Dear Sam, #2

See the bunny?
She might settle for a smaller carrot,
yet deserves the bigger one.

Dear Sam,

I heard you just got a 14% raise, putting your pay at or above $400k. I actually DO the work of transit and make less than a quarter of that.

The Willamette “Weak” (sicop) last fall published yet another listless article regarding our transit agency, reporting the “Bored” (ditto) of Directors president stated you have done “extremely well” during your two-year tenure. The one-sided fluff piece also mentioned how “300 operators” were “successfully recruited” and fares were increased. As usual, WWeak failed to delve deeper into the debacle that is local transit management. It failed to ask how many valuable operators we have lost during the same period. Your union employees have a valid argument to decrease your salary.

Not only are 20-25 new operators hired every three weeks, but what wasn’t reported is how many newbies didn’t make it through probation or shortly past. The gross harassment and over zealous "discipline" results in numerous early retirements and wasteful terminations. This district spends thousands of dollars to recruit and train new operators, and millions over a lengthy and honorable career. Wrongful terminations and countless arbitrations cost this transit agency more than valuing its honored veterans.

Operators who maneuver a transit vehicle through transit and avoid management's often ruthless scrutiny past five years have earned our collective respect. Each has endured numerous affronts, often several attacks and successfully avoided the thousands of idiot motorists who don't deserve the privilege of driving any vehicle. We dodge irresponsible pedestrians, bicyclists, scooter riders, rushed delivery drivers, road ragists, and even the occasional nude street dancing addict.

We save thousands of lives a day. Yet one "secret shopper" looks up from their phone to see us misread one of Portland's many unpredictable traffic light patterns and slide through a "pink" (one turning red from yellow as we're in the intersection), and our career is in jeopardy. What Manny Mismanagement fails to realize is the Operator may have had to wait for one of many Red Light Runners to skip through before venturing ahead. Not wanting to put an ADA passenger on the floor by slamming on the air brakes in time to stop, we shake our head and proceed safely through, foot covering the brake pedal. As we were trained to treat the inevitable misstep. It's often a crapshoot, considering an Operator traverses approximately 70,000 lighted intersections a year. Expecting us to not exceed just two such instances is grossly abusive.

As usual, the local media has failed to dig deep enough to uncover these dark secrets. That figures. Considering the news media has shrunk from a giant troll to a wet rodent with the rise of social media, it’s apparent they don’t know journalism from the warts on their genitals. Are they paid to keep quiet, or just sniveling cowards? Both, is my guess.

You hire people who are given a scant few weeks of training and allow them to immediately go full time, usually on the Extra Board. A few weeks learning how to drive a bus does NOT adequately prepare one to be thrust into 60+ hours/week behind the wheel. Transit operation involves much more than driving. On our toughest lines, an Operator deals with the most difficult passengers often late at night when supportive resources are scarce. Before they have honed their skills via part time experience. Plus, new hires are  encouraged to immediately train for light rail jobs without prior transit knowledge. This is a dangerously foolish practice, and an insult to the veterans who paid their dues behind the wheel of a bus before taking that big step into a much-heavier vehicle.

You hold new operators to the same standards as those with years of experience. A newer operator, an educator prior to this career, was aghast at how a probationary operator thrust into full-time service, can easily lose this job just for losing a mirror to Portland's wild tree growth or impatience with the "darling" passengers who often challenge even the most steady individual. Unless a newbie exhibits dangerous habits, they deserve a bit of grace as they learn. Instead, they're lured in by the dozens in hopes of earning a $7,500 bonus it takes three years to realize. Some training classes can see up to a 50% "failure rate", when some of those released could very well become excellent operators. It takes patience, guidance and a management that treats its Operations employees with understanding and compassion to build a safe workforce.

This situation is unreasonable. At the very least, it’s bush league. You hire the multitudes who yearn to earn top wages much faster than we did, then set them up to fail. All because you do not allow them adequate preparation for the reality of daily transit. The current hiring boom is reckless and dangerous. It takes months of practice at the very least, to grasp not only how to safely guide a 20-ton vehicle along our narrow streets. It takes patient learning to discover how the various parts of our transit family works together to make things run smoothly. Not just in Portland, but wherever corporate ideology has overtaken common sense.

