Sunday, 20 January 2013

Your Chance To Be A Trained Monkey!

I'll never forget the way the call-in shows and Letters to the Editor treated us during the strike. I'm not going into the politics of what happened then, so put down your sharp objects. The strike was horrible for everyone, and should not have happened. I'm just talking about what people think a unionized bus driver's job entails.

The typical view of any job that begins with the word "unionized" is that image of four construction workers hovering over a single shovel, one working, the rest supervising. When you combine "lazy" with strike action, you get some pretty wild public accusations on these call-in shows, or in the Letters section of the newspaper.

The theme that always killed me was this idea that a trained monkey could drive a bus.

Now I'm not arguing the fact that a monkey could be trained to push the pedals and turn the steering wheel. It most certainly could be done. But let's see a monkey fill out an incident report, or argue with a drunk who insists his TD Bank card is in fact a Presto card.

So There it is. The link to Trained Monkeydom. Your ticket to $100k-a-year lazy afternoons of union employment.

Now there are a few clarifications I would like to make about the perks of the job.

You will not make $100k a year. Yes, there have been drivers on the Sunshine List, but those drivers (All one of them) work 120 hours every two weeks, the most hours allowed under Federal work/rest regulations. And, all one of those drivers are in the top seniority bracket at OC Transpo, meaning he's been there over 25 years.

You can expect to make between $52k and $57k working at standard 40 hour workweek at OC Transpo.  As stated ad nauseum in Letters to the editor, an entry level bus driver makes about the same as an entry level firefighter. What the letters do not state however, is that a 20 year veteran OC Transpo driver also makes about the same wage as an entry level firefighter. The only factor that affects your salary as you pile on the years is your access to overtime. Federal work/rest rules have forced the company to increase its workforce to reduce overtime in the name of compliance, so don't expect to be on the Sunshine List any time in your career.

The second thing you need to know before you apply is that unionized work is not necessarily lazy unionized work. Getting your paycheque at OC Transpo doesn't mean standing around watching a shovel.

Think of the last time you drove to Toronto. You hopped in the car, maybe with the kids in back. You headed out onto the 417, then to the 416 for an hour or so, onto the 401 for 45 minutes or so before you stopped to take a quick refreshment break. You then headed down the 401 into heavier traffic, and after another three hours, you were on the DVP heading to your downtown hotel. The trip took you around 5 hours, and the feeling of getting out of that car was sensational. You stretched your legs, and let out that kind of half yawn/half groan as your back straightened out and the blood came back to your legs.

Now think of that 5 hour drive as your first shift of the day at OC Transpo. Only add in about 750 transactions, 30 people asking you for directions or instructions, 7 or 8 people you don't know who want to get into your car and don't want to help you pay for the gas (and expect that you will comply regardless of what you say to them), and just for fun...throw in a drunk guy who you think might vomit on one of your kids.

Now go into your hotel, and come back out at 3pm, because you still have 3 hours left to drive if you want to pay your mortgage this month. Oh, and don't forget. You will be doing the same thing tomorrow. And the day after that.

Driving a bus is not lazy work. We OC Transpo drivers are some of the hardest working people in the city. Our shifts are comprised of turning the wheel, pushing the pedals, and doing transactions from start to finish. It is sheer ignorance to suggest that bus drivers are lazy. An 8 hour shift, be it a straight shift or a split shift, is 8 hours of driving a vehicle. Bus drivers do not get lunch breaks. The only time the wheels stop is what is referred to as "Recovery time", which is service recovery time according to the control center and not driver recovery time. Meaning, if you are late getting to the end of your run and are supposed to leave right away, you are expected to leave right away on your next trip.

Hard work does not necessarily mean difficult work. I will undoubtedly get emails from from a few nurses saying "Uh yeah. You should see what WE put up with." Bus drivers are not nurses, that is for sure. Those people are pure A-types. Salt of the earth.

In the Letters section of the newspaper, responses to the driver bashing letters were met with equally absurd responses from drivers describing wind swept platforms in the dead of winter, and almost all letters had one common theme.

The Twenty Thousand Pound Sixty Foot Vehicle That We Have To Lug Through Traffic.

I always get a kick out of that hyperbole. If you are thinking of applying for this job, you need to understand that you only have to push the one pound pedal, and the motor pushes the rest of the 19,999lbs.

Relatively speaking, driving a bus from a purely mechanical perspective is pretty easy in comparison to driving a large tractor trailer. The first large truck I ever drove had an 18 speed transmission, and had the turning radius of a jumbo jet. Matching engine RPMs to transmission speeds in order to shift was a skill you absolutely had to master, because taking 80,000lbs over the Rockies requires careful speed management and an almost zen-like connection to the machine. Don't even get me started on navigating the 1300+ low bridges in the city of Chicago.

Driving an automatic transmission bus on roads that give priority to transit is a skill that most people with intelligent driving habits can master. If you're looking to drive a bus for a living, don't let the vehicle scare you. It is not a hard thing to drive, with a bit of coaching and practice.

I highly recommend working as a bus driver for OC Transpo.

When you consider that so many students graduate from university looking for white collar jobs, and wind up  serving coffee, waiting tables, selling insurance, or taking dead end contracts with the government, a job with long term security and a pension looks pretty enticing. Employers have been shifting away from benefits in their relentless efforts to cut costs and generate share profits. The job market right now is a wasteland of short term work and underemployed baccalaureate degrees just looking to pay off the student loans. The value of our labour has never been lower as these underemployed people compete with each other for jobs they consider worthy of their schooling, but they have no concept of what their labour is worth taking short term contracts without any kinds of benefits.

These are generally the same people that throw this reality in my face as I defend union work, saying that "I don't have sick days or a pension... and Unions were created to stop slavery..."

Seems the conservative mind will not rest until no one in the country has sick days or a pension. Then we can all work until we are 80 or we are dead. It'll save money.

I digress.

Driving for OC Transpo may not be prestigious, but there are plenty of hours the city needs you to work right now, and will be there for many many years. You will contribute to a pension that will help you live out your retirement with dignity. You will meet some of the best and some of the worst that Ottawa has to offer. You will serve Ottawa in a way that might surprise you, the sheer volume of people moving about their daily lives is astounding.

The rewards of serving people will only be enhanced as you master the art of thick skin, and come to the realization that people in general are pretty decent and cool. All it takes is a little extra effort once in awhile to make someone's day, and making someone's day can be a job perk not spelled out to you in the official job description.

You will be part of a family of very highly trained monkeys at OC Transpo, a family that will stick up for you when needed. I guarantee that it will never be boring.

You may get a little poo flung at you every once in awhile, but monkeys can't read anyway and the bananas are company issue.

So, grab a vine, and apply.


  1. Love your blog! Hope OC Transpo's latest recruitment drive picks up a dozen more just like you!

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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