Archive for category Safety and health related.

Fighting for a better work stationn

 We’ve come a long way: 125 years ago, this September, ATU was formed. One of our first fights was to get enclosed driver vestibules (workstations) on the streetcars we operated. Mindful of our history, what better way is there to celebrate our anniversary than to fight for a workstation designed for drivers’ protection, rather than minimizing cost? So, at your September local union meeting you will be asked to vote for a resolution to demand a safe, secure and healthy bus workstation. Watch this video to learn more about this campaign.

Hamilton transit workers move ball forward in fight to “Keep Transit Public”

Local 107-Hamilton, ON, scored another victory in their community campaign to demand that Ontario’s transit planning arm, Metrolinx, hire the publicly-owned and operated Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) to operate and maintain the new light rail transit (LRT) system rather than contract it out to a private company. The Hamilton City Council voted, 10 -2, to pass a motion to Keep Transit Public . “Now we have to make sure Premier Kathleen Wynne and Metrolinx got the message,” said Local President Eric Tuck. Read more.

Baltimore transit worker, supporters march against BaltimoreLink changes

Local 1300-Baltimore, MD, members, riders and transit allies gathered at Baltimore’s War Memorial to march to the Maryland Transit Administration’s (MTA) headquarters to protest changes to the city’s bus routes that have harmed riders and drivers. The struggling overhaul of the city’s bus system – BaltimoreLink – has created headaches for riders who must make more transfers and catch buses at different stops. The protestors are calling on Governor Larry Hogan and the MTA to revisit the changes, and add service and lines, “because right now,” says Local President David McClure, “these people are not able to get where they need to be.” Read more.

Portland debuts fair fares

Riding public transit is not cheap – especially for low-income families that rely on it to get to work or school. But now Portland’s transit agencies – Trimet, C-Tran, and streetcars – are showing the way to a fairer fare. The agencies have introduced “fare capping” for low-income persons in which they are not charged for trips they take after they reach a certain monthly fare threshold. Portland is the first major American city to enact a fare capping policy. Trimet made the change in response to grassroots pressure for a fairer system, and international transit agencies in cities such as London and Dublin have shown that fare capping works. Read more.

Another busy week at the Tommy Douglas Conference Center

The Tommy Douglas Conference Center is buzzing again this week with local leaders taking part in an Advanced Arbitration Training. The attendees heard from experts and took part in hands-on exercises to learn new skills and strategies for negotiating strong contracts for their members. These and other innovative ATU training programs are a vital step in preparing our Locals for bargaining contracts, engaging our membership, and galvanizing our riders into a potent political force.

 

How today’s unions help working people

Americans have always joined together – whether in parent/teacher associations or local community organizations – to solve problems and make changes that improve their communities. A new report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) examines how through unions, people are joining together to strive for improvements at the place they spend a large portion of their waking hours: work. The report helps explain how unions fit into the economy today; how they affect workers, communities, occupations and industries, and the country at large; and why collective bargaining is essential for a fair and prosperous economy and a vibrant democracy.

 

Winnipeg Transit continues to put drivers at risk

 Winnipeg transit workers continue to question the City’s concern about the safety of bus drivers as the City and workers wait for a report on the current safety protocols on transit buses. Local 1505-Winnipeg, MB, which was never consulted for the report, says the agency is putting drivers at even more risk because transit inspectors have been coming on buses to ask operators to point out which passengers didn’t pay fares. The review of transit safety was ordered after bus driver Irving Fraser was stabbed to death by a rider in February. “Transit said they were going to consult with us. We have about three weeks left until the report is to be released and still nothing. We are totally in the dark,” said Local President John Callahan who fears the report will not address many of the issues the union has been raising for months. Read more.

A Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) report on the ATU Local 113 crisis is “riddled with omissions and specious interpretations of the events” surrounding Bob Kinnear and Unifor’s Jerry Dias’ scheme to raid the Toronto Local, writes RankandFile.ca. The report seems uninterested and unwilling to address key issues including who paid for the three full page newspaper ads from Kinnear and when exactly was the first contact between Kinnear and Unifor about raiding the Local. Furthermore, RankandFile.ca writes, “The contempt for ATU in CLC Investigator Barry Thorsteinson’s report oozes in every section, he talks about reprisals against members (there has been zero evidence this has occurred), the uncooperativeness during the investigation and their attacks on the CLC President.” Read more.


Buffalo transit workers rally for fair contract, improved service

It’s been nine years since Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) workers have had a new contract, and members of Local 1342-Buffalo, NY kicked their campaign into high gear with a rally calling on the agency to bargain fairly and improve bus service for riders. “It’s absolutely unacceptable that these hard-working men and women have to go to work every single day for nine years, and not only worry about their job, worry about whether or not the routes that they serve in our community are going to be cut, every single day,” said New York State Senator Tim Kennedy, who joined the workers at the protest. “But they do so and are not getting paid the fair wages that they should be.” Read more.


Lessons from the collapse of Bridj

Bridj, a startup that tried to merge the technology of Uber with buses, has abruptly shut down due to funding issues, revealing important lessons about how successful public transit works. First, public transportation is costly. There is a reason why public transportation systems historically require subsidies – they are expensive to build, operate, and maintain. Fares only will not cover all of the costs. The public sector is able to provide the subsidies that keeps public transportation going, largely through vehicles such as a percentage of state sales taxes. Without its private sector funding, Bridj could no longer support itself. This is not unique – take a look at the Uber. That company lost $2.8 billion on $6.5 billion in revenue last year. Once the private sector decides to stop subsiding Uber, it, too, will face either restructuring and downsizing or the final curtain. Read more.


CEO pay increases to 347 times average workers

The rich keep getting richer and workers keep getting left behind according to a new AFL-CIO report on executive pay. In 2016 CEO pay rose nearly 6 percent to an average of $13.1 million per year in 2016 – 347 times more money than the average rank-and-file worker. This comes as more good-paying American jobs have been outsourced contributing to the growing income inequality. Mondelēz International, which makes Nabisco products, represents one of the most egregious examples of CEO-to-worker pay inequality. Mondelēz CEO Irene Rosenfeld made more than $16.7 million in 2016 – about $8,000 per hour. This comes as the company closed its Oreo cookie line at a Nabisco factory in Chicago, sending 600 jobs to Mexico, where workers face poor labor and safety standards. Read more.


Calgary transit workers slam city decision to lay off 60

The safety of the Calgary Light Rail system could be at serious risk as Calgary Transit announced layoffs of 60 workers who maintain the system, says ATU Local 583, who represents the workers. Replacing veteran employees with lower-paid contractors to do the job of maintaining, cleaning or doing snow removal on the platforms could be disastrous. “It can be dangerous — really dangerous — if they’re not in communication with drivers and properly trained,” said the Local. “We’ve got people who have been there for 30 years for god’s sakes, because they love their jobs.” Read more.


Not all heroes wear capes

A South Carolina school bus driver is being hailed as a hero for helping 56 students off her bus before it burst into flames. Two students in the back of the bus noticed smoke and told the bus driver, who got the kids off the bus in under a minute and called 911 for help. “We are so proud of our bus driver,” said school district Superintendent Scott Turner. “She did exactly what she was trained to do. She was calm. She kept the students calm. She made sure they were safe. They were her first priority. She’s our hero today.” The ATU applauds this school bus driver for her quick action. Read more.

MTA Violating Free Speech rights

In an unprecedented act of repression, Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) officials have violated the First Amendment Rights of Local 1300-Baltimore, MD. The agencies have unlawfully banned Local President David McClure from MTA buildings, forcefully removing him from numerous employee discipline hearings. “They are violating our First Amendment rights in an attempt to silence McClure and all transit workers for informing the riders about the dangerous and life threatening conditions on the system,” says the Local. International President Larry Hanley pointed out similar incidents in Chicago, IL and Grand Rapids, MI. “There is a disturbing trend occurring across our country in which transit agencies trample on the free speech rights of employees who expose illegal practices,” he says. Read more.


