Saturday, May 31, 2014

I don't think I could be a bus driver which is why I am in awe of those who are - some thoughts about the possible GO strike

The members of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1587 are negotiating for a contract renewal and probably one that has all the same conditions as the one expiring. I don't know why everyone always makes it about how much money a union employee earns - maybe that's why he decided to be a union employee.

There is a real hatred towards unions in this country... it's so vile. I can't even stomach the Star or Sun comments about the current GO labour negotiations. It's not for me to say a GO bus driver doesn't deserve the income he works for. Why? Because I don't do his job. It's not for me to say a GO ticket agent doesn't deserve the income she works for. I don't do her job either. Yet, you CAN do these jobs -- but you don't. Ask yourself why you don't - maybe it's because you couldn't imagine working in such close proximity with the public. Yet, you pay to ride in close proximity with the public everyday and somehow manage to survive. Or maybe you simply don't want a union job, or maybe it's because you feel these jobs are beneath you, or you feel that "someone with a grade 10 education is only worthy of $10 an hour".

Unions serve an extremely beneficial purpose when they do exactly what they were established to do - to ensure safe working conditions for members who work in hazardous conditions. And for those of us who aren't in a union, we owe a lot to unions for the working conditions and business safety standards we have today in the workplaces we toil in. Where they suck is when they fail to recognize the financial realities of supporting the retirement security of its members and fail to forecast the cost (cough) Nortel (cough).

I come from a union family. My husband and I are the only ones not in a union. I've seen when they work well and when they don't work at all.

At the end of of the day, everyone wants to be able to put food on the table. I, myself, have turned down union jobs because I never wanted to be faced with "job action" - where all of a sudden you have to choose between loyalty to your union and loyalty to your employer because you need the paycheque, or you're forced into job action and hate every second of it.

What is a shame is that strikes are rarely ever about to protest working conditions or demands for improvements to conditions that support the workers - they almost always come down to negotiating for three things: salary increases, pension contributions and health benefit amendments. It's these demands that nearly destroyed the auto industry when the amount of retired workers outnumbered the actual active workforce. The Big Three were running out of funds to support their retirees' income and healthcare costs. So the retirees made concessions and surmised they'd be willing to be pay $2 instead of $1 for their Greenshield drug deductible if it meant keeping one autoworker on the assembly line. I'll never forget reading that in the Oshawa paper. I remember my jaw dropped open. How kind. Very few of these members failed to understand it was the pensions that they needed to make concessions on. Anyone with a pension these days is very, very, very lucky to have one. We have a pension crisis in this country.

My dad never finished school past grade five when he became old enough to work the farm and help contribute to his family's income. At 16, he moved from New Brunswick to Toronto and did jobs I could never imagine doing. People are always surprised to learn that my dad, who eventually settled on a career as a short-haul and long-haul transport driver, who despite being in a union for several years -- long story ... the company knew early on they wouldn't be able to afford a retired workforce so they put money in health benefit plans instead -- doesn't have a company pension. They always comment "how hard it must have been to work all those years with nothing to show for it". He'll disagree with you. My dad is a person who stresses the only person that can take care of you - is you - he invested wisely and lived within his means. Go ask a former Nortel employee how 30 years at a giant company worked out for her in retirement. If my dad is envious of his friends who retired from their union-supported transit jobs, he hides it really well.

We all have our priorities and our reasons for why we choose the job we do. None of us is in a position to complain about a bus driver who may not show up to work on Monday. I absolutely agree with you that this strike, should it happen, will be an inconvenience of batshit crazy proportions but please, don't  take it out on the bus driver, maintenance staff, cleaning crews or station tellers. Not all of them are "greedy high school dropouts making too much money looking to fuck up your week --- ungrateful bastards" -- worst comment on Facebook yet.

Out of all the GO Transit employees, I am fiercely protective of the bus driver. The bus driver who gets me home every night in one piece. The trained and skilled driver piloting pounds upon pounds of deadly steel, glass and plastic with no airbags or seatbelts - he's THE (wo)MAN.

I don't want Otto from the Simpsons driving me to the GO station. And neither should you.

Still not "on-board"? Here's my take when there was threat of job action in 2011


Anonymous said...

Thank you.

