Monday, August 27, 2018

We're All In, Are YOU?!?

Operator Beasley, who started
campaign in 2017.
February 14, 2017
A Winnipeg transit operator, Irvine Fraser, was stabbed to death by a passenger he awoke at the end of the bus line Fraser was driving.

May 25, 2018
A Utah Transit Authority light rail operator, Kay Ricks, was kidnapped outside a layover because two criminal suspects allegedly wanted his personal vehicle. Ricks was later killed.

These are just two instances where transit operators lost their lives while simply doing their jobs. Random violence occurs daily against largely-unprotected transit workers across the globe. It's an issue media gives little coverage to, but as a transit operator and blogger, I've written many times about.

In Portland so far this year, we've had 66 incidents in which local transit workers have been assaulted, menaced, threatened and spit upon. Last year, there were 91 such "known" incidents of this nature. A year ago next month, we borrowed an idea from Jacksonville, Florida transit worker Dwayne Russell of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1197. He started a campaign in which he put a Band-Aid on his cheek to inform the public about assaults on transit workers.

Our brother Henry Beasley, who documents incidents against Portland-area transit workers, asked us to join our Florida counterparts last year, and dozens of us did. We wore the BandAids for a week, and many of us wrote the number of assaults on them in black marker. With our right cheeks facing passengers boarding our vehicles, it was an eye-opener for them. Many asked me why I was wearing a bandage, and I explained. Without exception, they were visibly shocked.

Life for transit workers -- operators, maintenance workers, supervisors and others -- is never easy. We're the public face of any transit agency. Sometimes, the public takes its frustrations out on us, and that occasionally takes the form of a violent verbal or physical attack. Just recently, a Portland rail supervisor was assaulted, resulting in broken bones and painful bruises. He's a very kind and decent man, a hard-working public servant. While his attack was reported by the local media's simply using our agency's news release, public outrage is strangely missing.

Another problem child escorted off a Portland bus.
I'm tired of constantly repeating my moral outrage, but I cannot in good conscience be silent. Someone has to scream into the figurative megaphone, because our management has not voiced outrage. It keeps hiring new operators who are strictly prohibited from protecting themselves from the now-inevitable attack. We're suspended when our body's fight or flight biological mechanism clicks into action and violates an infuriating managerial edict requiring us to just meekly accept our beating. Get hit and punch back, you're likely to be suspended. If you're unable to control your response because of former nightmarish events causing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and seriously injure your attacker, you are subject to termination. Management scoffs at union reps using PTSD as a valid defense, as if it's not a reasonable factor. So they suspend us... for just defending ourselves. It's an unjust reality we face out there on the front lines of transit. Allow yourself to be severely injured or killed, and you're at least guaranteed death benefits.

Operators are largely vulnerable while in the seat. Our right side is an open invitation to the spoiled or mentally ill who refuse to abide agency code of conduct. Our ability to defend ourselves is strictly limited; if we leave the seat in self defense, it's considered an "aggressive act." Hell yes, it most definitely IS aggressive. If someone attacks you, you're legally entitled to engage an equal amount of defense. An attacker certainly isn't passive, why should we be so in our own defense? If you work for our transit agency, you're expected to accept whatever your assailant visits upon you. No WANTED posters exist for problem passengers. Management seems unconcerned for the rising number of violent acts committed upon their "family."

Mark your calendars. In Portland, we'll BAND TOGETHER September 16-22, 2018. Bus and rail operators, maintenance workers, supervisors, trainers, station agents, dispatchers, passengers and family members... please join us in this event. It wouldn't hurt if management joined us... maybe then we'd feel as if this issue at least concerns them. I will once again write the number of assaults on my bandage and answer questions posed to me by my passengers.

Wherever you work in transit across the world, please join us in solidarity. If not for Mr. Fraser or Mr. Ricks, then for your own sake. Spread the word that we're being beaten, stabbed, shot, clubbed, spit upon, showered with coffee and piss, threatened and verbally assaulted with vile and cruel words nobody should have to endure.

I'm also doing this as a salute to our Jacksonville brother, Mr. Dwayne Russell and his fellow ATU 1197 members. Thanks for this brilliant idea, and hopefully this will become a globally-recognized event as long as we're all victims of this widespread violence.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article Deke. Do what you must to be safe out there.