Wednesday, 2 December 2015

TSB Report

The final report from TSB has been released.

The TSB isn't a body that assigns blame, or makes circumstantial conclusions. For this, I am glad.

For most people, reading this report will be a somewhat dry experience like reading a science textbook or the instructions to building a table. For many people who cross those tracks, or have crossed those tracks, it's something entirely different.

I can't comment much on what happened that day beyond what everyone else has already written. I have the same facts as anyone else.

What I can comment on is the changes that have taken place with an internet enabled transit industry.

We are inundated with screens behind the wheel of our buses now. Not just here at OC, I'm talking big picture, all across North America. On a double decker bus, I have a 7 inch screen to watch the upper deck. I have a 10 inch screen which shows GPS, fare, and messages from control. I have a 4 inch display for bus events (check engine, low fuel etc). I have a two inch display for route signage. I have a Presto display that flashes red when it goes out of service. I have a radio with a number display, that I have to punch a code to call control. Next to it is a phone that is exempt from Ontario's distracted driving laws. I have a rearview mirror to watch the inside of the bus. Above that mirror is the next stop display. Some days, I have a bike in front of me with a milk crate obstructing my view.

And people talk to me. And I talk back.

The report states that a 2 second glance at the screen above the driver's head could have made the difference between being able to stop, and not being able to stop.

I have caught myself looking at that screen for much longer than two seconds. I have heard the thump of a coffee mug hit the floor above me, and I have stared at that screen for long periods trying to determine if someone has fallen down or if I'm required to stop.

This happens often.

Teens getting rowdy? I look. A loud bang? I look. Someone asks me if there's space? I look.

There are so many distractions while driving a bus these days. We used to have a CB radio, and a button we pushed to print a transfer. Before that, there wasn't even a button to push, we had a notebook full of transfers we had to rip off as people paid.

Simpler times.

Have we come too far to get all of this junk out of our line of sight? Distracted driving goes beyond the cell phone. How many screens are too many? At what point do we realize that we have normalized the process of being meaningfully distracted?

I think this report, and the media coverage of it has been a little distracted too.

There were two engineers on that train that have not returned to work. There were passengers on that train that had to make same horrific exit from their train as our passengers did. I feel for them. I feel for their families.

What changes could be made for these engineers? How could their vehicles be changed to increase their safety? Rail accidents happen all the time. Why doesn't this report seem to address the factors within the rail cab? I'm not trying to assign blame to these people, I'm concerned that VIA engineers are just supposed to carry on without a second thought.

We debate stopping thousands of buses per week (blowing thousands of liters of fuel up the stack in the process) at level crossings as a knee jerk response to this terrible accident, when requiring the stoppage the 16 four-to-six car trains that pass this crossing each day before this crossing would make much more sense.

It really has been an emotional day.

I honestly cannot believe how these pictures still affect me. I cannot imagine piecing together this horrible picture, one piece at a time, putting together a jigsaw puzzle that will always be missing six of its most important pieces.

We miss all of you terribly, and we are thinking of you.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

I'm The Police Inspector, Today.

Dragging my father's dog to the Montfort always feels like such a chore.

I've borrowed my father in law's VW Bug to cart the old Labrador named Xena across town for a visit. This is something I've been doing for a few years now, and today at a balmy 32°C, I'm feeling selfish and resentful about it. The air conditioning in this car quit about the same year my father's heart did, and this car is hotter than the old Swamp Buggies I used to drive at work before the buses were air conditioned. All the windows are open, and the tufts of fur seem to suspend in the air for a thoughtful pause before they hit the hyperdive button and blast out of the vacuum of the open window. Xena is a gentle soul, but difficult to walk with and a seemingly neverending producer of fur.

We make the trip up to the fourth floor. My mother is chatting up the locals in the elevator. She's explaining herself and her dog to anyone who will listen. I'm quiet and wondering just how this visit will go.

"Hi Dad." my standard greeting. Consistent. Predictable. Familiar. He doesn't recognize me.

