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ATU 757 Secretary/Treasurer
I'm Mary Longoria, and I'm running for re-election to the office of Financial Secretary-Treasurer for ATU Local 757. I believe that I'm the best candidate for the job because of my proven track record stabilizing and growing this union's finances over the last six years, and I'm running to build on that momentum.
When I took office in 2012, we had less than $30,000 in the bank. Mandatory reports had either been filed late or not filed at all. We had mail that was lying around, unopened, from 2008. During my first six months, I worked 7 days a week to try and get our files in order, get reports filed properly, and take stock of our financial health.
I'm proud to say that we've successfully righted the ship, and I'm running to build on that progress. We have nearly $1.5 million in the bank today, and that's growing every month. We've cut wasteful spending in the office and I'm always looking for ways to make our work more efficient. And you know, the Supreme Court is about to deal every public-sector union a financial blow through the upcoming decision in Janus v. AFSCME, and our financial stability is going to help us weather the storm.
2) What do you believe to be the membership’s main concerns moving forward through 2020? How would you work toward improving these areas?
The #1 concern I hear from members is the issue of assaults on transit workers, and I'll go into depth about that in your next question.
Communication is also a big issue for us. In the past, we haven't done a very good job of getting information out to members about contract negotiations or events, and information out to the media and the public about our work. In the last year, we've hired a communications staffer who's helped us with that. We've been posting more on social media to ensure that folks see what we're working on and know how to engage with us. We've got our new, monthly e-mail newsletter. We're updating the website on a regular basis, including our events calendar. We're getting more press attention than ever - just check the Portland Mercury's latest couple of issues. And there's more to come: we're working to roll out a new text-messaging service to help members receive action alerts about contract issues and events. This is an area I'll continue to prioritize to ensure that members know what's going on at the union and what's happening with their contract negotiations.
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 do not believe that barriers are the answer, at least not the barriers TriMet's proposing. I do think we need better bus design for operators. Like in Europe: buses are designed so that operators are physically separated from riders with a half-wall barrier, and they have a separate door on the left-hand side to exit the bus, which means that there's a way to escape if something happens. But putting the operator in a cage with holes don't stop weapons or biohazards. That's just not going to cut it.
One solution that we've discussed is putting video monitors on the bus, so that riders know that they're on camera at all times. In other places that have tried something similar, just that moment of recognition can be enough to discourage someone from acting up. We're going to actively push for that at TriMet and in the Oregon Legislature to require it across transit agencies in Oregon.
Another thing we've been working on is bringing back the Rider Advocate Program, which TriMet scrapped in 2009 after 15 successful years. The company partnered with community organizations to put trained, ATU-represented folks on the bus with the skills and experience to intervene before an altercation happened, especially for people experiencing mental health issues. TriMet's refused to bring back Rider Advocates, and so we're working with our community partners to make the program happen anyways.
Finally, we need to get serious about punishing folks who commit assaults on transit workers. We've fought for a bill in the Legislature to upgrade assaults on operators to a more serious felony level, and we're going to keep fighting for it.
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?
Well, first things first, I think we need to fight to win the right to strike back. I did not support giving up our strike rights when previous leadership agreed to do so. We gave up our right to withhold labor to force action in favor of letting some third-party arbitrator decide on our contract for us. We sent out a survey to TriMet members asking them what they think about the right to strike and other issues. We will be sending out another survey later in the year regarding just the right to strike, what that means, the steps to a strike, so members understand what it means to vote for a strike. If the members want ATU to lobby for that right back, then I will push this union to fight for strike rights in the Oregon Legislature.
That's going to be a long-term battle, to be really honest with you. So, until we win those strike rights back, there are a few things we can do. The first is by building coalitions with community-based organizations, transportation advocates, and riders' groups. Although our issues don't always perfectly align, building that base of support means that management is going to have a much harder time ignoring us. The second thing we can do is speak up in the media, to counter management narratives and ensure that the public knows what's REALLY going on. Finally, we need to step up as members and do more public, collective actions, like informational pickets, public awareness campaigns, and more.
