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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, March 28, 2021

Another Tragic Transit Management Disaster

Historic transit view replaced by "progress".

Deke's Note: My brother operator told me this week "drivers at 7-12 years tend to be bitter, angry." He did not elaborate as to why. 

I have avoided publishing this for two weeks. Yeah, I'm still creating the Mother of All Blog Series. The past month has been one of depression. Every ounce of energy is devoted to the job, which saps the dwindling reserves within. By the time a week of shifts is done, my mind/body/soul is depleted. I fell asleep working on my new book after 600 miles in the seat a week ago.

Daniel called me a few weeks ago with his horrific news. His story deflated the last ounce of hope I had for our fellows being truly "respected" in the work we do. Management is wildly out of control, with no true oversight.

And so it goes... 

* * * * *

Daniel is the epitome of a legendary blue-collar bus operator. His extensive background in the entertainment industry, coupled with a masterful comic's mind, makes him a snug fit in Portland's "Keep It Weird" personality. With considerably more commendations than complaints, he has safely guided thousands of his fellow citizens to their destinations for over eight years.

Today, he is out of a job. Why? Because he dared take less time than required to recover from double-shoulder replacement surgery. Although he returned to the job a month earlier than expected, he apparently missed too much time recuperating from a surgery which has added another decade or more to his being a "true" hero to his beloved community. Now he must scramble to find another job in one of the most horrific times to be unemployed as a devoted American taxpayer. 

Strong in his allegiance to all we hold dear, determined to do his best, his employer of eight years simply... discarded him into the millions of today's unemployed masses. In the worst possible economic conditions.

Without respect to his dedicated service through disastrous weather conditions, braving the unmasked throughout a worldwide pandemic, choking through the dense smoke of Fire Season 2020, suffering hundreds of humiliations daily he smiled throughout with classy humor. 

It wasn't enough. He simply missed too much work. It's disgusting. 

This is one of many seemingly irreparable rifts between "them who has'na nevah" and those "who bravely grip the wheel all day long for decades". We should not have to fear being fired for simply missing work while recuperating from surgery. This is a pattern that has shamefully become normal. This is a profession which sucks the lifeblood out of those who catch shit from every direction we turn the wheel, only to be disciplined or outright fired for simply taking care of ourselves. Thrown under the very bus or light rail vehicle we operate. By those entrusted with our safety and the well being of all who ride.

Disgraceful. Degrading. Disgusting, his treatment by a transit agency which says "hero" out one side of its mouth while spitting "fired" out of ITS other.

"IT" doesn't care about me, or you either, fellow operator. IT only cares about its bottom line, which has gravely suffered during this unprecedented pandemic, through which its operators have safely guided transit's beloved "customers" to their destination. All the while, we begged a deaf upper management to enforce transit code, which simply asks riders to "respect the ride". "Leadership" refuses to allow an operator any authority, and disciplines any who dare to exercise what was once a given. Even when Standard Operating Procedures are on our side. It's a ludicrous, impossible working environment, yet we endure. Out of respect for the job, and thousands who rolled wheels long before we were born.

Instead of preserving the dignity of those who safely roll The Beast amidst Portland's undisciplined motorists, it chooses instead to discard those who dare use too much sick leave while recuperating from life's most harrowing moments.

Even though it is now a federal crime to ride a transit vehicle of ANY type without wearing a mask, we banter about who will be suspended first for enforcing a federal mandate. It's a sick, but prevalent attitude, amongst my workmates. We have fallen to such despair as to expect the worst treatment offered over decades of calamitous disrespect.

It's painfully obvious our current management's main goal is to flush out the most professional, dedicated transit operators, many who have given their entire working lives to this honorable profession. Many are too close to that coveted retirement date, therefore registering as targets of harassment when they should be highly honored for their service. Celebrated, given a true "hero's" easy roll into a well-deserved retirement. With benefits promised, earned through service of such intense humanity the greater public is not informed of by the demise of an interested media.

