Deke's Note: As we enter the final third of a human's expected life span, lessons learned reach tempest levels. I'm frustrated with management's third-grade mindset of "leadership". They pretend to know better, but we're most wise. We do the hard work of transit, they take credit for our efforts. At some point, the puppets must replace the puppeteers, or else we must burn. This is my final take on the future of Portland transit in its "search" for leadership. It's here. Within me. My final career is either a simple bus operator, or General Manager. I will not accept anything in between. Until there is a radical shift in direction, I cannot, will not, aspire any further. Get too close to a flame, and your very soul is only soot. With realistic expectations, I give you all that remains after yet another 10-hour shift behind the wheel of a city bus. My Friday leaves me physically and emotionally spent, like thousands of others who do the same across this beautiful blue marble floating within infinity. My love and respect for you is boundless, and I'm proud to be your brother.
In this post, I will summarize how I believe a transit General Manager should act, and add a few points. Still undecided whether I should apply for the position, I am capable of creating a positive work environment. Why? Because I actually do respect my fellow Operations brother and sisters.
Those hired as GM in the past had all the "requisite qualifications". They failed miserably. This grew into an unhealthy distrust between management and the backbone of transit. There is also confusion by the riding public as to the standards by which they are expected to behave as passengers. Should they listen to the operator, or whine to Customer Service when they don't get their way? The current midset is to encourage the latter and discourage the former.
Instead of hiring another corporate bobblehead to lead a blue-collar workforce, consider bringing one of US in to mend the growing chasm of disrespect. The path ahead for transit must not, likely will not, resemble anything like the past. The pandemic has changed everything. Transit must evolve to responsibly grow ridership while protecting its front line. Both these arrows have wildly missed the bullseye the past decade.
Given the constant abuse of union workers, and mistaken priorities which shifted control of the agency to those who make the most trouble within it, the time has come for a drastic change of direction.
Here are a series of issues which need immediate resolution to begin healing the massive rift between US and the "leadership" of this transit agency.
- Respect our union, and negotiate in honest good faith. Once again, management has failed to realistically negotiate a new contract. The lead negotiator once said "the only good employee is a scared one" disqualifies him. I would have fired him on the spot, but Vancouver's Failure/Portland's Spoiled Leftover GM gave wholehearted support of these insults. Abusive, unprofessional rhetoric rains down upon us like the mess shooting out of an ornery bull. Responsively, our International ATU leadership came to Portland to lend strength to our local's efforts to force management's "team" back to the table. It's like negotiating with a class of unruly middle schoolers who believe transit workers are "dirty"; their tactics resemble those of schoolyard bullies. One kid bullied me until I punched him in the face.
- Dismantle the Service Improvement Program (SIP). It's time to stop the outrageous discipline while failing to instruct passengers how to ride. It's simple: STOP trashing us. Continuing this horrid program highlights utter indifference and disrespect to transit's front line. It has become a tool by which decent, longtime professionals have been suspended or even had their livelihoods stripped away via foolish and nonsensical policies. The Board's failure to investigate and address SIP-related problems is unconscionable. Many complaints come from those who misbehave, misunderstand or believe themselves above the Passenger Code of Conduct. Wait, that must have gone out with the last bit of trash.
- Grow a set. We are being attacked out there in growing numbers, yet you caved in to a minority of people intent on removing our first line of defense: Transit Police. Instead of decreasing it by 75%, your responsibility to US should come first. Our plight dictates it should be increased by 200% or more. Last year, we were attacked approximately 215 times by the public we serve, nearly double the amount of 2019. Officers who respond when we need protection during an attack are vital. It doesn't matter to any of us the race of someone who punches, spits on, slaps, menaces, threatens, or throws any number of objects at us. Cuts to this vital protective service shelter our attackers, leaving us even more vulnerable. What about OUR civil rights?
- I would increase Fare Inspection, while encouraging the poor and working class to apply for reduced-fare status. FREE transit is not a realistic option. Collecting fare is now considered an attack on a coddled few. Those who value transit pay fare. If a community is invested in transit, there is a shared responsibility and respect.
- STOP feeding the capital projects, and instead invest in the facilities we already have. Remodeling outdated garages is a positive. However, many operators have end-of-the-line facilities which border on disgusting. Honey Buckets are anything but. Front line workers deserve clean and well-appointed facilities instead of paying fast-food joints to use their often-filthy restrooms. We don't expect the Taj Mahal, but deserve better than dodging rats and nefarious individuals haunting our personal time.
- Given the pandemic destruction of our downtown economy and the same throughout the Metro area, we face a new economic reality. Many small businesses have shuttered for good. We need to re-think transit's role as a post-pandemic economy takes shape. Where will the "new" jobs be? Can we expect new enterprise to emerge from COVID dust, or will the workforce shift to new economic horizons? Designing new transit byways will become necessary. A new mindset is necessary. Will the same old/new GM recognize this, or stubbornly insist on continuing backwards?
