Sunday, 18 December 2011

Alain, Part Deux

"Alexa said...
I disagree with much of what you say in regards to Alain Mercier managing his position well. He is directly responsible for the tremendous dissatisfaction of his employees. The scheduling remains abhorrent to most of the drivers and management has shown a total lack of interest or willingness to accomodate their employees. Hence the antagonism continues to increase. This is a sign of significantly bad management when so many are under undue stress because of ridiculous schedules and numerous drivers cannot meet their time expectancies without foregoing their breaks or having to speed unnecessarily. I would be interested to know how many have had to take stress leave because of the work conditions. I certainly know of a couple of drivers who felt they were on the verge of a breakdown. It appears to be that OC is under abyssmal management."

I received a few responses similar to this one from a few drivers. Folks, I get it. I drive these schedules too. We lost a very good thing in arbitration when we lost the ability to assemble split shifts. After that, our union refused to participate in assembling our work as they protested the subsequent bookings in the dispute over the arbitrators language. The run cuts all seem to have been assembled without our input because up until the clarification of the arbitrators language, they weren't. What I'm getting at here is this: There is more blame to go around for the worst of our complaints than a simple finger pointing at management. As a driver, I'm upset with our union for what appears to be complete aloofness about the run cuts and scheduling while they protested the bookings. I'm upset with management for assembling runs that start at Merivale garage and finish at Place D'Orleans 12 hours later, and pay 7h30. But, I'm mostly upset with the arbitrator for dragging his feet for two years while the main issues twisted in the wind. As a taxpayer, that last part is a double-whammy. I paid for that arbitrator to make a decision, and he consistently screwed that up allowing for two interpretations of his ruling, which IMO is the principle reason we have the disgruntled attitudes towards our current scheduling.

On that note, it's easy to think that this scheduling issue is a new thing that the Mercier regime has created. It isn't.

Our current scheduling is comparable to many similar sized transit properties. I've done the research, after receiving a complaint about a post I made before my blog was vandalized. I used to think we were getting the short end of the stick in comparison to other cities. Our pay is lower, yes. But, our scheduling complaints are similar to most of the drivers I talked to in 5 other cities. The contentious issues are all centered around running times, spread, hours worked, pay guarantees, and run cuts. It sounds familiar because it is industry wide. When something like this can be demonstrated to be an industry standard, it become apparent that management is doing what all other transit managers are doing.

Ask yourself the following question: "Do I believe that Alain Mercier wanted to cut $20M from his own department?"

To pin all of our scheduling complaints on bad management is to ignore the city council's decisions, the budget, the tax payer, Larry O'Brien's role in the strike, Andy's gaffe, the media,  the rest of our industry, and how all major transit operations are run. Driver complaints about scheduling are industry wide, and we are not in the worst position of the properties I spoke with. (Call the local in Montreal for an eye-opener) Scheduling complaints are the #1 issue not only with transit drivers, but also general freight carriers and airline pilots. Why do I bring that up? Because the comparables suggest that dissatisfaction among drivers in various jobs stems from the job itself.

Further to this, Mercier's tenure began in 2007. KPMG had identified scheduling as one of the principle factors contributing to the murder of four employees at OC Transpo in 1999. The report defined the poisoned workplace that existed prior to 1999, and scheduling was quite prominent.

Why do I bring this up? Because scheduling angst is a preexisting condition at OC Transpo and will exist long after Mercier is working elsewhere, not an evidence of a new mismanagement.

When I brought up and posted something positive about Mercier, I knew I was taking a risk with some of my readership. I attempted to demonstrate that current management has done some very positive things for drivers and passengers. I'll stand by those words, and defy anyone to disprove them.

We all know what the problems are at OC Transpo, and yes, I could write a few pages on that topic. But that's what everyone else does. Constructively, how do we fix those problems? Dwelling on a scheduling issue that has been dragging on for 30+ years simply doesn't advance our position, does it? That's why I don't write about it. I can't fix the scheduling issue because the taxpayer wont let me. Whining about it here doesn't help. Neither does the ignorance of whatever positives come out of the current management regime. We have not been working with management on our issues, we seem to be constantly working against them. That strategy has not been working well for us thus far.

We need to recognize the positives when we see them in order to diffuse this acerbic relationship we have with our employer. We need to recognize that we work in a global industry, and that our problems are not unique enough to categorize our operation as being poorly managed. This dysfunctional relationship with management simply cannot help us.

It's time for a new approach.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

In Defense of Alain

Few departments get as much flak in this city as transit does. As a driver, we take it on the front line in a very direct and personal manner. People will tell us exactly what they think of the service, sometimes in ways that get very personal. I have driven some trips at OC Transpo that were so awful to listen to that I've quickly scanned the bus to see if Nicolas Cage was starring in them. At the end of the day, if I am truly a professional, my problems don't come home with me. That passenger is out of my life, and tomorrow is another day.

Alain Mercier however, he gets a different story. I have been trying for years now to figure out how someone could possibly balance his portfolio and keep his sanity. Sure, he's paid well. He should be. Mercier is in charge of the single-most budget eating service in the city. His job description is part manager, part politician, part labour lawyer, part philanthropist, and a full-time face of whatever happens at OC Transpo whether it is personally related to him or not.