It makes fiscal sense to fire those closest to retirement age. We are expensive in the long run, having sacrificed our bodies to incompetently-designed operator seats. Many of us have endured a lifetime of hard work prior to transit, where our age and experience have been thrown out with the evening trash. We find this final career to offer our retirement some semblance of reward and comfort, only to find death lurking shortly after celebrating an honorable departure. We are evidently to blame for decades of managerial mis-management of pension funds while we languished under an agreement keeping our raises minimal in hopes of management honoring its promises. Ha! What suckers we are.  

Still, crickets from the local media: passive co-conspirators to a massive fraud against those who are an integral lug nut in the wheel comprising Portland's economy. If one reporter had the balls to stand in defiance of Corporata's death-grip on transit, to write a true history of the transit worker's decline over the past few decades, I might fall over from shock. I'm still standing.

* * * * *

Of a few funerals for brothers and sisters, how many in management have you seen in attendance? Last year, our Sister Freddi Evans passed and only ONE did I see. Mary drove a bus several years prior to opting out of union service. She had a history with Freddi, and so honored her with a moving eulogy. Where was our GM? ANY of the "Bored of Directors"? Safely ensconced in their ivory towers, blissfully disconnected from our beloved sister. Freddi left behind her children and devoted Operator husband and fiercely-devoted fellow operator advocate, Henry Beasley. I still wear Freddi's Flower on my fedora. It's the least I can do to honor our beloved, departed sister. I doubt more than a few upper management skulls even remember her. WE do.

* * * * *

One of my generation, Daniel learned that work is essential to the ever-challenging climb up the financial ladder. His steady, union-fought paycheck allowed him to buy a house. Given a freshly-minted set of replaced shoulders, he should have another 10-15 years or more of publicly-celebrated service behind the wheel. However, today's "suspend or fire FIRST" brand of transit management, he was discarded because he missed too much work. This evening, he worried aloud to me that he hoped his meager savings allowed him to pay his mortgage the next two months. He has been supporting a family member through dark times. Tomorrow, he may lose it all. Just because he chose self-care over pain. 

Why? Because of a seemingly vindictive, cruel and out-of-touch management. Gee thanks Daniel, but your heavyweight-supporting shoulders cost you your job. Too bad your job was too much a burden for them to support. Buh-bye now. 

Damn him! How dare he take advantage of medical benefits to fix a physical ailment accentuated by thousands of hours in a poorly-designed bus operator seat. Of all the nerve to miss work while recuperating! Instead, Daniel should have evidently been unsafely slaving away through his pain for a management that couldn't be bothered to even send him a GET WELL card while recuperating. Instead, it savagely counted the hours of his medical leave as "missed time" and fired him when he came back to work. Early. After being duly cleared for service by a Trainer.

Daniel still suffers pain and endures hours of physical therapy and conditioning exercises to ensure his new joints acclimate to his body. He's in better shape now than he was than before the surgery. Now, he will lose his medical insurance and the security of an honorable profession he so dedicated most of the past decade to. Discarded to the dung heap that is Corporata's workplace uncertainty, Daniel is understandably frightened and worried for his future. So much for being called "hero".

This is one of many ghoulish acts suffered upon our agency's frontline workers. Hero, my ass. You just FIRED one. Stop punishing us for nature's gravitational pull upon our aging joints!

NOW do you see why I want to be General Manager? It's time to STOP disrespecting those who give their lives to an honorable profession, and START an era in which Portland Transit truly honors those who make our transit vehicles SAFELY roll folks to their destinations. Celebrating those who have always provided service with a light-hearted chuckle, while insisting the societal norms of decency and respect be followed.

Am I "angry and bitter"? For Daniel's termination, and for all of us insulted by callously-disrespectful and cruel middle managers with an axe to grind against those with whom they could never equal? HELL yes. His termination is a slap in the face to all of us who have endured the past year of insulting treatment by those who have NO reciprocal oversight.

"Heroes" slip-sliding into yet another Silver Thaw.


