Another perspective

Editor’s note: Guest post time. This was written by a friend who is also a union employee at TriMet in response to the “Empower, Trust, Stand Behind” post. I liked it and thought it merited its own post instead of getting buried in the comments. I welcome other people’s perspectives on this issue as well. As always, the opinions presented are those of the author, and while I personally am in agreement and think some excellent points are made here, they should not be assumed to reflect the opinions of all TriMet employees or ATU 757.

NEARLY ALL of the stories in the media about TriMet are negative and attacks on union employees. I find it appalling that they are not being honest and presenting both sides of the story.

TRIMET FRONT LINE EMPLOYEES DO NOT form TriMet’s budget, nor do we have the power to change it….

Employees used to be able to run an errand before or after work in their uniforms and no one would cast a second glance. NOW you need to have a spare shirt or jacket on hand in the trunk of your car so you can cover up any identifying markings that you work at Trimet because of the glances, stares and threats (yes, threats) you get. I have been spit at, cursed at, yelled at and pushed..and these are when I am OFF DUTY! (Oh, and I have a compliment-complaint ratio of roughly 30 good and 1-2 or fewer bad every year since I’ve started)

FOLKS WHO READ THIS BLOG PLEASE TAKE NOTE: I am well aware TriMet reads it too. I know those that normally follow this blog are better informed, and more objective than most..I AM NOT here to beat up TriMet..I still very much like where I work. I don’t like all the extra scrutiny any more than TriMet (TM) does.

1) We (union employees) are not “un-budgeable”. When the company started to charge union employees for the additional cost of their health benefits over a year ago (so in essence TM’s cost hasn’t changed) many of us were of the opinion that we would be happy to pay a portion of our benefits. I am paying a portion now and have been for 13 months (yes, there are those out there that DO pay more, but that’s another argument). I have no issue paying for part of my benefits as long as I know our collective dollars going back to TM are being spent WISELY. TriMet has a long track record of scary (and FUEL-ish) spending. (A QUARTER MILLION DOLLARS for a big deer art statue? Really?) Another $120k MANAGER? Has anyone really researched the organizational chart? There must be one manager/director/leadership position for every 5-10 non manager employee (I don’t know the exact figure but TM is top heavy)

2) WE DIDN’T BREAK THE LAW in our negotiations. TRIMET DID. AND, we haven’t slung anywhere near the mud TM has slung at us. Negotiating in good faith? The TM talk internally has been butterflies and rainbows…but that’s not the message the media and the public get.

3) ALL THOSE FOLKS OUT THERE who would work for half of what I make..Ok, I understand that many are out of work..and many would just about take ANY steady paying job. I won’t lie-Benefits were one of the major driving forces for my choice to apply at TM. They do have a nice package. Union members ARE NOT the cause of rising health care costs..insurance companies are. TM has the option to seek out different healthcare other than the ones chosen. Those chiropractor visits? I need every one of them. Free cosmetic surgery? Ah, nope. Urban legend. I’m told I have one of the best benefit packages in the nation. Ok. Let’s get TM and the Onion to do a fact-based, unbiased check of every comparable agency in work, size and equipment (cause ya gotta know that the beat up equipment we use day in-day out mentioned in the main article above, the health and deaths gotta be comparable, etc.) MAXFAQs has shown in their posts these stats.

Nope, I’m not at all saying I have it rough, per se. “You knew what you were getting into when you took the job”. Yup. I did. I knew that the wage & benefits package would help to keep my personal health in balance for the most part and I signed on for that. TM at my time of hire was a respected company to work for. I took a significant paycut when I started, but knew over about 4 years I would get that back. I knew that not everyone I dealt with in my job were going to be Wally & Beaver Cleaver (look it up you young whippersnappers! lol) but I felt TM would back me up AND that the MAJORITY of my encounters with the public would be positive.

Folks need to put things in perspective. TM needs to put things in perspective. THE UNION needs to put things in perspective. We all need to get along better. Hell, we can’t get congress to get along. Yes, YOU, JOHN Q PUBLIC would like to have my job right now. ME TOO. I STILL LOVE MY JOB. But let’s put things into perspective..put the shoe on the other foot so to speak.

- Many would likely work for $9.00 an hour right now. If I were unemployed, I WOULD work for $9.00 (temporarily) an hour right now. But that’s NOT the deal we signed on for. That’s NOT what the company told me I would be making when I hired on.