GETONGO said...

THANK YOU!!! You could not be any more correct. I drive for Go and LOVE my job. If people really want to look at it, how much does a pilot of a 80 passenger plane get paid? This is about out sourcing my job to someone with way less training affecting public in soooo many negative ways. Go has a fantastic and intensive training program that never stops. I was a location safety manager at Laidlaw before going to Go and was happy to see how good it is. People need to understand that were not just bus drivers. We carry up to 80 passengers through crazy Toronto traffic every day. We love our jobs and the people we carry. I love to drive and I love people and like anyone, I want to keep my job and the quality of customer service I provide. It’s important to me that people are comfortable safe and happy to be on my Coach, Each and every day! There are bad apples in any apple tree. If people vote for Tim Hudak ready between the lines. Take away unions to cut wages??? Ok so take away my job and give it to two others at half the cost? So now they make what 10-15 dollars an hour? Would you get into a plane if you knew the pilot had inferior training and hated his or hers job? Tim wants to get rid of good middle class jobs cut them out to put out twice as many low paying jobs. If you love the service and you feel safe and comfortable in our coaches then please support us because I can’t speak for everyone but I can tell you that I want to be there for you Monday morning. Thank you again for your letter and blog and showing us your support.
My motto:

Smile, help and refuse no one on my coach because I believe everyone deserves a pleasant and safe ride to where they need to Go!

So sit back, relax, enjoy your ride and GET ON GO!!

Bicky said...

Ah, the voice of reason in a sea of chaos and bad arguments.

Thank you.

TomW said...

Whenever I see comments along the lines of "A bus driver earns more than me, and I'm way more educated/trained than them", I always think (and often reply) "of the money's so important to you, become a bus driver instead".

I would never become a bus driver, regardless of pay, because it's a lonely job, with terrible and irregular hours, where you have to deal with the public by yourself, and your bathroom breaks have to follow a schedule.

Pay for jobs isn't just about skill level - it also depends on how unpleasant the job is. Garbage collectors earn a lot for unskilled manual labour, because it's a crappy job. Bus drivers earn a lot for semi-skilled labour, because it's also a crappy job.

TomW said...

For the record: I am not, nor ever will be a union member.

Peter said...

Thank you for sharing your beautifully articulated thoughts on this topic. I hope this article is posted in every GO Transit drivers’ room, because there are still some drivers who don’t read your blog. Can you believe that?

GOvoygr said...

I wonder if passengers ever take the time to understand how much you and your fellow drivers are responsible for. It’s more than driving up to 80 pax in crazy southern Ontario traffic every day. If a train engineer is faced with a red signal, the train waits. If a driver is faced with a sea of red tail lights, it’s time to determine some creative rerouting, assuming geo-fencing allows it. Drivers are ticket agents, and at the end of the trip, they need to be accountants – ensuring cash receipts balance and are remitted. Drivers are baggage handlers – IMO one of the most dangerous aspects of the job. Because occasional passengers rarely do enough research, drivers are front-line trip planners as well as part-time tour guides. Because there’s never a TSO when you need one, drivers are first line enforcement officers and investigators, e.g. the case of the PRESTO pickpocket. Drivers are self-reliant mechanics doing what’s necessary to keep the trip going, like freeing seats stuck in the tracks or nursing a wheelchair lift so a WMA passenger can board. Drivers are ambassadors for GO Transit, trying to treat each passenger as if it were that customer’s first trip. IMO, this is the most difficult aspect of the job – the redundancy in answering the same question over and over.

In summary, drivers are the complete GO Transit employee. If management thinks there are fiscal savings to be had by outsourcing this position, then they need to stop looking at bottom line figures in spreadsheets and descend from the ivory tower to see what’s happening on the front-line.

For the record, I am a passenger. I tell my drivers I can’t do their job; I don’t possess the skills necessary to execute the role with proficiency. However, I have told them I will do anything in my power to assist them.

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU!!!!!!!

Peter said...

@Anonymous (9:22)
Thank CJ; she wrote this wonderful article. All I did was suggest drivers post it where others without online access can read it.

Anonymous said...

I'd have to say, CJ that this is a very well written and most importantly a balanced piece about the status of union workers in this country.