Trumpcare most disgraceful legislation since Congress was founded

“The American Health Care Act (AHCA) is the equivalent of a death sentence for thousands of Americans who will be thrown off of their health insurance. Millions of others who won’t be able to go to a doctor when they must will get extremely sick, and lose their jobs, their homes, and their way of life,” says International President Larry Hanley in response to the House of Representatives’ passage of the bill, Wednesday. Hanley pointed out that the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) is flawed and that “changes are certainly needed, but any sane person should understand that ripping away a person’s life preserver and tossing them a twig is unconscionable.” Read more.


Wiedefeld’s outsourcing plan provokes union wrath, may not save money

Pointing to countless examples of failed privatization of transit, ATU and transit advocates blasted WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld’s plan to outsource parts of the system in an effort to cut costs. “It always introduces a partner into the relationship who extracts a profit by becoming the prophylactic for the government in their effort to be a rogue employer,” says International President Larry Hanley. “We don’t want the government to be a rogue employer.” London, England; Nassau County, NY, and Savannah, GA, are just a few bus systems that were privatized where promised savings never materialized and service and employee morale suffered. Read more.


ATU hero in Toronto

TTC employee JP Attard is being hailed for his heroism and quick-thinking for comforting a disturbed man who jumped on the subway tracks. “I didn’t know the cameras were flashing, I just jumped on instinct,” the 55 year-old Attard said. “As long as he was okay, we saved another life.” Dozens of witnesses were singing Attard’s praise. “He just kept talking to him, and said, ‘Breathe in; breathe out’ and ‘Look me in my eye,’” said witness Jeffrey Ribeiro. “Then he was like, ‘Now say, I am strong.’ Then he had everybody on the platform say it with him.” Ribeiro captured the touching interaction between the two men in a video he later posted online, which has gone viral. The ATU praises Attard for his actions. Read more.


Florida bus driver attacked by passenger

Another day and another attack on a transit worker. A man boarded a West Palm Beach bus and refused the operator’s request for him to pay his fare. Surveillance video from the bus shows a verbal altercation between the driver and the suspect, who was then seen striking the driver in the face and dragging him off the bus. “It’s very disturbing,” says Local President Dwight Mattingly, 1577. He called this behavior unacceptable and says the passenger could be banned from riding buses. Read more.


Motor City Freedom Riders to rally for real transit

As Detroit area officials and dignitaries plan to gather at a high-profile event on May 12 to launch a new three-mile streetcar line, the Motor City Freedom Riders will hold a protest highlighting the $140 million taxpayers spent to duplicate existing bus service. The “Rally for Real Regional Transit” will demand officials invest in accessible and affordable public transit for the thousands of Southeast Michigan working class residents who are stranded by the lack of adequate transit service in the city of Detroit and the suburbs. Read more.

An unprovoked assault on an ATU member

On September 5 2015 @ approximately 7:05 PM I was brutally assaulted while on layover at Sherbrook and Broadway. The attack was unprovoked and without warning (Yes unprovoked despite my reputation…..Union and management will back me up on that)
Receive a concussion that led to months of headaches. Several bit marks (Fortunately no broken skin) and lots of hairs pulled out. Along with the drivers side window smashed

A 6 minute attack that is considered by many of those that seen the video to be one of the most brutal they have seen. (4 operation supervisors and a union rep) Some have never seen worse.

A passerby was my initial savior who first contained the assailant for a bit. When the assault continued for a short time after escaping the passerby’s attempt to restrain the assailant a road supervisor arrived and pulled the assailant of me (I truly wish I could remember his name) followed immediately by WPS who took the “suspect” into custody.