"Xena! Xena! Xena!" he bellows, smiling from ear to ear, laughing, almost hysterical.

Watching his dementia take hold over the years has been an education in humanity. His happiness at seeing his puppy in the hospital is profound and inspiring. It makes me feel so selfish at the resentment I felt in the car. Who could call this a chore when it makes the old man smile like this?

I used to get phone calls from dad when he was living at home. He'd just call to talk hockey. He was the crazy Sens fan, and I was his traitorous Maple Leafs loving son. We'd argue about roster moves, trades, and gossip. During the playoffs in the the early 2000's, sometimes he'd just call to swear at me and hang up. We've never had all that much in common, and hockey is what kept us talking. Hockey was really the only thing we had in common for years, to be honest.

As the years progressed the calls became stranger, but we always found something hockey related to argue about.

This past year the dementia has progressed to a point where he is no longer himself, for most of the time. It's such a hard thing to describe. The man who taught me to fish, taught me to drive, taught me to hammer a nail, no longer really knows just who I am. When he does recognize me, he bluffs through most of the conversation as the connection to Adult Me is not the Me he's thinking of when hears my name. To him, Ken is still a little boy riding around on his Big Wheel in the project. Dad's mind has him somewhere in late seventies or early eighties, living in the old neighborhood.

He knows he has adult kids, because he's repeatedly been told has adult kids. He doesn't really remember his grandkids, all those birthday parties at my house, or where he lives.

And, he doesn't remember hockey.

The dog is trying to get up into bed with him, and his laughter infects the entire room. My mom is going through the rituals of visitation. She is filling out his menu for the next few days, and building up some small talk to fill in the gaps between his laughter and his silence. Conversation in a hospital is very much centered around meals, pills, tests, and appointments. It's all about itineraries, when are things going to happen, and who you talked to. It's vapid, tedious talk that flirts around events and ignores any meaningful attempt at real conversation the way it used to be.

I decide to try again.

"Hi Dad."

He looks at me, but I can see the vacancy in the words he's searching to say to me. I ask him if he knows who I am.

"You're the Police Inspector."

It's my turn to laugh. I have no idea where that one came from. I can't tell if he's being serious or just pulling my leg, but he's laughing again now too and looking directly into my eyes for the first time in a long time. For a minute I'm transported back into that boat on Bob's Lake, it's dawn, and we are having a staring contest while our fishing lines sit idly mocking us on the surface of the water. The silence said much more than words in that boat, as it does now.

It was in this boat that he explained to me how an engine works, a carefully prepared soliloquy that every dad seems to prepare on some topic they care about. I have found myself thinking those same words, preparing that same speech for my kids, who would likely be just as uninterested as I was when I heard it.

I'd love to hear it now.

We all understand what the patient is losing. That sense of self, those relationships, and the memories. From his side of the bed, it must be confusing and scary.Yes, he is slowly forgetting who he is. But the one thing people don't talk about with dementia is probably the hardest part for me.

His dementia is beginning to make us forget the man he was.

Dad is no longer that man in the boat. Dad is a conversation about care, meals, and trips to the Montfort with the dog. Sometimes he is a chore, and other times he is a silent cry. The legacy of who he really was is what dementia is stealing from all of us. There may be nothing wrong with my brain, but I too am forgetting him.

As we pack up the dog, and his dirty clothes, my mom leans over to give him a kiss. She explains that she'll be back tomorrow, she's taking the bus first thing.

He leans over and says "Bye Ken!"

Today I was the Police Inspector in jest.

Today I was Jim's son again, for a minute.

Friday, 17 April 2015

The Referendum

As expected, ATU members have voted down the latest contract offer from the City of Ottawa. I wrote earlier this week about the tumultuous relationship between ATU president Craig Watson and his membership, and it seems as if my prediction was accurate.

I don't feel good about being right.

The meetings to present the contract were awful. Folks were angry and vocal, and the presentation soon became secondary to the incendiary language that degenerated into finger waving and shouting.

