, of course. I wouldn't want some over-sensitive passenger to read this and call in a complaint that I'm "aggressive." Yet, it would be fitting if management suffered a collectively-symbolic educational punch in the nose. Maybe they'd realize we all bleed the same color, and learn some empathy for those who keep them in a job.

It's time each of our individual 800-plus daily passengers learn to use their phone to appreciate us more often. That would sure be a nice departure from the hundreds of their petty whines we find awaiting us after long hours in a poorly-designed seat. Oh, but to dream...

Sunday, June 17, 2018

To Dad With Love

It's Father's Day. Having given you glimpses of my only hero throughout this blog and the book, I have stubbornly protected family details to continue the Deke Mystique. Today, I'll step out on that ever-weakening limb to pay homage to my nonagenarian father, as well as my beloved, departed  mother. It's impossible to separate the two, because they were undeniably one.

I was extremely privileged to have parents who refused to give up on me. I've written about it under my given name, and it deals with a serious prenatal injury that prompted doctors to encourage my parents to place me in an institution and "forget" about me. They refused, and here I am... writing to you rather than suffering the lonesome fate those doomsayers predicted for me. In fact, my parents worked diligently to ensure that I not only succeed, but excel. They didn't push, just simply encouraged. Some might liken my feeble literary efforts to that of an idiot savant. Still, these words have resonated across the globe. If not for that loving belief in me from both parents, I would be lucky to write my name.

Of my siblings, I wasn't the only one who benefited from Ma & Pa's dogged devotion. It's a story worth pursuing, even astonishing, what these lovebirds accomplished for their children.

My brother Willy would surely have died had we remained in the Midwest the remainder of that icy winter five decades ago. Dad and Mom decided he should live, and moved us to the Southwest within a few weeks.

Dad carried Willy to the car. They had little money, knew little to nothing about the Phoenix area, but they had only one goal: Save Willy. (Sorry about the play on words, but it works!) Six weeks later, the former invalid broke his wrist. Running in a race. "But I was winning!" the excited 10-year-old shouted as exultation overcame the asthma which had nearly killed him.

Finding no acceptable education in Arizona for their toddler with Down Syndrome, Dad and Mom decided Monroe should have the same advantages as "normal" kids, and co-founded a school for children with disabilities. That school remains, and I wish they'd rename it in honor of my tirelessly-devoted parents.

Dad believed dreams were simply future accomplishments. Ever since he was treated to a ride in a barnstormer's plane in the 1930s, he wanted to learn how to fly. In Arizona, he earned his pilot's license. He bought a 1947 Aeronca Champ, and restored its fabric outer skin. For my eighth birthday, he flew me to a remote lake. After a day of fishing (perhaps the last time I caught more than one tiny fish), we slept out under the wing of the 'Champ. Just me and Dad... yeah.

When my father's employer transferred him 150 miles away from our newly-established home, our folks decided he would live there during the week and return on weekends rather than once again uproot my high-school aged brothers. As a result, Ma was the sole parent ruling four unruly boys. I was third, four years junior to my next-oldest brother, and life was rough for me. In their wisdom, another life-altering decision resulted in two wonderful years as Dad's only child during the week, back to an entire family for the weekend. He even flew me to school on Mondays! We spent our time in a cabin nestled up against a beautiful wilderness area. It was the best time of my childhood, and I cherish the memories we made together.

Giving in to my incessant begging, Dad taught me to drive on those remote dirt roads. Knowing a youngster given the chance to drive would listen more readily than a teenager, Dad relented. His driving lessons remained with me in high school as I tore up Main Street and many a desert trail. They echoed within me whether I drove a big rig or the family car. They were also repeated by my bus driving trainers.

Each step of my adulthood, I've learned how valuable my parents' lessons were. I didn't know it then, but today and forevermore, yes. It was likely solidified on one of our countless wilderness walks. Dad put his hand on my shoulder in a tender moment as we kneeled at a wild stream than runs no longer. I was 12, happy and truly loved. Girls had not yet become my main focus... Dad still reined supreme.

"Drinking from this creek is a privilege you might not enjoy later in life," he told me. "Drink now, and remember it later."

I always will. Not only did I savor that sweet drink, I've never forgotten its taste. Thanks for truly being the best father anyone could have ever hoped for. If I work even harder, perhaps someday I'll become at least half the man you are.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Perilous Pendejos and Mangle Magnets

First week of a new signup, on a route that I haven't driven in a while, and a host of interesting (nice-word substitute) traffic behaviors to get used to. Yeah, I'm enjoying a tasty glass of the Irish tonight. Time for some keyboard therapy.

In the past, I've admonished motorists for their poor driving habits, but I think it's time to change things up. Instead, here's "New Road Rules Per Portland Motorist Majority (PMM)."