The assailant was a 17 year old native female. 2 to 3 inches taller then me and out weighed me by a good 50 pounds,

I missed several days work after that and a few more after later on due to headaches. My broken glasses and time off where covered without issue by WCB.

I believe it was early 2015 that the The House of commons passed a bill that made assaulting a bus driver equal to assaulting a police officer (Aggravated assault I believe is the term) Basically saying….A more serious penalty.

She pleaded guilty and today was sentencing day

The crown mentioned several times how brutal the attack was. And also mentioned the new laws protecting drivers several times.

Defense went with the race card with statements that her grandmother was a child of the Residential schools. Also went with drinking problems and that she did not get along with mother and sister prior to the assault.

Judge started of asking her how she was getting along with her mom and sister. Asked her how counselling was going etc etc. During this time I leaned over to my supervisor who was also there and whispered ” why do I feel like I am in the principles office”
Judge brought up the severity of the charges regarding the new laws several times.

Judgment came up as follows (Just the basics here)
3 months deferred custody . Basically house arrest with being confined to house. and a curfew.
( https://www.irwinlaw.com/cold/deferred_custody_and_supervision )
A curfew and
Drug/alcohol counselling required
A $250 fine
18 moth probation after sentence

Needless to say…..I am disgusted by the result. Not sure what would have made me happy in sentencing. May not have been happy of 3 months in custody….but would have been accepting of that. But 3 months deferred custody? No bus ban?
Sorry courts ……You failed miserably yet again.

Might as well take down the code of conduct…
Might as well remove the “Assaulting a bus driver could = jail time” ads off buses

We are out there on our own kids…..We have no legal back up

A letter sent to the administrator from Mr. Cooter

You might say is old news but in fact, risks are extremely high for bus operators in these days.

Axe, brass knuckles lead to arrest after Winnipeg bus ride Friday night

Incident comes on heels of fatal stabbing that killed Winnipeg bus driver

The arrest of a Winnipeg Transit passenger in possession of an axe and brass knuckles on Friday night raises more concerns for bus drivers, says their union president.

The incident is the latest in a string of troubling events that have occurred recently on city buses, Amalgamated Transit Union president John Callahan said Saturday morning.

“I’m very concerned,” said Callahan. “There’s so many operators right now that are scared.”

​Police confirmed Saturday they arrested a 22-year-old male at Watt Street and Nairn Avenue just after 9:30 p.m. Friday night.

Officials said the suspect got on the bus near Regent Avenue and Bond Street shortly after 9 p.m.

Braedon Andrew was sitting in the back of the half-full bus and said the suspect started waving the axe around.

“[A] suspicious looking person was waving around the axe, not trying to like intimidate anyone really, but just really being awkward and holding it out,” he said.

A few passengers saw what was happening and were able to disarm the suspect, Andrew said. The passengers then led the suspect off the bus with the help of the driver.

“I definitely felt threatened because anyone wielding an axe on the bus is not a good sign,” Andrew said.

When police arrived the suspect was standing on the sidewalk.

He’s since been detained on two counts of possession of a weapon and two counts of failing to comply with conditions.

Troubling trend

The incident comes on the heels of a fatal stabbing that left Winnipeg Transit driver Irvine Jubal Fraser dead after his last stop of the night at the University of Manitoba on Feb. 14.

Callahan said drivers are becoming increasingly worried about their safety and one bus operator received a threat earlier in the week.

“Her husband, who’s also a driver, actually rode with her last night. So it’s fortunate that that incident didn’t happen on their bus, but there’s a lot of concern out there.”

Callahan said since Fraser’s death, there have been other troubling incidents on city buses.

‘People being totally outrageous’

He said that last weekend, a passenger threatened to stab a driver. And earlier on Friday, another passenger was caught with two steak knives in his pockets.

After last weekend’s incident, “the operator called into the control centre very upset,” Callahan said, adding some passengers are “pushing buttons” to make things worse.