Througout all of this, the one theme remained constant.

Drivers were not voting on the city's offer.

Drivers were voting in a referendum on Craig Watson's presidency. For all of the rhetoric about procedure, and secrecy, and leverage, it still boiled to the stroppy masses making heated and ridiculous statements against the lightning rod on the roof of the Union Hall. This isn't the first secret negotiation, nor is it the first time the executive has disagreed with the negotiating committee. It is however the first time I've seen it this bad.

Strangely enough,  Mr Watson's media release on the voting results to the membership seemed quite ununionlike, choosing to apologize to the city and warn members of the future of regret they are about to face, a far cry from the usual labour position that a union might conceed after a contract rejection, namely that most unions would say that they would would consult the membership and try again, and it would usually be signed "In solidarity". The usual union rhetoric was absent, and read more like a concession than a directive on negotiating. ATU has always sent out a rally cry after a contract has been rejected.

Mr Watson's letter to his membership was a scolding that punctuated his strained relationship with the membership.

I think that at this point, if I were president, I would respect the decision of  this referendum, and step down for the solidarity of the membership.

The good news for everyone is that ATU elections are coming soon, in June I believe, and all of this infighting should be over. The current CBA lasts through April 2016, and if the city were to table another offer before then, I can only imagine that members would be much more open to actually reading an offer produced by a different executive.

I feel with great certainty that the membership is in a very peaceful relationship with the City, and that the appetite for the kinds of changes that lead to job actions are simply not present in 2015.

I also believe that many in the membership are deeply sorry to have thrust internal issues into the well being of our transit ridership.

This is the last time I write about union politics.

Thanks for your ear.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Will Cooler Heads Prevail?

I had an exchange this morning with a few union members who felt I was too harsh on Craig Watson.

It's tough to explain, but in all honesty, I really have nothing against Watson, the executive, the union, the members, the City, or anyone else involved in this organization. I don't attend union meetings. I'm not involved with committees, or politics. I'm a steering wheel manipulation engineer. I drive people around, and those people are all I really care about, deep down.

The way this membership feels about its union is what I wanted to convey to the public. I feel that the public is owed an explanation if this contract offer gets rejected. The folks I pick up on a daily basis have a stake in Ottawa transit. I think it's important that they know that it's not them, it's us. It's not about money, it's about us. It's not about the City, it's about us.

For all of the anger directed at Craig right now, there are other things the membership should know about his tenure. Craig was instrumental in the passing of Bill s221, and used the ad space on OC Transpo buses to advertise the law. This is the law that makes assaulting a transit operator an aggravating factor in sentencing. Craig negotiated a deal to see cameras installed on all new buses, something that many drivers have been lobbying hard for. It was during this executive tenure that de-escalation training became a part of operator training. In the past three years, over 25000 hours were added to run and recovery times on the scheduling front, although this is not the scheduling issue that drivers complain about the most.

The point is this: It's not all bad at ATU local 279. The membership is fuming mad about meetings that only thirty or so members even bother to attend each month. 

The personal issues with the local really need to be checked at the door before tomorrow's meeting. We cannot let this meeting devolve into a Gongshow and not fully explore the contract.

The city began this negotiation with an offer, and like it or not, Craig's job requires him to sit down and listen to it, then present it to the members. 

It's time for the membership to grow up a little, and do the same. Read the offer, and vote on its merit.

Let cooler heads prevail.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Dysfunctional Gumption

You have no doubt heard by now that ATU local 279 has reached a tentative deal with the city of Ottawa on an early contract for its bus drivers and mechanics. There is a pretty good chance that you learned about this deal in the same newscast that drivers and mechanics learned about it. In fact, no one knew that negotiations had begun, including members of the ATU executive.

There is a meeting to present the offer to members on Monday, and a ratification vote set for Tuesday. If the mood around the property is any kind of indication, this contract offer is in serious jeopardy of being rejected, and it's not for the usual reasons.