It doesn't matter, Operator Blue, that you're transporting 40+ people and I'm driving Mom's 1985 Honda modified to sound even stupider than it looks. You're in my way! Even though half your rush-hour load are medical professionals headed home after 12 hours patching up fools like me, I don't have time to waste waiting for you to let them off. I need to get to that red light first so I can tailgate the other slowpokes in my way. Your Yield light is a joke. Get a real job, Blue Shirt... like mine, flipping boogers into the burglet turds I fry all day. Besides, I have to beat my best score on the old-school Nintendo in Mom's basement while she cooks my food and folds my laundry.
Deke: Does she wipe your butt for you after you poop, too? Look Junior, I was driving before your mommy was a coke snort in her high school dropout papa's nostrils. My Yield light isn't a request or a suggestion, it's the law. One of these days, Perry Patrolman will catch you and make Mommy pay a hefty fine for your reckless driving. If you live that long.

PMM: What Crosswalk? Hell nah!
So what, I'm supposed to wait for you to load 10 people before I can make my right turn from the lane you're hogging? Get real. I'll just zip around you and turn right before you can get going again. Easy pleasy. OOPS! WTF?!? Why are your passengers walking in that crosswalk? Are they stupid? Hey! You almost just hit me as I made that right turn from the left lane! Aren't you guys supposed to be "professionals?"
Deke: Yes, we are professionals. That's why Mom's junker isn't a twisted piece of metal  with my passenger nurses trying to keep your blood from spilling all over the upholstery. It's another good reason Mommy won't let you drive her 2018 F-350 with dualies and a pair of man-danglies off the trailer hitch. That poor teenager was nearly splashed across your windshield. Good thing I honked at her to get her attention so she stopped just short of your front bumper. Dumbass. Did you flunk Driver's Ed in addition to fifth grade Reading?

PMM: Speed Limits Are For Sissies
Nobody drives the limit, that's only a suggestion for wimps like bus drivers and girly boys.
Deke: My ride is a 20-ton 40-foot-long unforgiving bastard. Hardly a machine "wimps" could handle. Put you in this seat and you'd hit something (or worse, somebody) within the first minute. Yeah, I'm tooling along about six miles an hour less than the speed limit. Why? Because I drive this road several times a day, and I've timed each traffic light on the route so I can tell precisely when that red light (with 10 cars waiting for it to change) will go green again. Using the air-brake pedal hundreds of times a day makes one conservative on its use. Otherwise, this foot I'd love to shove up your impatient ass would ache even worse than it does now. See that? You raced around me into the wrong lane, and now I'm sailing past with a shit-eating grin on my face. You lose, as usual.

PMM: That's Not a Turning Lane, It's MY Passing Lane!
Why should I wait in this single lane for you to do your stupid bus driving crap? I'll just zip by you, even when you're trying to get that big piece of shit rolling again and had your stupid "Yieldy Light" blinking for five seconds already. Screw you, I'll do what I want. See? Even that cop did it.
Deke: That cop is a lawbreaker too. If I had the power, I'd cite his ass for Failure to Yield, along with the five other cars that broke the law behind him. You nearly creamed that car head-on waiting to execute a perfectly-legal left turn as I left my stop. You were well behind me, but sped up and passed me in the turn lane. That's not only illegal, it's a maneuver that even a three-year-old would wince at. Your balls are bigger than your brain, Billy Beemer.

PMM: If I Pretend Not to See A Sign, It's Not There
Everyone knows the cops don't patrol your joke of a Downtown Transit Mall. I'm in a hurry to get to the big sale at the pot store. The joint I just finished in the Transit Lane the light previously was my last bud. That "bus lane" should be a right-turn lane, so I'm taking it. Oops, people are crossing, I'll just wait and make you miss the green light. I don't care you're honking, too bad.
Deke: My transit light just turned red, a MAX train is bearing down on your rear bumper, and I honked to warn that guy in a wheelchair that you're not watching out for him. Dude had to stop in front of a train about to cream him because he's invisible to your lane-and-crosswalk-blocking inattentive ass. That bicyclist in the transit lane behind you isn't helping me either. Try a CBD strain, and maybe you wouldn't be such a dork behind the wheel. May the fleas of a thousand camels breed within your tighty-whities, Leather Tongue.

PMM: You Almost Hit Me! I'm Calling to Tell on You!
You turned onto a street you're not supposed to be on! I was waiting to turn left and you barely missed me! I thought you knew how to drive that thing!
Deke: Stifle, Arrogant AudiBoy. I had to re-route because of some catastrophe further down on my route. We're often treated to route diversions, and my turn there was not only legal, but beautifully-executed. Due to several years of operating this beast, I know within inches where my bus will be at any given time. Yeah, our front bumpers were momentarily inches apart, but in bus driver jargon, I missed you by a mile. Give me a thumbs up for my incredible skill instead of a temper tantrum in sign language, you middle-fingered novice. I also managed to not scrape my rear end on two telephone poles and a fire hydrant as I gently rolled over the curb so my passengers didn't even feel the bump. How about instead, you call in and tell them how perfectly I executed that maneuver? I bet next time you rent a U-Haul, it comes back with fresh scrapes and dents. My bus was perfect when I rolled it into the yard that night.