“There was a passenger that was asked to scan their transfer by another bus operator and he said, ‘You know what, this is why you guys get killed.’

“Some people are being just totally outrageous in the comments that they’re making in light of such a serious issue.”

Courtesy of CBC News

ATU Canada asks Unifor locals to end Dias’s raid on 113

ATU Canada reached out to all of the locals of Unifor in a letter, asking the Canadian union’s members to encourage their president “to cease his interference,” into the affairs of Local 113-Toronto, ON, “so that we can all return our focus to the daily struggles facing Canadian workers.” ATU Canada explained to the union’s members that, “It is now crystal clear that President Dias is seeking to raid ATU Local 113, and has found a willing partner in a rogue ATU local president, Bob Kinnear.” And that, “Kinnear’s maneuvers were a direct violation of the ATU Constitution and General Laws, Local 113’s by-laws, as well as an egregious violation of all trade union norms of democracy and respect for the members’ rights.” Read more.

Help the family of our fallen Winnipeg Brother

This week was a very sad one for ATU with the murder of Winnipeg bus driver Irvine “Jubal” Fraser on the job. The Local 1505 member died after a passenger stabbed him, Tuesday morning, at 2 a.m., at the end of his run. The police caught and charged the assailant with second degree murder. ATU International President Larry Hanley called for action to address the growing problem of attacks on bus drivers. “ATU demands that transit agencies and government officials bring the same sense of regret that they will display in the public mourning of this tragic, unnecessary death of our brother to the ongoing discussion about preventing these attacks from occurring.” You can help brother Jubal Fraser’s family by contributing here.


Board overturns MARTA decision to outsource paratransit service

Concluding that MARTA’s chief aim in outsourcing paratransit service was saving money on employee salaries and benefits – in essence, avoiding its obligations under the labor contract, an arbitration board has overturned MARTA’s decision to outsource its paratransit service to MV Transportation. Local 732 called the decision “a victory for everybody that was affected by this outsourcing” pointing out customers also will benefit from having experienced, well-trained drivers. Read more.


ATU Iowa fighting to save collective bargaining

Remember when Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker took away collective bargaining rights for public employees in 2011? Well now Iowa state legislators are attempting to do the same. And like Wisconsin, ATU Iowa is on the frontlines to stop this attack on unions. Our members flooded the halls of the state capitol with thousands of public employees, union members and supporters to protest the Republican-backed bill that would severely restrict public-sector workers’ ability to negotiate contracts. See photos of rally.


Conservative MPs laugh at Amarjeet Sohi’s past as bus driver

Former Local 569-Edmonton, AB bus driver and current the minister of infrastructure and Liberal MP Amarjeet Sohi, was speaking in the House of Commons about his job as bus driver when he heard laughter from Conservative MPs. Sohi, who spoke at ATU’s recent Convention in Toronto last Fall, didn’t miss a beat. His Liberal colleagues could be seen shaking their heads in disbelief. Afterwards Sohi spoke about the incident saying, “I take pride in my background. I think it does demonstrate a streak of elitist attitude in the Conservative Party, where maybe they don’t appreciate we have working-class people in Parliament in the Liberal government who are making a difference in the lives of Canadians.” Read more.


Local 689 voices concern on possible Metro safety commission

Local 689-Washington, DC has serious concerns about the authority a proposed safety commission would have regarding firing employees. A provision in the bill provides the commission alone sweeping power to recommend suspensions and disqualify an employee that it deems unfit, a Local representative told the Maryland House Environment and Transportation Committee at a public hearing. The three jurisdictions, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia must act in concert to pass the measure to create the Metrorail Safety Commission. Read more.