It often irks me when I stop to think about all of the pro athletes that make more money than I do in a game or two (A GAME) than I make all year and you have to do a Home Improvement loan to be able to afford tickets to go to the game and eat while you’re there, but nearly NO ONE complains about their wages. But then–Really..if you felt you could be paid 28K (roughly) for a couple of hours “work” playing a game each day, and then going to workouts, practices and public appearances..you would think that you were worth it. You wouldn’t feel like you were being paid too much for what you do, would you. All of the injuries, the pounding your body takes, etc, etc. You plan to stay on “the job” and could play hard for a few years and then WHAP! an injury sidelines you.

- I make the same offer I’ve made in the past to anyone who’s willing to take me up on it. Get on your bus in the front seat facing the operator first thing in the morning, before rush hour or say a #4/72/8 on a Friday night. Ride that bus, in the same seat, for 8-10 hours. Nope. NO getting up from the seat until the end of the line to go potty, and then only if you have arrived on time, cause now all those passengers that are waiting for you to arrive are pissed cause you’re late..again. Yup. Even the ones who are planning to jump on the last possible bus to get them to their destination 2 minutes early. But, they’ll be ok. This bus NEVER runs late, right? Traffic ALWAYS COOPERATES. Buses & cars NEVER break down.. Ok, better go potty anyway cause it’ll be 2 hours or so before you get the chance to go. Be sure on your ride to take note any complaints passengers may have about fares, old transfers, no a/c-heat, etc.

Take note of the traffic. When you leave the end of the line, take note of the departure time and track your timeliness thru the route, checking from time to time to see if your operator is trying to stay on time but just can’t seem to or something else. Observe the passengers who get on in a “not in any hurry..take my time sort of way”. Observe closely how much time that eats up.

Don’t fret-DON’T get out of your seat or eat yet…you can go potty at the end of the line..your “break” is actually called RECOVERY TIME on your schedule-SOME routes have built in time (5 min on some, 30 min on others) so that if you’re late arriving at the end of the line, in some cases this recovery time will allow you to make up some of your lateness, but then your break (to potty, eat, drink, relax and recover comes out of the time that is left over, IF ANY). But again-Don’t fret. You can take your scheduled-in break 2 hours after your day starts or an hour before you get off, cause that’s what your schedule says. Not before this time though.

So, after 8-10 hours of being beaten (physically because of the ride and mentally because of the “complaints”) –how ya doin? Nope, you’re not done yet. Now repeat the same scenario you just did for four more days..in a row. Now you’ve put those “shoes” to productive work.

Our job IS NOT rocket science..we know that. Our job ISN’T curing cancer..know that too. I’ve already said I was aware (albeit mostly) of what I was getting into when I was hired.

I don’t want a penny more.
I don’t want even better benefits (ok, maybe more chiro & add some massage in, but).
I DO need the benefits I have now.
I don’t go to work everyday trying to figure out ways to screw the public, I SWEAR.
We are FAR from perfect and have things we need to work on-we know that too. But in fairness, we ARE better than most transit agencies (I moved a lot in my earlier years). I know this because of passenger comments and I have driven for three different agencies throughout the country and ridden several more.

I want only what was promised to me and I AM willing to compromise to some degree..as long as the money I am saving TM is fixing the ship, not patching for the benefit of hiring four new captains or a sleeker boat from a pet project gone bad.

In truth, TM union employees are not the only ones to have “had it good” in the past. Portlanders have as well. They have had a premium service provided (yes, we have bad apples among us, but there isn’t anyone who can say they haven’t..not even the church anymore). For the most part, our sidewalks don’t fold up, and service thru the metro area doesn’t cease to exist after 6pm every night. Until the last possible minute, we had our downtown service free of charge to riders.

I just want BOTH sides to be told, and to negotiate in good faith with my employer..NOT to be dragged in the mud by my employer.
(This post is not necessarily the opinion of TriMet or its management and is solely my opinion.)

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9 responses to “Another perspective

  1. GREAT POST, WHOEVER WROTE THAT WILL YOU PLEASE SUBMIT IT TO THE OREGONIAN AS A GUEST EDITORIAL IN THE WRITTEN EDITION.
    And submit it to all the other major media outlets too!

  2. Very well said, with a few exceptions to other Union jobs the stance is the same, we have some managers who have no clue what a Bus Operator endures, they just “Manage” one manager in fact is an Ex police officer, and that police officer mentality shines through in his “managerial style” the General public (speaking in generalities here now) have no idea that every time we open the door to the bus we get a different personality to deal with, one can be nice & show their pass, smile and find a seat, the very next stop we get a high school kid who is having a bad day forgot his pass and just walks past, as a ‘fare informer” you politely ask for their fare and get a “screw you” so you push the fare evasion button on the BDS and roll the bus. guess what is waiting at the next stop.. after you do this hundreds of times a day it gets more difficult to keep a fresh smile, greet the next person when there are those times you open the door and just know “This is not going to be good” yes we have regulars that just make your shoulders slump and you hold your breath as they smell to hog heaven and as their urine, BO passenger passes and breathe a sigh of relief they did not stop to visit, if you’re especially lucky they insist on standing right behind you for the next say 20 minutes, you close your window and open the over head vent to blow air past you to vent their scent away from you. or they sit down next to that nice passenger who smiled showed their pass and said good morning, you see the look on their face and get up and move.