PMM: When I Yell At You, I Expect You to Listen!
You almost ran into me when I had to stop unexpectedly. And when I got out of my car to give you a piece of my mind, you ignored me!
Deke: First, you passed my flashing "YIELD," then cut back in front in front of me before slamming on the brakes to avoid creaming the heiney of that Hyundai stopped at the red light. I was slowing, with several car lengths between me and your near-rear victim when you zipped unexpectedly from the turn lane and negated my 15-foot cushion. That space ahead of me is not intended to be an invitation for violation; it's my safety zone. Why would you make such a foolish move with Snoozin' Sally is in the back seat? Are you stoned? Most likely. As for your road rage, I can't tell who has a knife or gun tucked in their purse or waistband. Good thing I shut my window in time, because it diverted your lugey-spitball onto my mirror, a much better place than in my face. Thank me for saving Sally's wee little life, or shut up and get back in your dented-up rust bucket.

PMM: That Light Was Yellow When I Decided to Run the Red
So what I was following that tractor-trailer so closely I couldn't see the traffic signal was clearly red when I entered the intersection? You don't have to honk at me, you simpleton bus driver! My girlfriend texted me right then and she's more important than anyone else.
Deke: That light was so red when you zipped through, hummingbirds flocked to it. My light was already green before you even hit the near-side crosswalk. I honked because you almost slammed into the phone-stoned pedestrians who looked up from their screens long enough to see a green light, and stepped into the street without seeing you. Wait an extra minute and STOP. It won't hurt, I promise. If you'd hit those pedestrians, you'd be chilling in a 6x8 cell while they bled onto the sheets of a gurney. You're welcome.

* * * * *

Oh dear, I could go on and on and on... but you get the picture. Give Deke a week, and his words reek... of foolish escapades of those whose hands don't belong on a wheel. Now it's time for some kudos.

* * * * *

Big trucks. Wow, these guys and gals are some of the best on the road at any given time. Whether local or long-haul, they're aware. You don't always see it, because they're on-high you're on the down-low. But those eyes are constantly moving, making sure their 100,000 pounds don't ruin your day/life. I've seen so many instances of their saving lives "out there" that I can't let this professionalism pass without comment. Thank you, brothers and sisters of bigger beasts. You let me back into traffic 9.9/10 times more than Bubba Lil' 4x4 Wanna Be Big Truck it amazes me. I was you once upon a time, and I know how hard it is to maneuver those rigs. Good job!

Emergency Vehicles. You're trying to save lives, maybe even the mother of that bozo who won't get out of your way because the rap thump has damaged his hearing so much your blaring sirens don't even put a dent in his speakers' noise. Rolling into oncoming traffic lanes, weaving through ignorants who refuse to pull to the right, avoiding all kinds of danger to yourselves so you can aid someone in dire need. You're not paid enough for what you do. I will do everything I can to clear your path. Who knows? It could be somebody in my family who needs you. No matter; we're all in your debt. Thank you, and may you safely finish each shift.

Responsible Motorists. Words cannot adequately express my appreciation for you. When you flash your lights at me after four nincompoops have blown by my Yield, I give you a special wave of thanks. Slowing down ahead of me, I see you are trying to give a pedestrian at a risky crosswalk their legal right-of-way. Risking a rear-end collision from Road Raging Ronnie, you slow to stop when the light ahead turns yellow. In heavy traffic at a four-way stop, you yield your right-of-way to the bus who has a full load, likely running late, so we can turn when a spot opens after a two-minute wait.

* * * * *

There you have it. The good, bad and undeniably ugly of Portland traffic. I'm sure people all over our shared blue marble can relate. Unfortunately, those who recognize traffic hazards and react responsibly are becoming more rare. Still, it's possible to imagine improvement. I hope your travels are shared with those who see danger and protect you from it. Bus operators sure practice this every shift... we could use some help. Patience, my fellow grasshoppers.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

VOTE! Your Union Depends On It

Don't let the sun set on your chance to make a difference.
Questions answered, project complete. The candidates have had their say here, and I'm happy to have had their participation.

Now, it's time for the union membership to decide who will lead us forward the next few years. It's vital to vote in these elections. There are some who are apathetic. They seem to believe their votes "don't matter." I've heard from a newbie who doesn't understand the complexities of the issues dividing the candidates, and asked me to explain them. Even after five years of blogging, I am not qualified to tell anyone how they should vote. I was confused as well when I was a rookie operator. It took a lot of questions, talking to experienced operators, and meeting the candidates before my votes were cast. Even then, questions remained. When it was all over, I felt it imperative to show respect to the victors and offer my support for the good of the whole. I still believe that way. As stated before, I believe that a divided union is a weak one. Harboring resentments creates negative outcomes; if you cannot forgive it's extremely difficult to accomplish anything positive.