Kelowna bus driver ‘cold-cocked’ on highway

The hits keep coming – literally. This time the attack on a bus driver happen in Kelowna, MB where a disturbed young man punched a female bus driver in the head while she was driving. The driver managed to pull the bus over safely and then the passenger reached across her, stepped on her and crawled out her window. With the recent tragic murder of a Winnipeg bus driver, Local 1722 President Scott Lovell is particularly concerned. “These assaults are not stopping. How many bus drivers need to be killed before you change things for drivers?” Lovell believes the way to make buses safer is the installation of bus driver shields. Read more.


New officers learning the ropes at Tommy Douglas Conference Center

The ATU Tommy Douglas Center was very busy this week. Recently-elected local officers have been taking part in innovative trainings to learn new strategies to make their Locals stronger, and to empower members to get involved and prepare for the battles ahead. The participants are hearing from experts on a wide variety of topics to learn new skills to effectively run their Locals and serve their members. They also get the unique opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences with their fellow local officers. Photo gallery.

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Please Stop Attacks on Transit Workers

With high temperatures and brutal humidity over the past few weeks transit workers are facing dangerous conditions on the job. In order to ensure your safety and health during these summer months we have developed an ATU Bulletin on “Heat Stress Safety”. This Bulletin can be downloaded here in English, Spanish, and French and easily printed by most computers. We encourage you to share these tips with your fellow brothers and sisters. We hope you find this information helpful this extremely hot and humid summer continues. Read more.


Help stop attacks on transit workers

From Winnipeg, MB, to Washington, DC to Kelowna, BC, to San Francisco, CA assaults on ATU members and all transit workers have become an epidemic. Not a week goes by that we don’t hear stories about bus operators and other transit workers being punched, stabbed, yelled at, spit on, shot at, and worse. ATU is calling on transit agencies, law enforcement, and elected officials to better protect all transit workers and riders. That is why it is important that you tell your stories of senseless attacks on bus operators and voice your opinion on the best ways to address this problem. We want to hear your ideas about how to prevent attacks on transit workers. We have created new online surveys for every ATU member to fill out. Here are links for the US members survey, Canadian members survey, and school bus workers survey. Fill out the survey today.


A “thank you” to transit drivers goes a long way

On a recent visit to Vancouver, Winnipeg Free Presscolumnist John Longhurst was riding a bus and was struck at how often riders said “thank you” to their drivers. A friend told him he experienced the same thing. Then in the wake of a recent incident of a Winnipeg bus passenger spitting in the face of a bus driver, Longhurst decided to pursue a story. While researching his column, Longhurst came across a comment about expressing gratitude on a website devoted to Vancouver buses: “I just think it makes their day a bit better and less stressful. It’s always nice to have someone be appreciative of what you do not because it is your job or part of your job duties.” In his column he wrote “saying thanks won’t stop the abuse (of bus drivers). But it might be a way to make their days a little less stressful and anxious, not to mention injecting a little humanity into what is an otherwise impersonal and rote encounter.” We couldn’t agree more. Read column.


Detroit Local, allies rally to fight RTA’s ‘transit racism”

The Regional Transit Authority (RTA) of Southeast Michigan is discriminating against minority and low-income Detroit bus riders by shifting federal funds away from Detroit to the surrounding suburban system said Local 26 and allies at a packed rally. Since 2013, about $8 million per year has been moved to the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) while many Detroit riders wait an hour for a bus where ridership is three times higher than in the suburbs. ATU is calling on officials to fix Detroit transit first and then address the issue of regionalizing the bus system. Watch story.


Why give to ATU COPE?

It’s clear that the 2016 U.S. election is the most important election in history for ATU members and working families in the U.S. How can you help to elect pro-labor and pro-transit candidates to office? Give to ATU-COPE. Watch this video about why ATU-COPE is critical and how you can win by contributing to it. ATU has extended the ATU-COPE month promotion it held in June through to Election Day in November. This means everyone who contributes to ATU-COPE between now and November 8, will receive an ATU pin and those who give at least $100 annually will receive a special ATU-COPE t-shirt. ATU-COPE helps your Local win as well.Watch the video to find out more.