- Management has no oversight. It is not held accountable for its many misdeeds whether it sneaks in a million-dollar-plus raise or sharpens its swords against those who make transit work. I would hold myself accountable, along with the entire "leadership" structure. Stubbornly holding onto failed policies only spotlights the fool. Fixing these problems will not result in the pendulum swinging wildly to the opposite; it will guide it back to the center where progress happens.
- Hold METRO responsible for its constant failure to provide positive leadership. Instead of holding transit responsible for its hollow promises and failed leadership, it is content with the status quo. Also, how a metropolis this size cannot keep winter conditions from paralyzing it is ridiculous. Hey Portland, buy some damn snowplows for cryin' out loud! It is unacceptable for a city to fail to respond to recurring weather events, even when ice coats our streets. Doesn't happen in Chicago, or Minneapolis, Boston, Detroit, New York... why can't we learn from our colder sister cities? Our government's lack of preparation, and its lackluster response, is embarrassing. Granted, this year's ice storm was unprecedented, causing our transit agency to cease operations for the first time in modern history. Transit earned a rare brownie point for removing time loss for those unable to make it in to work; thank you. We were all pleasantly surprised, given its harsh treatment of us lately. However, given the city's utter refusal to plow and treat many of its streets and causing horribly-dangerous conditions, perhaps transit should take the lead. Buy our own plows and do what the METRO consistently fails to: be the solution rather than the problem.
- Make it fun to work here again. Celebrate the best in one another, work together to achieve realistic goals, and find avenues to reunite transit as a functioning family. Create programs to reward positive achievements. Welcome the union, rather than fight it. Realize we are one community serving an even larger one. Embrace one another, seek new solutions to old problems, excavate the enormous mine of possibilities buried within our midst and forge a partnership rather than a decades-old animosity.
- Honor retirees by welcoming them back and honoring their service. They belong in the bullpen, offering advice and experience to all of us. Those with decades of experience are a resource which has been discarded. Give our honored veterans the chance to make us all better moving forward. Rather than watching our honored retirees sicken and die after devoting their productive years to our city, give them purpose and a reason to remain part of the family they helped create. My fondest memories as a bus operator are remembering the stories and advice of those who came before me.
Like Forrest Gump said when he grew weary of running, I'm tired. Exhausted. Having to constantly highlight the obvious failures of "leaders" taxes the simplest of minds. I would rather follow my brother blogger's (read Don Iler) example by writing about our interesting routes. However, I cannot allow our collective abuse to go unreported. To remain quiet would go against everything I believe.
The question has been put to me, snickered about by others, whether my "lack of experience" disqualifies me from becoming GM. No management experience, nor that of budgetary/fiscal/regulatory psychobabble. Abraham Lincoln had little formal schooling, yet rose to become perhaps the most effective leader of our country when it needed one most. While I could never boast equal greatness, I do believe dire circumstances require shredding the edicts of failure and adopting a radical approach. My singular strength is the ability to communicate on equal footing with people of all levels, and to respect those with whom I disagree. Great ideas come from the unexpected direction. My aspiration to the top post is singular: I desire to restore the eloquence Portland transit once commanded: simply listening, debating, and forging new agreements toward a common goal of respectful progress where it has not existed of late.
Ayup, I have slaved away as a blue-collar chimp these past 40 years. My only college education is some 100-plus credit hours sans a degree. I have earned a PhD in Blue Collar Reality. I only desire to do right by my fellows, to work together with those of diverse backgrounds to improve our lot. These past four decades have taught me one thing: either bend over or STAND and FIGHT. My backside hurts enough already, so it's time to BATTLE. For you and me, for those who labored before us, and for those who follow, do not settle for what others would discard. You all deserve the best leadership into our future fraught with the unknown, built upon a solid foundation from which we RISE.
We deserve a true partnership with management and its bobblehead board, rather than a dictatorship with rudderless oversight. It is honorable to work collectively toward progress. Righting a capsized ship requires many hands working in harmony. Eventually, these thousands of hands raise everyone up through mutual respect. Mouthing faux compliments whilst murmuring diabolically-nonsensical sidebars must be forever abolished. A true leader recognizes the strengths of those who toil in the trenches, and works tirelessly to champion their efforts. As GM, I would work tirelessly to uplift rather than allow any slight taint those who toil in service to our service area. Such devotion promotes those who have the vision necessary to not only fix a problem, but find solutions necessary to avoid repeat disasters. We deserve such leadership after an intolerable lack of such.
The Board promoted a former operator as the Interim GM while it "searches" for a suitably-qualified successor. We are hopeful. Undoubtedly, they will repeat former gaffes and plop another Corporata bobblehead into the top spot. Unless they surprise everybody by hiring a radically-different model, we will be subjected to another Edsel. I prefer the Maserati.
Zoom, Deke style. #Deke4GM