Some are unhappy with the current officers, others believe one term isn't a sufficient amount of time for an officer to prove their worthiness. Another train of thought is that too many terms makes them complacent or stale. Still others believe those running for office should have some experience in union business to prepare them for higher office. However, that shouldn't automatically disqualify a candidate. Sometimes, inexperience can propel an enthusiastic and newly-elected officer to be a quick study and hit the ground running. Others who have fought battles for their fellow members are wise in the ways management deals with its most-valuable employees.

There are arguments for and against experience in a union position prior to running for higher office. Each candidate for higher office has described vastly-different ideas on how to move us forward. I agree with some, disagree with others. It is impossible for me to believe however, that any of them want anything but the best for the membership that is possible.

We are experiencing a volatile period in American politics on the national level. The country is so divided as to be reminiscent of the decade prior to the Civil War. In its aftermath, the union Lincoln so eloquently tried to preserve remained philosophically divided. Wounds from that war remain today. Even if President Lincoln had lived, would he have been able to bind this nation's wounds? Not likely. Given today's atmosphere, it seems we're moving backwards rather than coming together. It's vital to our survival as middle class workhorses to speak up and assert the power of a united front. If we continue to be divided, we are simply conquered.

Yes, your vote "counts." So does your participation. It would be nice to attend a union meeting during which solidarity reigns, but they seem to devolve into bickering between factions. Of course, members who have questions about how matters are being handled should voice their concerns. Leaders should listen, and I believe they do. But with such a diverse membership, leaders have to move forward based on their own beliefs about what's possible in dealing with a volatile management. Sometimes, this results in disappointment and lingering resentment. There are rarely easy answers to the issues we all face. Leaders are human after all, and therefore prone to making mistakes. Lord knows I've made plenty of goofs in my life, some very costly. Learning from them is what keeps me afloat.

For some, their voting decisions are simple. They either approve of the current leadership or desire a change in direction. It's cut and dry for them. But for those just getting their feet wet, they're afraid that a wrong step will land them in quicksand. Those of us in between veterans and noobs are still unsure sometimes. Nevertheless, our union is all that stands between US and management. Talk to your union reps, get to know them. Don't blindly follow one faction just to "go with the flow." Use your minds; we have to as transit workers. The lives of thousands depend on our ability to make sound decisions. If you weren't capable, you wouldn't be here.

My ballot is in. Whoever wins will have my support. I may not always agree with them, but I pledge to stand united in solidarity with those who represent US.

Newbies, your vote counts just as much as any other. VOTE!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Ryan Viken: Secretary-Treasurer Candidate

Deke's Note: Challenging the sitting Secretary/Treasurer is Ryan Viken, the guest of this post.

* * * * *

Ryan Viken
Candidate for Secretary/Treasurer

1) Who are you, and which office are you campaigning for? What makes you our best choice? Why do you want to serve in this capacity?
My name is Ryan Viken and I am running for ATU 757 Financial Secretary-Treasurer. I am doing so because I believe in all of you-past, present and future. I am a proud member of the ATU 757, currently serving as the Executive Board Officer at Merlo Garage. I am the first ever, mini-run bus operator ever elected to the ATU 757 Executive Board at TriMet.

What makes me the best choice for Financial Secretary-Treasurer? Leadership, Education and Experience. After graduating from Oregon State University with a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Business Administration, I have a proven 25-year track record with positive results, in both the public and private sectors. In addition to five years as an ATU 757 member, I have more than seven years’ experience owning, leading, managing and operating an intensely, customer service oriented business in Portland. I was responsible for all aspects of the business, including revenues, operations, finance and accounting, marketing, vendor and contract management, costing and inventory control. Additionally, I performed all human resource functions including hiring, wages and salaries, employee advancement, retention and dispute resolution. I was responsible for the development and implementation of clear revenue, customer service, operational and safety objectives to insure company goals were achieved.

Nine years spent in international business dedicated to managing relationships between multiple parties, including contract negotiations with a focus on attention to detail. As a Business Representative, I was responsible for consistently generating in excess of three million dollars annually to meet company revenue objectives while managing contract negotiations, review and administration of financial instruments.

Ten-plus years as a mentor, instructor and coach, most of which spent at the Tigard - Tualatin School District (TTSD). My proven success in both the public and private sector combined with firsthand knowledge gained as an ATU Executive Board Officer, will enable me to be effective as Financial Secretary-Treasurer.

Why do I want to serve in this capacity? Simple – I believe in this Union and our Membership. As an E-Board Officer, like it or not, we have serious challenges both internally and externally facing our Union. Based on listening to our membership over the past several weeks, I do not believe continuing on the same path will benefit our members going forward – it’s time for a positive change.

My objectives are:
To proactively utilize my role as Financial Secretary-Treasurer, through open communication, transparency and accountability to rebuild and strengthen member trust in ATU 757 leadership.
To protect and fight for all ATU 757 members to gain better wages, benefits and working conditions.
To expose management’s abusive practices and hold employers accountable. To bridge the gap between ATU International, ATU 757 and local members.