Memphis Local, transit allies join to stop bus cuts

The negative impact of bus service cuts on the people who depend on public transit was exposed by ATU Local 713, the Memphis Bus Riders Union (MBRU), and riders at a packed public town hall meeting. “Instead of catching one bus to get from point A to point B, riders must catch two to three buses,” said one attendee. “With upcoming proposals to cut even more bus service, riders may have to use three to four buses.” The Local and MBRU have already won increased funding for buses which resulted in a $7.5 million increase to MATA’s budget this fiscal year and these allies will continue to fight any proposed cuts. Read more.


Hamilton Local produces nonviolent crisis intervention video

In response to the continuing problem of assaults against transit operators, Local 107-Hamilton, ON produced a video demonstrating nonviolent strategies drivers can use to protect themselves and defuse crisis situations. The video breaks down dangerous situations into three stages: pre-crisis, crisis, and post-crisis – with an emphasis on trying to avoid a crisis, and moving to the post-crisis stage as quickly as possible. The video points out the importance of always wearing a seatbelt, explaining that rather than hindering drivers from defending themselves, seatbelts help to prevent drivers from being dragged out of their seats, and serve to restrain a driver tempted to get out of their seat from leaving the bus. Watch video.

TransLink uses ‘defusers’ to help bus drivers cope with tragic accidents, assaults

It could be an assault, a serious traffic accident, or even a suicide on a transit bus, but when his phone rings, Dave McKay knows there’s a bus driver out there in need of help.

McKay is a front-line member of Coast Mountain Bus Co.’s “defuser” team — an army of about three dozen transit employees trained to help bus drivers cope in traumatic situations. At a moment’s notice, he could be called to help a bus driver involved in a fatal accident or who has been spat at or assaulted by a passenger.

“It’s kind of like emotional first aid,” said McKay, a former bus driver who manages the “defuser” team. “It helps them to recover faster and better.”

The volunteer program, started in 1992, is similar to the critical stress management used by police and firefighters, but tailored to bus drivers. The program is open to TransLink employees who must go through a rigorous screening to ensure they have traits such as strength, empathy and good listening skills to make them effective defusers.

Nathan Woods, president of the union that represents bus drivers, said the idea is to counsel bus drivers to help “take the stress away.” There are 23 members on the team now, while another eight are undergoing the four-day training. When a bus driver is in need, a call goes out to all the volunteers.

“Anyone can be used for any event,” Woods said, noting defusers are needed more than a couple times a week. “If you feel you’re not safe to drive anywhere, you can call a defuser.”

McKay, a former volunteer firefighter who became a defuser 15 years ago, has been woken countless times in the middle of the night, and once had to cut short a 10-kilometre run after a bus driver hit a cyclist. Sometimes, the call is extremely unsettling: in one case, he arrived at a fatal crash to find the traumatized driver standing over the body. In another, he dealt with a driver pummelled repeatedly by a passenger as he drove a crowded bus.

“The passenger was upset at the previous bus driver because he had been passed up or missed,” McKay said. “When this bus driver pulled up, the person walked through the front door and attacked him while the bus was moving. It was quite a big fracas.”

The driver was almost unconscious when he crashed into the curb. While passengers restrained his assailant, a transit supervisor was called to assess the situation and alerted McKay who raced to get there before the shock wore off. ” (The drivers) could be physically shaking or incoherent,” he said. “They’re at the point of being physically unable to function. The last thing we want them to do is drive a bus.”

It took McKay close to an hour to calm the driver down, using a structured process that allows the driver to explain what happened, react and then deal with it. But sometimes, the trauma is so bad that the driver needs more psychological help.

Drivers also don’t have to accept the help of a defuser. In 2014, 104 bus drivers used a defuser, while 214 rejected the offer. Last year, 97 accepted the help, while 225 declined it.

As a bus driver in the mid-1990s, McKay drove over a person who jumped in front of his bus at Hastings and Jackson St.

