In our ever evolving situation concerning operator assaults, we need to finally take a united stand against front-line assaults. I have wrote time and again about our union not taking a stand against the continual abuse of front line employees, so far our union has taken a neutral stance without serious consideration that this is a problem. In the past couple of months there have been at least 5 separate assaults against front line workers, including 2 in the Supervisor position and yet we have taken no position or opposition to this ever increasing statistic; which is conveniently left out of the companies “crime statistics” report made for the Board of Directors by the Directory of Safety and Security.
In the TRANSIT COOPERATIVE RESEARCH PROGRAM 2011 (Click Here!) Practices to Protect Bus Operators from Passenger Assault it states:
In physical assaults, the following were contributing factors:
• 77%, passenger misconduct;
• 60%, nonpayment of fares;
• 51%, alcohol or drugs; and
• 11%, weapons.
In verbal assaults, contributing factors were the following:
• 80%, passenger misconduct;
• 71%, nonpayment of fares;
• 50%, alcohol or drugs; and
• 9%, weapons.
As you notice one of the main contributing factors are fares; last I checked our assaults are 90% fare related, so imagine raising the fares a whopping 40 cents on those who are transit dependent, which make up the bulk of the ridership (if you work downtown and have a car, you are transit dependent as well) causing a hardship.
On the question of fares (once again) are we “informers or enforcers?” If a front line asks to see an Honored Citizen card (after the rider paid) that corresponds with the discounted fare, the rider then gets upset and aggressive due to the fact that do not have a card available, what does the front-line do? After you inform them (which is what we are trained for), what do you do? Do you deny them the discount (you enforce) and ask for proper fare? Do you just give them what they paid for, although they don’t qualify it (you’ve informed) and hit fare evasion (hopefully)? Do you kick them off if they do not have proper fare (enforcement) although they paid? All of these scenarios have happened, as I know of front liner doing all three. The S.O.P. is quite ambiguous in what to do in any event of aggressive behavior over fares. In any event the same study sites an issue of training operators properly. It states, “Bus operator training prepares the bus operator for a range of stressful situations, including fare issues, rules violations, and irrational or combative passengers, and assists the operator in remaining calm and prudent during the situation. Bus operator selection is important because an operator skilled at and experienced in customer relations and in handling stressful situations may be less likely to be the victim of an assault.” Speaking from my own experience, I did not get the, “what if” classes and had to figure out on my own how to do things. In two of the case scenarios a frontliner was assaulted; if you do not know if you are an “informer or enforcer” just look on the fare box, which is what our riders see when they get on your bus (Click Here).
In the past I have talked about operator assaults with our representation, in one of the first conversations I stated, “I gave a solution of “the driver must be taken of the bus, sent back to the garage, sent home and paid to the rest of the day.” This should be mandatory for all operators who are victims of assaults. Leadership (representation) disagreed, and thought that an operator should have the option to keep driving; even after I brought up post traumatic syndrome. Leadership (representation) thought, “what constitutes an assault,” say, someone just “bumps you, or push you”, should you “not” have the choice to continue. I said “no” due to the fact that a crime has been committed. We agreed to disagree.” Just recently another representative debated with me concerning assaults, first trying to use contract language to explain what can and cannot be done to protect frontliners, this was a moot point to me due to the fact that there has to be a reasonable degree of safety for employees on the job and it has nothing to do with the contract. Then they proceeded to ask me, “What do I suggest?” I said, quite simple “there needs to be a presence on the bus.” When the company decided to get rid of the Fare Inspectors and Rider Advocates, we no longer have a presence on busses. Personally, I have not seen any supervisory personnel on my busses in about four years.
The company pays $10.7 million on Transit (Maybe) police. Where were they when two of our Supervisors where assaulted? Why where they working alone at night and why weren’t they paired up after dark? Is our Supervisors safety not a concern as well? Or is the company system not equipped for real employee safety?
As I have stated in the past that an assault (any) leaves scars on the survivor, in the same report it also talks about this subject. It states, “Operator assaults can have significant consequences for the victimized operators, for their coworkers and families, and for bus operations in the form of injury-related claims, absences, diminished productivity, and union grievances. Operators may experience increased levels of anxiety and stress, which can cause them to become distracted while on duty or less calm under pressure. When asked about issues experienced by bus operators or operations as a result of violence against bus operators, as shown in Table 9, 68% of the 50 respondents to this question reported that they have had injury related claims, and more than half reported that their operators showed increased anxiety and stress. Twenty-eight percent reported that their bus operations were affected by absenteeism and diminished productivity, and 20% reported union grievances.” In any event, I would tell my fellow frontliners this same caveat:” I implore fellow Brothers and Sisters, who find yourselves “victims and survivors”, of these crimes against you to:
1. Report these situations to Dispatch, Supervisors, peers and managers immediately.
2. Remove yourselves from the situation i.e. the bus.
3. Fill out the report as soon as you can, with as much detail as you can remember.
4. GO HOME; this is where you can fully recover from the crime that was committed against you.
Your health and well-being are most important to you, your family, friends and fellow members. We are out there by ourselves and we need to support each other in these situations. This also goes for fellow members that are not on the front lines, remember, be aware of your surroundings, keep communications open, report things out of the ordinary while you are out there doing your jobs.
Lastly, there are many helpful solutions in this report but we need to take a stand on this ever increasing problem of assaults against frontline workers. Ask yourselves, how many of us know someone who has been assaulted and how many you can count on one hand, I personally know about 6 with single and multiple assaults. Our silence is our compliance.