2) What do you believe to be the membership’s main concerns moving forward through 2020? How would you work toward improving these areas?
From property visits to Eugene, Corvallis, Salem, Canby, Vancouver as well as several Portland area locations, the primary concern raised focused on the lack transparency, communication and financial reporting from the Union Office.

As Financial Secretary, you are solely responsible for all aspects of the local’s finances with respect daily operations – income and expenses. You are responsible for financial reporting at the local, including financial compliance with ATU 757 International/Audits. All financial information must be transparent, accurate and timely to insure sound decision making by the ATU leadership.

To address the members’ concerns, the first thing the Financial Secretary must do is return to the practice of having hard copies of monthly financial statements/reports available at Charter Meetings. Second, be responsive to member questions/concerns regarding union expenditures. Union dues are paid by its members. Members have a right to have their specific questions answered with respect how their dues are spent. Third, visit properties quarterly to address member questions or issues.

If elected as your Financial Secretary, I pledge to rebuild and strengthen member trust in ATU 757 through open communication, transparency accountability and timely financial reporting.  

3) Assaults are on the rise every year. Do you believe operator barriers are the answer? What are the pros and cons of the barriers? What else could be done to stop this escalating problem?
As an operator, I do believe the barrier can be a part of the solution. A pro is that the barrier can immediately provide both protection and a sense of security to the operator. The con is that the barrier does limit the connection and interaction between the operator and passenger.

With that said, OPERATOR Safety is PRIORITY #1. Our Operators must be safe. There are no easy solutions to the assault problem facing transit employees – no silver bullet. To reduce or stop this escalating problem there needs to be an ongoing commitment between labor, management, law enforcement and community leaders to work together to identify and prioritize all available options to address this epidemic. If elected, I pledge to work with the local ATU leadership to leverage the strength of the ATU International to seek out what’s working at other locals nationwide.

4) Since we cannot strike, how can we ensure that our union membership concerns will be taken seriously by management? Do you have any creative strategies to ensure constructive dialog and positive actions?
As an Executive Board Officer, I have been able to present substantive, serious issues to management with successful outcomes. This is because of education, training and practice that I received prior to joining TriMet. It is all about understanding the issues that are important to both parties and presenting them in such a way that management has no other choice but to take our concerns seriously. Most TriMet managers do not know even understand what they are doing, let alone why. Using this strategy has proven highly effective for several members that I have represented.

5) The local media message is controlled by management. How do you propose to engage the media and help the public understand the issues we face?
The local media message is only controlled by management because UNION leadership has allowed it to happen. To address this issue, we need to have a plan. We need the right leadership in place to effectively get our message out to the public. Again, it’s about understanding your audience and adapting our message in a way that humanizes what we face each and every day as transit professionals.

6) Social media is a very active and volatile tool within our membership. How will you use it to communicate with US?
If elected, I will use social media when appropriate. Because of volatility, while social media is a very useful tool, it can also be destructive. I will use it constructively to communicate the message of the ATU 757 for the benefit of our membership.

7) Members are upset with the arbitration process and how the union communicates decisions to the membership. Is this process broken? If so, please state your ideas on how to improve arbitration procedures.
I do believe the arbitration and grievance process is broken. With that said, it’s important for members to recognize that the arbitration/grievance process is dependent on both, the Union and Management working together to resolve issues in a timely manner. Going forward, our Union leadership must hold management accountable for the timelines set forth for the arbitration/grievance process in the Working and Wage Agreement. In the past, the timelines have not been enforced. From my experience at the ATU, the way to improve this process starts with education and training for officers and stewards. Our goal is to resolve member/management issues prior to arbitration if possible.

8) What’s your favorite union movie, and why? 
Not a union movie – but Erin Brockovich  –  Fighting for what’s right. Exposing those that commit crimes and or wrong doing against the people…..unafraid. Willing to do the work for what’s right.

9) How do we get more members involved, attending meetings and adding to the overall discussion?
The problem is the meetings themselves, not with the members. With that said, this should be an easy answer, but, in reality, it is not. The member will not attend a meeting if they do not see the value in what the Union provides. This is a BIG issue that must be addressed immediately upon the new leadership taking office.  Ideas are welcome from all members- it’s your UNION!

10) I’ve only asked questions on a few points. Please let us know what other issues you believe are vital as we move forward.
Deke, there are many critical issues facing our members. One that is really causing extreme issues for members is the use by the primary employer contracting out vital functions of the organization to third party firms. For example, TriMet uses Reed Group to administer FMLA/OFLA with respect to attendance and time loss. TriMet uses Corvel to administer Workers’ Compensation.  These relationships are out of control. 



Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Stench Factor

For some reason, I can drive a route with relatively few problems until the last day of a signup. After three months of the route, the regulars know me and every bump in the road is programmed into my auto-pilot. All is good (usually) until that last day. Then, this happens.