    We lose those riders as they (I have spoken with several) that say they are going to stop riding the bus as they can not take the dirty buses and don’t understand why we let those people without fare or smell so bad ride. I always suggest they call 238-ride as TM cares more about public input than hearing from the operator.

  3. Right on brothers & sisters! We operators need to remind the people we serve WHY we are worth what we are compensated. People have forgotten the responsibilities we assume in the driver’s seat, and the liabilities we face if something goes wrong. We’re not just bus drivers driving a bus all day, la-tee-da. We are all highly trained, licensed professionals charged with keeping thousands upon thousands of people safely moving along the public roadways every day. We are all leaders in our community tasked with the awesome responsibility of not only conveying their precious personage, but also facilitating their communal cohesion and interpersonal discourse. People learn from our example how to get along with others. We are teachers, we are postal carriers, we are air line pilots, we are artists and actors and apprentices, we are traffic controllers, neighborhood patrollers, and community police–ALL FROM THE BUS DRIVERS SEAT! And that is why you pay us the big bucks!

  4. “If it is both truthful and sensible, the Oregonian won’t print it.” Roland Zagreus

  5. Hell, we have a petty thief sitting on the Trimet board of directors (Sweitzer) and can’t even get any action on getting her off!
    We are the serfs and serve at the pleasure of the Lords, and they don’t let us forget it either!

  6. I always take time to realize that whoever is driving me weather its on a bus max streetcar, Is having a long hard day at work, and if i can say thanks a bunch bye! everytime I get off or on a bus, or smile at a max driver, it makes them get through it a little happier because there driving ME. THEY are taking me to work for 90 bucks a month. So I refuse to be rude to whoever is carting my bum around town. Escpecially if there union. always wanted a union job.

    • Thank you, Chris. I very much appreciate the common courtesies we exchange. I cannot adequately say just how fatiguing it is to muster up a polite greeting for every single passenger who boards my bus, but I do. Most of the time I am rudely ignored by those who have headphones in their ears, or who are busy talking on the phone, many of whom only shuv a fare instrument in my face, and won’t even acknowledge me with so much as a sideways glance. I can safely speak for many union members, of all labor unions, when I say we want you, and everybody, to have what we have. We want everybody to have a living wage, safe working conditions, healthcare, and job security. We want all people to have the right to bargain collectively for these benefits. This is the ‘ideal’ American way, and the Organized Labor Movement once set a higher standard, and created this notion of a ‘middle-class society’. I am sad to say the Movement has rested on its laurels and become the target of the ‘ruling elite’, ‘free-market’ capitalists, their ‘conservative’ henchmen, and minions of under-informed voters who support them. And what is their ‘ideal’? To convince as many people as they can that, “You too can join the richest 1%, just like me, myself, and I, if you vote for conservative politicians and free-market capitalism; if you fear the devils who hate what you have and want to kill Santa Claus; and, if you exclude others from ‘our way’ because if they also get what you get you will be worth less.” Not knowing you, somehow I believe you probably have a better vision for our future together than that. I hope you continue to share your peace and happiness with our union brothers & sisters, and keep faith with the good people around you–TOGETHER WE CAN CHANGE THE WORLD!

  7. As a management student, one who hopes to someday manage at TriMet, I always say that the most important input is from those on the front lines because without all of you, TriMet would have a fleet of pretty shiny buses sitting in nice yards. I hope more prospective managers read posts like these and see that it’s not just about goals and plans (these are still important) but it’s about the day-to-day and about supporting those in action. It’s you who do the hard work, and I personally am well appreciative of it.

    I hope to be part of the group who someday helps establish a visible culture of unity and mutual understanding. Until then, keep up the good work. We (the smiling riders) appreciate it deeply.

  8. The simple fact of the matter is that TM negotiated those benefits with us and we gave up potential wage increses to keep them. We seem to have made a better bet on the future than they did and now they want US topay for their inability plan for the future more effectively.

    I find it interesting that although Neil McF was willing to break the law and ,not honor the agreement his agency negotiated by making us share in medical costs, he had so little faith in his rationale for doing so he chose not to pass along the increase in benefit cost this year? If his interpretation from 12/10 was correct we certainly should have seen an increase. Perhaps he he had a budget for debt to employees of 10mil and didn’t want to go over budget….

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