Friday, June 1, 2018

CANDIDATE PROFILE: President Shirley Block

Deke's Note: Continuing my quest to bring you the views of candidates for ATU 757's Top Three offices, here are incumbent President Shirley Block's answers to the questions I asked them all.

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Shirley Block
ATU 757 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 Shirley Block, and I am the current President of ATU 757, and I would like to continue serving you as President.  

I worked at TriMet for over 35 years, holding several positions from nursing skills, operator (mini run/full time), Maintenance (service worker cleaning buses), Fare Inspector, Road Supervisor, Road Coordinator, to Field Operation Coordinator and back to Supervisor before running for President. I know how to represent you because I was one of you for so long!

In my time at TriMet, I built relationships with my co-workers and managers, and those relationships still exist.  These relationships are so important in keeping open lines of communication, but also because I have already established who I am: a fierce negotiator, but one with common sense. I am not afraid to stand up for each one of our members, but I am also not afraid to work with the Employer when it’s in our best interest.

Every day I learn more about this balance and I am constantly working on building new relationships throughout all of our properties. If I am elected, some of my broad goal for the next term are: continuing to return some of what was lost to our retirees, getting medical coverage for all properties, and better coverage where it already exists, remedying discipline issues created by reliance on customer complaints (SIPs), and assaults on our members.

2) What do you believe to be the membership’s main concerns (from your office’s perspective) moving forward through 2020? How would you work toward improving these areas?
We have so many concerns throughout all of our properties, but I think I can narrow it all down to one word: SAFETY.

All of the concerns that we have with our Employers and contracts come back to SAFETY: contracting out, schedules, assaults on members, medical, etc, etc. The Companies all say “Safety First” but if they meant that, they would know that making YOU the priority would make for a better and SAFER workplace for everyone. There used to be signs posted all over TriMet properties that said, “SAFETY FIRST”. Now it’s ON Time Performance. Are they for real???

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?
I know that some operators like the barriers, and others don’t, but it does not seem like a meaningful solution to me. I know that some people, like me, feel trapped behind the glass/plastic. There are also safety concerns, like glare and an inability to escape, and of course, a hinderance on customer interaction. I do see that there is some benefit to having them while we try to figure out the root of the problem. BUT we must remember that they are only a band aid.

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?
I think that Janus is teaching us a lesson: that Unions focused too long on certain sources of power, like striking, contract negotiation, and arbitration, that we forgot about what the labor movement was born out of. CONCERTED ACTION. Management will take us seriously when we get the focus back to our power in numbers, whether you are at a property that can strike or not.

I plan on strengthening our local through internal bargaining efforts, which will give us more strength and more opportunities for concerted action. We have already started this through building our staff to include a Public Policy Coordinator, and a Communications Coordinator. We have had more rallies, actions, and interaction with community partners than I can ever recall in the past. We will continue these efforts and grow our group of allies to include other locals, businesses, and churches, rather than the old ways of waiting for politicians to take care of us.

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?
We have been engaging the media much more this term, especially recently, and we will continue to increase our exposure. However, we want to see less of me, and more of you! Our members are the front-line employees, and people need to hear your story. This takes work though, as there is a fear factor involved. Once we increase our power and members feel confident that they cannot be disciplined for coming forward, our media exposure will be that much more powerful!

6) Social media is a very active and volatile tool within our membership. How will you use it to communicate with US?
I know that we can always improve our communication, which is why we have hired a Communications Coordinator, increased our online presence with an improved website and Facebook page, and are working on a mass text service. However, I don’t ever want to lose focus on face to face interactions and group meetings. I feel strongly that relationships are built in person, not on Facebook, where things are so often lost in translation.

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 don’t think the system is broken. But, I do think we have to be smarter about what we take to arbitration. And part of that is taking advantage of labor management meetings. We have been successful with this during the last term: settling dozens of grievances and solving problems before they get out of hand. Right now, we have a monthly meeting with TriMet to discuss ongoing issues. While it’s not always fun, it’s worth it, and we have had some successes. We hope to implement similar labor management meetings at other properties in the next term.

8) What’s your favorite union movie, and why?
Norma Rae. Strong woman no fears. Living in my past being born in the early 50’s you learn to fight for what’s right. You learn to challenge the world around you to be successful in change to better life not just for you for people around you as well. Together it’s a better world for ALL.

9) How do we get more members involved, attending meetings and adding to the overall discussion?
This is where we are going to have to get creative. We have a younger group that we need to entice to get out and get involved. We must focus on one on one conversations, but also get more engagement at meetings. One problem there is that member tension and fighting at meetings scares newcomers away. We need to work on that.

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.
I want to focus on your Employers having your back. Right now, when there is a he said, she said situation, you lose. When you defend yourself after an assault, you get disciplined. This is UNACCEPTABLE.

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