Cruising along with my thoughts a few evenings ago, my nostrils were suddenly and violently assaulted. (No cause for concern, this wasn't that type of assault.) Strange odors are commonplace, as people are bound to display a variety of scents. This time though, my nose hairs retreated and nostrils went into full lock down mode. Mouth breathing merely invited the gag reflex. I opened my window and inhaled just as Bobbie BigTruck blasted me with clouds of diesel exhaust in a display of penile deficiency.

Imagine a can of dog food left out in the hot summer sun for several days, then brought back inside. Cover that with burnt cat excrement covered with the sweat of a hairy mountain man who hasn't bathed in months. Top it all off with Limburger cheese adorned with a fish carcass rotting on top of... well you get it. No need to continue. The stench was as putrid as the phrase "I'm going to be honest."

As my mind struggled with the cause of this unwelcome visitor to my hitherto-mellow roll, a young lass appeared at my shoulder.

"There's a guy back there," she said, gesturing toward the furthermost rear of the bus, "and he's gross. Took off his shoes and..."

"Ahh," I almost choked in reply, "so that's the cause of this monstrous stench?"

"Yeah," Little Miss replied. "Can you do something about it? It's making me sick."

"I hear ya," I said. My eyes stung with what my other senses couldn't handle.

Immediately tuning up my usually-silent microphone, I asked who was responsible for my having to pull the bus over at an empty stop. Several fingers pointed toward the culprit, a fare-evader, as they rushed to open windows. His appreciation for the free ride had been to remove his mouldering shoes. My next action was to invite him to exit the bus. To the relief of us all, he did.

Immediately, I felt relief but also guilt. This poor guy, while young in years, hobbled off as if he'd been horribly injured. His shoes hung on his feet by a shoelace, their usefulness long since past. He had probably removed them for relief, not realizing his lack of bathing made his feet unbearably fragrant, and apologized as he exited.

After a few minutes, we were all able to breathe again. The young man's exit however, caused a few of us to express regrets for his situation. Obviously homeless, he was so accustomed to not having bathing facilities, he was unaware of his own body odor. His behavior upon leaving was that of horrid embarrassment and shame. The shallow shadows of our souls celebrated his exit, while the gentler angels of our sorrow wagged fingers at us.

We're all human, sharing this planet whatever our circumstances. Those of us with gainful employment, a roof above our beds and hot water at the turn of a faucet, tend to belittle those who have not. Yes, our senses were assailed for a few minutes. But this poor soul likely stumbled into the darkness into the depths of what little comfort the streets have to offer.

My humanity took a knife that night. Shoulda asked him to put his shoes back on. If he woulda, perhaps he coulda ridden to a safe haven for the night. What the hell is wrong with me?

VP Candidate Jon Hunt Shares Views

Deke's Note: Current ATU 757 Vice President Jon Hunt responds to my questions of the candidates for top office in our local.

* * * * *

Jon Hunt
ATU 757 Vice President
1) Who are you, and which office are you campaigning for? What makes you our best choice? Why do you want to serve in this capacity?
My name is Jon Hunt, your current Vice President, Assistant Business Agent. The role of the Vice President is to assist the President and to act as the President in their absence.

I have been serving the members for 23 years, 16 of which as a full time officer. I’m a proud 2nd generation ATU 757 member. I believe in the Labor Movement. Being able to do this job gives me the ability to make a positive difference. I enjoy it greatly.

My knowledge and experiences provides a solid foundation at a time when we all need to unite and support each other. I am inspired for our future and I see an opportunity to create connections with you in new ways.

I humbly ask for your vote and I ask you to also vote for Shirley and Mary. New Leaders every 3 years is not going to build a strong union. You have leaders who are listening to you and want to make this Union better.

Over the last three years, we have had a lot of successes and created a lot of good changes to build our Union and take it to the next level. Here is a quick look at some of our most impactful achievements.

Settled 13 contracts, the majority of them had the highest wage increases ever received!
We have built good relationships with a lot of our employers, TriMet is a work in progress and we have several labor management meeting scheduled — Our focus is to make sure you have a seat at the table.

Reduced Grievances and Arbitrations
With the Creation of our Labor Relations position, we have been successful in reducing many of our grievances and arbitrations.

Eliminated our Lobbyist
We have change how we endorse and give money to politicians through the work of our Public Policy position that works with our community partners and legislators. Accountability first!

Hired a Communications Coordinator who we rely on to take care of our website, expand our Facebook, and develop new ways to connect with our members, ie. Created the new electronic newsletter.

We are all on the same team working for the same goals;  I see good collaboration and team work paying off and the foundation laid to continue these successes at all our properties.

2) What do you believe to be the membership’s main concerns moving forward through 2020? How would you work toward improving these areas?
From one property to the next we have different levels of safety issues going on, but across the board, safety issues seem to all come down to a lack of care for people over profit.