Too bad the toronto sun can't seem to write something like this.

GETONGO said...

Thank you! You summed it up perfectly. I didn't want to sound like we do too much but everything you said we do on a daily basis. I think any job is important to the person doing the job. For me if I could do any job in the world that I love to do each and every day it would be driving a Coach. I DO NOT want to see a strike for everyone’s sake. I feel horrible when I think about how it affects everyone. I know that my fellow Operators feel the same way. I chose this position because I like people and I like to drive. I take pride in having a 15 year collision free driving in our GTA streets in a coach and school Bus. This is not a side job for me. This puts food on my table and a roof over my head. I don’t drive a fancy car and I don’t own a big house. All I want to do is keep it that way. Go Transit is a Great company to work for and it’s very difficult to get in and you know that when 300 people apply to get in for 12 part time positions every time they hire. I am proud to work there. But sometime New leadership that has no true idea of all that we do thinks they can save a little money destroying the 47 year history that the company and union has built. It’s no mistake that the company has never been on strike and has only ever down size once. To sum this up, you get what you pay for. Oh and for all people out there that think we want more money or we go on strike let me ease you mind. We are fighting to keep what we have. This fight is about outsourcing. And really who would want that?

Everything you said is so true and it amazes me to see a passenger would notice all that. Thank you for your support.

GOvoygr said...

Thank you for all you do for us! I restricted my prior observations to the business activities of drivers. I have noticed the genuine care that GO Transit drivers extend to their passengers – often above and beyond the call of duty.

I used Coach Canada and Greyhound previously to travel between Toronto and Niagara. Even though I saw their same drivers week after week, it seemed I always had to negotiate to be let off at the corner of Front and York streets. Four years ago, I decided to try GO Transit for a short period, travelling at different times on Friday afternoons. On one occasion the driver who I had travelled with first, greeted me with, “Hello, stranger. I haven’t seen you in a while.” I was speechless. Who was that driver who remembered me after only two trips? All of us see him every day. Yes, W.P. Can we expect that level of care from contract drivers? I’m not betting on it. I’ll put my money on higher incidents of CIT’s.

It’s easy for management to manipulate numbers on a spreadsheet, especially those provided by HR. If a company wants to “save” money, cut staff. Metrolinx needs to eliminate wasteful practices in so many other areas of the organization. Look at some of the articles that have appeared on this blog. The problem with that approach is it requires senior management to make some difficult decisions. It also requires motivation.

I, like you, hope continuity of service will be maintained tomorrow.

For the record, I am neither pro-union nor pro-management. I support public transit in which management, employees, and passengers step up to their respective responsibilities.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you on your comments, you hit the nail on the head, especially with comparing to Pilots.
Let me enlighten you all a little on that comparison.
In the US, major US airlines that pay it's pilots $120-$200,000 a year to fly its Boeing & Airbus big jets and each major carrier has it's subsidiary carriers that operate a Regional Service for the big airlines, such as Mesa, Republic & Skywest.
A lot of attention has been focused on the safety aspect of these carriers that pay peanuts.
A First Officer for Mesa (behalf of Delta) earn.... $19-$35 an hour.
Most of America's air incidents have nearly all been Regional Carriers, low paid pilots, lower level of skill & training etc... I avoid these types of flights in the US for that reason alone. Safety record!
I feel safe with 99% of the Drivers GO has on the road, but you'll always get a bad apple or two.
They earn a good wage to a certain extent, the vast majority of them have to sacrifice family life to earn that moment. I know many drivers on 60+ hours shifts per week to earn 40 hours of pay. It's not all what it seems.


Jules said...

Well said CJ, I found your comments very enlightening and thank you to all GO Bus drivers, I don't take the GO bus personally but I can imagine it is not an easy job and I can appreciate anyone that works directly with the public on a daily basis, you have my respect and appreciation. I also do not want to see anyone replaced with less experienced workers to save a buck.

MATT said...

"Yet, you CAN do these jobs -- but you don't. Ask yourself why you don't"

I know why I don't...because I could never, ever work for a Union. Simple as that.

C.J. Smith said...

^ Same here. Not for me but I don't judge those who do. Everyone has a reason for the job they choose to do.

Unknown said...

This is one of your best written posts!