Before you became GM, we were horrified by management. Meeting with you, mano a mano, I hoped you would understand my plight as one of thousands. Mostly because I understood you had “driven” a bus before. Upon learning you operated tour buses in Alaska, my hopes were dashed. Your passengers wanted to ride your bus; those on ours need to. Big difference, maestro. You have no clue how we feel, and I doubt you can given your lack of real world experience. The corporate ladder is often held by the backs of the millions who do the hardest work in life.

Leading a major transit agency requires more than a corporate mindset. It demands a true understanding of the most basic tenets of public transportation honed over 100 years of grueling, physically challenging and soul-bashing miles in the unforgiving seat of a transit vehicle.

As our new union leaders take office, be prepared to hear US. We’re sick of empty words and broken promises. Our inability to strike gives you an unfair advantage, allowing you to make our professional lives miserable while you speak of valuing our service. Your raise was double digits this year. You're offering US single, multiplying them by four years as if it's generous. As usual, what you're offering is much less than inflation. Remember whenever you call us "heroes", we expect to be so compensated for our dedication.

We take Portland to work and home again. Safely. Despite all the ruffians, freeloaders and fools who ignore traffic laws (especially https://oregon.public.law/statutes/ors_811.167). WE make transit work, even though transit management often fails to protect the “lugnuts of transit” (RIP Thomas Dunn).

Oh wait. I’ve meandered longer than suggested. Sorry Boss. According to your underling, I need counseling if I take up too much of your time. At the current rate, minus your extensive leave package compared to mine after 11+ years, it cost maybe $50 of your salary to read this. Meanwhile, I took the day off to recuperate and lost about $175 of overtime. You owe me $125 while you ponder what many consider obvious. 

Disparity doesn’t cultivate trust. Only compassionate individuals earn it. 

Sincerely, 

Deke N. Blue




Comments

  1. Replies
    1. Thank you for your insightful words you speak the truth for so many of us operators.

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  2. So perfectly stated. The only thing I could add is, parking our vehicles at our respective garages may not even be an option as to the lack of parking available at certain times of day. We had to traverse dangerous conditions in the blizzard ice event last year and now it's 120 degrees on a hot tarmac getting to and from our buses in the garages. It's unbelievable they have ceased providing the icy water bottles at the yards. I used those to help people who were suffering on the bus or sidewalks I found. You said here what most of us are feeling. God Bless you Patrick.

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  3. Mike Arronson should be running TriMet. He's the most capable employee I have witnessed anywhere within the Agency.

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    1. 100% agree he's an amazing person

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  4. I was asked if I'd ever drive for TriMet again... given the fact that my family and lived ones said it was the greatest mixed blessing for my termination, and the fact that I no longer have panic attacks and can interact like a regular person, I'd say no. I am, however, absolutely APPALLED by the fact they're hiring Max operators off the street, the trainees don't have the skills or training to succeed and management is somehow worse than it was when I was there. To my former Brothers and Sisters, if you still work there, all the gods bless you. I'd rather deal with criminals as a LEO than go back to helpless indignation and random management ego boosting punishment. Not being able to stand up for yourself is soul sucking and the Sam I met is not the person he is today.

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    1. I was wrongfully terminated also, my BP is way down, I no longer have anxiety/panic attacks. I miss my coworkers, management not at all. I no longer fear what will be twisted around to be my fault when I did everything correctly and safest. It’s amazing to feel supported and valued now.

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  5. Apparently the new Union Leadership is getting rid of the garbage MOUs that recently were signed. Love that Bruce and Henry are plowing through the cornfield. Turning the old crops under.

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  6. Wow, nothing ever changes. Really sad and well done Deke.

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  7. He hasn’t responded to me for a long time.

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  8. I understand that we can’t strike but we could say no to WRDOS, say no to overtime and we can call our 8 without repercussions or time loss. Also, fantastic letter!

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  9. His silence is deafening. My hope is the media will one day interview you about what our working conditions really are.

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