It’s quite alarming to see the extent of undue trauma, stress and harm effecting our riders and drivers here in the Portland Region, and across the State. In addition, many of our members are feeling pressured to compromise personal health and safety for the schedule.

Wages and Benefits — We should all expect fair wages and health benefits in our job. Healthcare benefits should be affordable, at minimum, and something we can use. For some of our members, this is not the case.

We are leading the way for UNITY right now over wages and benefits with 4 of our Employer groups. They are not making a living wage and they are not receiving affordable health insurance.

Employers need to understand that we will not allow them to put profit before people.

SIP’s — The horror stories I am hearing make it clear that the SIP’s program at TriMet is not a program that they are using to build moral; instead it has destroyed it. We will be working with everyone to develop a solution that will be supportive not punitive. The game of gotcha needs to stop!

Here are some improvements to the contract:

Article 1, Section 19, New Par. 12 (RE ATU # A.4):
Service Improvement Program. Any Service Improvement Program (SIP) administered by the District shall contain at least the following terms and conditions:
a. The identified employee and his/her Union Representative shall be provided a written copy of the complaint (redacted to protect the identity of the complainant) not less than three business (3) days prior to an intent to discipline meeting that will address the same.
a.b. All phone call complaints in and out of Customer Service with a complainant shall be recorded. The recordings (redacted to protect the identity of the complainant) shall be provided to the identified employee and his/her Union Representative prior to the commencement of the intent meeting.
c. TriMet shall provide to each Executive Board Officer a monthly report of SIPs received within that Executive Board Officer’s jurisdiction.

This is a good start to us getting advance notice and written documentation for our member, however there is still a lot to be done. I looking forward to round discussions on this topic.

Regions 1, 2 and 3

First Transit, a TriMet sub contractor for our Lift drivers, has repeatedly violated the meal and rest break law and paid some hefty fines, but it hasn’t seemed to slowed them down. Our members do not have affordable health insurance or a living wage. This group has had enough and we are taking action together to put a stop to these issue.

These actions get the employers attention and are a very visual display of unity. Witnessing our members come together is powerful!

3) Assaults are on the rise every year. Do you believe operator barriers are the answer? What are the pros and cons of the barriers? What else could be done to stop this escalating problem?
While the union gained some financial relief for assaulted members in our most recent contract with TriMet,  (i.e.: you will receive pay for the remainder of your shift should you be assaulted) we still have a lot of work to do.

I do not believe barriers are the “only" answer.

The Pros: Blocks or slows down the attacker.
The Cons:   You could get trapped inside and all designs still allow liquid to be poured on you.

I would like to see a new design that takes into account both the safety and the ergonomics for our operators. It’s not about slapping something up to make it appear safe; it’s about real solutions that make the driver truly safe by providing ergonomics with security.

Will we choose to react out of fear and create a military force in our community? Or can we create a more kind, open and free society? I believe the most effective, direct and positive approach on the assault issue is to bring the Rider Advocates back to the system again.

I addressed the TriMet Board a few months ago on the assault issue. I believe badges and guns are not going to fix our problem. I asked the Board to take another look at our Rider Advocate program

(Stated in the in an article posted Aug 26, 2009)

“The advocates' mission has been to provide a "visible, recognizable and physical presence" on bus and MAX lines, their contract says.”

"They're like our guardian angels on the street. It's a real loss for our community," said Paige Coleman, the coalition's director. She said she fears their absence could lead to more disruptive passengers and violence.

I would also like to see TriMet Fund Road and Rail Supervisors and Fair Inspectors. This kind of backup support goes a long way in stopping a situation before it can start. They improved the riders experiences!

There is no single answer, we are just touching the tip of the iceberg. As we connect and share our experiences and stories, we will gain new ideas and find the best answers to the challenges we are facing.

4) Since we cannot strike, how can we ensure that our union membership concerns will be taken seriously by management? Do you have any creative strategies to ensure constructive dialog and positive actions?
Since we cannot strike how can we ensure that our memberships concerns will be taken seriously by management?

"At the end of the day, it comes down to SOLIDARITY!"

Are all managers like TriMet? As your Vice President, I interact with management almost daily. I would like to acknowledge that we have good collaborative relationships with several different locations. We are able to resolve issues before they become grievances. Some of the managers we work with have really demonstrated that they know and appreciate your value.

As an example, we have been successful in creating healthcare committees at C-TRAN, our Vancouver, WA property and LTD our Eugene, OR property, composed of union members and officers, healthcare providers and managers; all at the table to address healthcare plans — being part of the process instead of on the sidelines.

Both of these groups have kept the cost of insurance down while maintaining benefits. This same approach can be used to address any issue. The committee members are equal and not subordinates. This is the only way to have a true joint committee that is equal in decision making; working together to create positive change. I would like to model this success with all our properties.