To describe Craig Watson's tenure as president of Local 279 as tumultuous would be a gross understatement. Watson was elected on the platform of fixing our schedules. Members had high hopes of convincing the city to take a serious look at how they use their manpower, and how that use affects everything from absenteeism to customer service. Tired of seeing the city inexplicably focus on breaking up eight hour shifts into smaller bits and reassembling them into split shifts spread over twelve hours, the membership hoped a scheduling guru such as Craig could set them straight and help the company see the monetary value of investing in quality-of-life issues such as scheduling.

What the membership feels it received from Craig Watson however, is something completely different.

Craig Watson seems to have lost the support of his executive. His reputation among the membership seems centered around a Machiavellian grip on meetings, often using Roberts Rules to squash motions at meetings rather than the usual debate and vote tactics that are the true spirit of union politics. If you have never been shot down at a meeting by the use of Roberts Rules, you might not understand the frustration of being sent to the corner and ignored. Roberts Rules are the simple procedural rules of meetings that are designed to enforce order and conserve time. When those rules are used to suppress ideas and motions however, it can be a very belittling experience.

Members have been removed from meetings, even by use of police. Issues that might have progressed to grievance procedures in the past are perceived as having been ignored at meetings, which have members accusing Watson of trying to be too conciliatory to management.  We all remember Andy Cornellier, and members seem to miss his pitbull nature.

When Norm MacDuff began a work refusal over an assault, the union did not support it. Whether or not you support the MacDuff refusal, and HRDC did, it's simply mind-boggling that the union didn't jump on the chance to lead the way against transit assaults. MacDuff was assaulted on his bus about two years ago. Upon his return to work, he began a Health and Safety refusal to perform his duties stating that the employer was not doing enough to protect him from being assaulted. HRDC agreed with MacDuff, and ordered the company to come up with a strategy to prevent and protect drivers from being assaulted. In talking with union leaders at other Canadian properties about MacDuff's case and Bill s221, the common response was that this sort of case is exactly what unions are built for.

A union member being supported by a government agency in a work refusal based on industry-wide safety concerns where the local could support industry-wide changes on an industry-wide problem is the kind of case that unions dream of taking on.

Not Craig Watson's ATU local 279, however. Months prior to MacDuff's assault and refusal, Craig had removed Mr. Macduff from a committee over conduct issues, and if you ask the membership, that bad blood carried over to the union's position on the work refusal. Among the staunchest of union supporters, protecting drivers from assaults is this generation's number one labour issue, and Local 279 could have led the industry. Instead, it seems to have dissolved into a fizzle of bad personalities dousing a petty argument. Norm MacDuff is still refusing to work, and the local is still on the sidelines.

This local is the very height of dysfunction. Which brings us to this contract offer.

The executive (excluding Craig Watson) has written a letter of non support to the membership. The letter was not a simple "Vote No" kind of deal, it was a scathing letter of derision aimed squarely at Mr. Watson. The letter accuses Craig of singlehandedly negotiating a contract without input or approval from either the membership or the executive, and doing so for self serving reasons. The signatures on the letter encompass years of union experience and trust from the membership, and will undoubtedly sway the vote on Tuesday.

In talking with the membership, the common theme is that it feels like they've been duped by Roberts Rules all over again. To put it bluntly, drivers are furious.

I honestly feel sorry for the city of Ottawa. I have absolutely no doubt that the offer they are tabling is a fair offer. I have absolutely no doubt that the city has bargained in good faith, and that a great deal of hard work went into this offer. I have absolutely no doubt that the city is optimistic about how labour relations have progressed since 2007. The city has made OC Transpo a better place to work in spite of the scheduling problems we are having with the Keller decision.

The problems with this contract offer have nothing to do with the offer itself. The city has stepped into the family food fight, and the mashed potatoes seem to be flying from everywhere.

I just hope that on Tuesday if this offer gets shot down, that the taxpayers understand that it was shot down with friendly fire, and that Mom and Dad still love each other.

We just need to be apart for awhile.