Plus, there’s nothing illegal or unethical about a robust work-to-the-rule campaign so that we stop giving employers, especially TriMet, free labor.
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?
Our communications guy has helped us fight management narratives in the media like never before. You can look at the process that hired Doug Kelsey as TriMet's new top boss: once we got the story out there that the process was rigged from start to finish, the media and our partner organizations started shining a light on Doug Kelsey and on TriMet, and the company had to delay his hiring by two months while creating a plan to make Doug more accountable to workers and riders. Or look at TriMet stranding drivers on the side of the road: it happened to an operator on a Thursday afternoon, and by Friday morning we'd gotten the Oregonian to write about it, and by the following Monday TriMet had changed the road relief policy.
We're going to do more of that. We're going to identify opportunities to educate the public about how TriMet management actually operates, so that they don't just believe whatever spin TriMet's PR teams put on the issues. We're going to help journalists better understand our work by connecting them with rank-and-file workers, and by telling those stories ourselves. I've seen a shift in how TriMet stories are handled in the media, and I want that to continue.
6) Social media is a very active and volatile tool within our membership. How will you use it to communicate with US?
Well, like I said before, we've been more active as a union in using social media like Facebook and Twitter to communicate with our members. We've got more folks than ever engaging with ATU 757 online, and I look forward to seeing that continue.
Social media can be a double-edged sword. It can be a way to quickly communicate with members, but I've noticed that discussions and debates become toxic really quickly online, in a way that I don't see at in-person member meetings. So, I think there's a balance. We need to use social media to hear from and speak to members, but it's not a substitute for in-person, member-to-member organizing, which we need to do more of.
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.
We set out to do more arbitrations this term, and we have. We wanted to average 12 grievances taken to arbitration a year, and we are meeting that goal, but it isn’t easy; it’s not a perfect system. Grievances take work to schedule and have to be scheduled months in advance. Then they take months to prepare for and the decision comes months after that.
In the future we need to do a better job of not sending everything to the arbitration list; we need to filter some of the grievances out, be more honest about what is a winner, and figure out other ways to approach the rest, like collective action. If a department knows they need a safety net for their maintenance pit, it should be going in and talking to the supervisor, demanding a new net or we will go to OSHA and then following through with the demand.
What I am saying is, that with Janus coming, and making all of our public-sector properties Right to Work, resources are going to be more limited. We need to focus on building power through the membership, through collective action, rather than through one grievance at a time. The labor movement was built on collective action and getting back to it is the only way we are going to succeed.
8) What’s your favorite union movie, and why?
At the River I Stand.
I grew up in the 1960s in a poor household but was fortunate to have been taught that no matter what ethnicity you are, we all put our pants and shoes on the same way, we all bleed the same, feel pain, we all want to be treated with respect, and to do the best for ourselves and family. I could relate to some of the ridicule and embarrassment that happened in the movie. The beatings of people just because of the color of their skin makes no sense to me. It breaks your heart and your spirit when people say hateful things just because of the color of your skin, the clothes that you wear, or just because you are different. The movie inspired me to get involved and fight for human dignity, better working conditions, and to hold your head up when faced with adversity I believe in these words:
“I can never walk in someone else’s shoes and no one can walk in mine, but the steps we all take today make the person we will be tomorrow.”
9) How do we get more members involved, attending meetings and adding to the overall discussion?
I sound like a broken record, but communication is key. We need to let members know what's happening at the union, when, and how they can get more involved.
Beyond that, we need to make meetings more accessible for members. For example, we've worked with our Portland Public Schools Special Education school bus drivers to hold "day meetings" outside of the normal union meeting cycle. They're not official union meetings and we don't conduct formal union business like voting on grievances, but rather we give members an open opportunity to share and discuss their issues. Staff and leadership attend, but the meetings are run by local shop stewards and the Executive Board Officer from the property. That's worked well, and it's given members more control over their meetings. I want to expand those outside of PPS and start hosting regular listening sessions at all of our workplaces.
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’ll keep it simple, especially with right-to-work on the horizon: United We Stand, Divided We Fall!