Right to Strike back for effected Public Transit Companies?
I did not create the law, which mandated that public transit agencies in the state of Oregon, use binding arbitration to settle disputes, though it did take effect during my first term as your President. Since that time, I have had many discussions with members about this issue and I know many members want the ability to strike back.

I see the value of both options. I have succeeded each time I took a group out to strike (the only candidate running with strike leadership experience in our local!)

I do not take strikes lightly. They effect peoples lives. It’s something that happens rarely because I have made it my goal to exhaust all actions first!

It takes several critical ingredient for a successful strike. Solidarity, commitment and community support — like knowing exactly what every single member in that strike will need to stay afloat. Members and the community must come together in order to succeed. If we lose even one member of our team because of a strike, that is too many!

Consider this —Though I’ve seen just how powerful a strike can be, I also have seen that same power in taking actions that don’t require a strike at all, but definitely drive the message home loud and clear. It comes down to solidarity. Without that ingredient, it doesn’t matter what the law says. It takes 2/3 of the entire membership to authorize a strike vote. This might be why General Manager Neil McFarland went to Salem and lobbied to get your right to strike back.

5) The local media message is controlled by management. How do you propose to engage the media and help the public understand the issues we face?
Communication with the community is key. We have hired a full time staff person, Andrew Riley, to assist us in getting the Union’s message out to the community. We have built strong partnerships with organizations with common goals and have created an electronic newsletter our members can sign up for.

There is great value in building strong connections with our community.

We are the solution to the message getting heard. Imagine for a moment —What would happen if our Shop Stewards took one hour to hand out flyers to the community? Just TriMet alone, with our shop steward program goals reached, could have an 80 person task force to get your message out. And what if those same 80 went home and blitz their media platform — whether it be Facebook, Twitter or YouTube — with that same message? And what if that same message aired as a public service announcements on our local media?

There is no replacement for human interaction combined with a media campaign. The media is a reactive animal so we just need to give them something to react to. I’m not worried about management owning any media messaging!

6) Social media is a very active and volatile tool within our membership. How will you use it to communicate with US?
Our office has a Facebook page, Twitter account and website. We will continue the practice of utilizing all of it.

I am interested in creating ways for our members to gain secured information such as utilizing a password protected website, that could be used at critical times when we can’t meet face to face. I have opened up my personal Facebook page to connect with more of our members. I will be posting updates, labor issues and my own personal commentary with the target of building a stronger community. I will continue to be on Facebook after the election. This will not be a place to discuss private union business.

7) Members are upset with the arbitration process and how the union communicates decisions to the membership. Is this process broken? If so, please state your ideas on how to improve arbitration procedures.
When the employer does not follow the contract we must grieve it in order to preserve our rights.

The process is not broken, and has greatly improved. We’ve identified issues and improved internal flow and communications. We hired a labor relations person in the office which supports our members in working through the grievance and arbitration process, as well as settling many grievances thru arbitrations and expedited arbitrations.

I will be working towards creating a grievance committee that will help expedite the executive boards recommendation process.

Grievances delayed is Justice Denied.
I have successfully put arbitration timelines in C-TRAN’s contact stating that both parties have to follow timelines.

To expedite the arbitration process, we need to dedicate more resources to training officers and hire outside counsel to assist the union in arbitrations. No member should have to wait a year or more before having their day in court.

Creating tools online for tracking can save us money and save us time. I am excited about the idea of a centrally located tracking system for our members to keep up to date on Grievances and Arbitrations.

8) What’s your favorite union movie, and why? 
Norma Rae.
I saw it once when I was a kid with my dad and once as an adult. A powerful woman standing up for what’s right. Sally Fields did an outstanding job.

9) How do we get more members involved, attending meetings and adding to the overall discussion?
The reason someone engages with the union will vary and it's up to us to have the meaningful conversations to know what’s important to each of us. We all have unique talents and interests. For one person, they may be motivated to participate by being part of a committee, where another person would rather hand out flyers. Our job is to identify the tasks and create an easy way for people to engage and feel like their time was well spent.

We are focused on building a Union that has a familiar face to it for everyone. With the use of technology and implementing our Shop Steward strategy through 2020, we can do a lot. (1 Shop Steward for Every 10 members)

I expressed this goal to you in the last election and we’ve had a good response. Our shop steward program has more than doubled! That is great; and I’d like to do more.

A Shop Steward position has no prerequisites so it’s easy to get involved. (This position is where I started in my Union career.) It is one of the most effective methods to connect on issues with people who are trained in what to do.

10) I’ve only asked questions on a few points. Please let us know what other issues you believe are vital as we move forward.
Diversity is our strength!

To those who spend most of their time looking to find what’s wrong with each other, I ask you to try looking for what’s right and build common goals and create solutions together anyway. I’m excited as we get ready to enter into a next chapter as a Union. My hope is that all those running stay involved after this election. This Union belongs to all of us and we all have a voice!

Sadness BusBits

Deke's Note: After the fright, stress and flashbacks of the violent incident on my bus just over a week ago, I have ached to reach back ...