Every move Alain Mercier makes is lauded by one group, and absolutely slammed by another. That is a tough job, in my opinion.

Previous general managers have had it much easier than Alain Mercier. Prior to amalgamation, OC Transpo was a huge iceberg drifting throughout the city budget, sinking whatever projects it touched. Aimless, without any other long term plan than to simply exist, and following a whatever current it could find. It was run much like a Mom n' Pop operation, small minded and closely knit.

Since Mercier took over, OC Transpo has felt more like a large corporation.

Mercier has changed the professional culture at OC Transpo since he has taken over. It started with the managers. He restructured many departments, creating many roles that other large transit corporations utilize as standard practice such as setting up real hierarchies within departments and making them accountable for performance. Every facet of management has been restructured and reorganized, and it seems (at least from my lowly viewpoint) that each department has an entirely expanded capacity to do things that OC Transpo management has never been able to do.

Where OC Transpo management used to feel to me as an unprofessional sewn-together outfit, it feels like I'm working for a credible company with purpose and a plan.

The fleet has never been younger. While there are some glitches with new buses, I don't blame anyone but the manufacturer for breakdowns these days.

The new GPS system is marvellous. I can actually manipulate the mapping system to find a street (the way I used to do with my phone, before that became such a touchy proposition).

While I often poke fun at the Next Stop Announcement System (NSAS), quite simply put... it works. Mercier took all kinds of shrapnel in the drivers' rooms for coming down hard on drivers who were not calling out stops, but if you followed that story, it became a human rights issue. Compliance was a legal requirement.

In my direct line of sight, drivers that hadn't had any kind of training since they were hired (in some cases, that could be more than a decade) were being called into « Pro in Motion » training. In fact, if the expanded training department hadn't been turning out a thousand new drivers over the past decade, I would suggest that OC Transpo would have a full fledged customer service school ripping through the fleet.

I am looking at the forward momentum of this company, and I like what I see. I think it is time we bury the hatchet that the strike placed in our respective hands, and get on board with Mercier's current project.

« Our Employees Are Our Brand »

Now, you know I absolutely have to get behind this type of campaign. Getting drivers to be proud of what they do, and taking pride in who they serve is the central message I have been trying to push since this blog was started, hacked, destroyed, and started again.

Our union needs to jump on-board with this message. I have long said that the best place to negotiate a contract is from behind the wheels of our buses, each and every day. People are less inclined to side with the Larry O'Briens of the world if you do an honest job, work hard, and treat everyone like you would treat your kids, or your mom.

Being the « Brand » of OC Transpo means you are the face of a city to tourists. You are the leader of the commute. You are the legs of the disabled. You are the sight to the blind. You are the lifeline to the housebound. You are the link to families. You are the way to seek help. You bring the food home to the table, and the kids home from school. You are the eyes and ears for the police. You are the answer to the lost commuter. You are the trip home. You are the designated driver.

I have pointed out a few great things Alain Mercier has done as the general manager of OC Transpo, because turnabout is fair play.

Let's use this new campaign to turn a page at 1500 St. Laurent, and build a brand.

Sunday, 11 December 2011


IKEA, Swedish for obnoxious font, dropped the largest box of furniture ever created alongside the queensway this week. Wow. What an eyesore. The corporate machine that is IKEA is claiming this opening to be the largest IKEA in Canada. I'm not sure if that was meant to mean the word IKEA written on the side of the building, which can be seen from orbiting spacecraft, or the store itself. When WalMart opened on Innes rd. in Orleans, I can remember community groups rallying to decrease the size of the giant sign planned for the new store. IKEA gets away with the largest letters ever assembled with allen keys. Wow.

What is wrong with us, seriously? IKEA? Really? Has there ever been a worse shopping experience than this Swedish labyrinth? I mean, they even serve cheese and meatbulbs at the end of this maze as a reward for entertaining the white-coated camera crew that is no doubt recording your test results from behind the  one-way glass in the giant letter "I". When compared to other cheap-junk retailers, IKEA corners the market on loyalty... and I just can't figure out why.

WalMart places its entrances and exits on one side of the store. They pile as much junk as they can fit in neat rows, place huge price tags beside them, and guard the whole place with Greeter Trolls that you're afraid to make eye contact with. WalMart will sell you ANYTHING it can. Need glasses? A haircut? A fleece sweater with a howling wolf on the front? Katy Perry CD? A giant container of cheese balls? Oil change? A cd player? Spandex? They got you covered. Easy peasy, and you know it's all cheap junk.

But IKEA? Not so fast. Walk in, and follow the arrows. You've entered our fükën store, now do what we say. Pick your junk from the display, and grab a tag. Next, just you try and get to the cash register. Follow the 2km walking arrows past everything else we sell, and you have prüven you are worthy of Swedish Inteligence Police. You may now pay. No, not for the lovely bedframe you saw on the store's showroom.

Here's a box of wood. Build it your-füking-self.

Police were called in to control traffic. Campers (Swedish for common idiots) camped out all night just to be the first in the store. Mayor Jim showed up.  It was a huge Ottawa event covered in local newspapers, and even some of the national media. Rejoice Ottawa, IKEA has built the largest store in Canada right here in Ottawa. Lucky us.

For the record though, all the stuff from the old store is the same.

Just marketed better.