Until decency in transit prevails once again, there is no hope for those who diligently provide safe rides on bus or rail while its management works against US. We are mere pawns to a callous and unnecessarily discipline-first-regardless-of-common-sense-and-decency upper management. THEY need to go; we have proven our worth through millions of safe miles.

Give me the GM job. I would fire every disrespectful one of 'em. If they fire ME, this post will probably be the culprit. They hate being called on the carpet, highly discourage whistleblowing to the tiniest Tweet. They have no visible self-discipline. Although we outnumber management 4-1, I join the few who dare color red the blood my fellow brothers and sisters shed to management's gory delight.

Over 200 attacks on transit workers in 2020 here in Portland. Did you hear any media coverage on THAT? No. Only the relentless attacks upon our downtown business district merit journalistic attention, rendered dead by an unrestrained angry nighttime crowd which destroyed everything in its path. Our downtown is now a third-world war zone marked by shuttered businesses and boarded-up storefronts. Through it all, our buses and light rail vehicles roll, operators' heads high as always, working as only we have ever known: proudly.

Daniel's termination is how they reward our efforts. Good grief, people. You're welcome

* * * * *

We once were, as I'm told, truly a family. Brothers and sisters watched out for each other. Management had enough sense to filter false complaints before they even reached frontline workers. Maintenance personnel benefited from a highly-vaunted Maintenance Apprenticeship Program which rewarded service workers' dedication with the promise of on-the-job training leading to a step up in their career. New operators came into a profession with deep respect for those who had walked in their shoes, and understood the traditional "wave" of concern for their fellows. Today, self-puffed non-union punks call in unsubstantiated and untrue complaints on operators without having to identify themselves, without fear of recrimination for their misdeeds when invariably proven false.

Corporata has driven a worldwide-leading transit agency into the muck of disrepair and disrespect. It has failed in its mission to "improve" and still, the same "qualifications" for the top job remain. It's a classic definition of insanity, defined by some learned source: "doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results". We're tired of this governmental insanity, and desperately require a reversal.

A new brand of GM is in order, one who truly understands transit from its most-basic roots, having rolled wheels with boots showing wear on their heels from constant pivot from brake to accelerator, the opposite similarly worn from activating turn signals rarely used by private motorists. Years of service as operators keep the public safe from their own mistakes. A seasoned operator has learned to predict dangerous behaviors and avoid serving motorists their brains upon their own bloodstained windshields. This professionalism however, seems unimportant to anyone but US. We save thousands of lives every day; collisions with our vehicles claim a tiny proportion of the mistakes motorists make in our presence. Sadly, our professional driving is forgotten when injury or death happens in the path of our vehicles, the inference insistent that we injured or killed the victim. The professional is maligned, the motorist rarely noted for their own recklessness.

We are sane, given the insanity thrust upon us every hour in service. We are smart, coming from vast and varied professional backgrounds. We are imminently qualified to replace those whose collective incompetence has ground our civic valor into dust.

Yesterday's trash:
the abandoned transit operator
As I've written before, transit would still roll smoothly and on time without management. They could not do our job. Until, and unless, it is replaced with those to whom transit is second nature, our wonderful system will continue its decline toward systematic failure. To simply do what WE always have is all any transit agency truly needs to roll safely through the next century.

Daniel hopes to serve once again. We pray for his reinstatement after such unfair and foolish disrespect. All he wants to do is serve; all THEY want to do is reign terror down upon an already-disheartened fellowship.

Roll safely, brothers and sisters. THEY may not have your back, but I do. So do countless thousands of current and former frontline transit workers across the world. If only WE could UNITE, remove management's lethal noose around our collective neck, we would truly shine once again. Until then, just bend over. They're not done fucking us; contract talks are at a standstill due to their unforgivable list of takeaways. And so it goes...

"Heroes", our collectively-abused and insulted ass.

3 comments:

  1. One of your best columns. Areal eye opener.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Where's you union in fighting for this driver's job? No way in hell he'd have been let go here.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Simply insane!! I do hope the union is fighting for his reinstatement... what the hell!!!

    ReplyDelete

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 ...