“He fell down and I drove over him. His legs were flailing,” he said. “I didn’t kill him, but I thought I had. It was just unimaginable.”

McKay didn’t use a defuser, but said his experience has helped him to aid others. Many defusershave backgrounds as former cops, firefighters or mental health workers, he said, and depending on what they see, some will stay on the job for more than 10 years.

“You need to be a person who is confident and has the strength to deal with people who are not in a good place,” he said.

The job has its consequences, however. Defusers are required to get counselling after every 10 incidents, but usually turn to each other.

“Generally, we take care of ourselves,” McKay said. “You help to defuse the defuser. If you don’t do that, that’s when we lose people.”

McKay said there are times when he doesn’t feel like taking a call, but he would never pass up a driver in need. He cites the case where the driver was found standing over the body.

The driver refused a defuser, but agreed to talk with McKay, thinking it was just a chat. Now whenever he sees him, McKay said, the driver thanks him for his help.

“Obviously, it had a profound effect on him,” he said. “There is some personal satisfaction in doing that. It’s people helping people, but they go that extra mile to put themselves out there for it.”

Courtesy of Vancouver Sun

Watch the video

Transit union leaders renew push for tough penalties for bus driver assaults

articles_bus_stopOTTAWA — Transit union leaders from across Canada are again pushing the federal government to stiffen penalties for people convicted of assaulting bus drivers.

Thirty-one regional representatives from the Canadian Council of the Amalgamated Transit Union were to lobby politicians in Ottawa on Tuesday to resurrect a failed private member’s bill that would require judges to consider assaults on on-duty operators as an aggravating factor to be applied during sentencing.

Getting the proposed amendment to the Criminal Code back on the agenda is the priority for the director of the ATU’s Canadian Council, Mike Mahar, who took over the position in January. After meeting with about a dozen MPs in the past six weeks, he said Monday there is early support from some members of the Conservative majority government.

“It’s the biggest issue for us right now and has been for quite some time,” Mahar said. “We’re definitely seeing an increase in the severity of the assaults.”

He cited several specific attacks, including one in April on a Montreal transit driver who was severely beaten by three young men and hospitalized. Thanks to a surveillance video and tips from the public, three men have been arrested.

In Ottawa, police reported an assault in March in which a passenger sucker-punched an OC Transpo driver who reportedly questioned him about an expired transfer. Statistics from OC Transpo show 51 operators were assaulted in 2012. Fifty of those were Level 1 assaults with no or minor injuries. One report was a Level 2, a classification for those who suffer injuries. In 2011, three of 52 assaults were Level 2.

“These (assaults) happen daily (across Canada), and they’re only getting worse,” Mahar said.

Numbers collected by the Canadian Urban Transit Association and released by ATU this week shows 2,061 bus drivers from across the country reported being assaulted in 2011. The majority of those assaults included incidents in which people spit on the driver, which do not garner the public’s attention like the more vicious assaults.

A breakdown of CUTA data shows 47 per cent of the assaults did not cause bodily harm; six per cent of the attacks were with a weapon or causing bodily harm. Fewer than one per cent fell into the category of aggravated assault.

Mahar and his fellow union leaders were to spend Tuesday meeting with MPs, trying to find the support they need to resurrect the proposed bill that was introduced by Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber in 2011. The catalyst for that move was the well-documented assault on Edmonton transit driver Tom Bregg, who was beaten into a coma by a passenger in 2009.

The bill died when the last election was called and now the union leaders want to recapture the attention of their politicians. For Mahar, assaults on drivers will also continue to make bus driving an unattractive occupation.

“It’s going to be critical for the industry. As public transportation is growing, growing and growing in Canada, it becomes a staffing issue, it becomes a retention issue,” he said. If a bus driver is assaulted, “If they don’t come back, you’ve lost that experience and expertise. Then the general talk of the industry becomes, Do you want to get into that career?”

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