Special Report: Transit

Tuck: 'Remove Incompetent Management Team'

ATU 107 president calls for a change in management for the HSR to deal with the high rates of illness, injury and burnout behind the crisis of absenteeism and missed bus routes.

By Eric Tuck
Published November 02, 2017

Eric Tuck, president of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 107, which represents HSR employees, has issued a call to the City of Hamilton to replace the HSR management. The letter blames mismanagement - particularly not hiring enough operators - for high levels of illness, injury and burnout that have resulted in a crisis of absenteeism and missed bus routes. Following is the text of Tuck's open letter to the City.

How do we fix what's wrong with transit in Hamilton?

Are buses sitting empty in the garage when they should be out picking up passengers? When they are on the road, are buses actually running on schedule? Do the schedules we have match the schedules riders need? Are buses travelling long distances with few or no passengers on board? Are management and union members collaborating to ensure the system runs safely and effectively? Is ridership increasing or decreasing? Is the system affordable, safe and reliable for riders? Is it adequately funded to provide quality service?

These are the questions we ask ourselves when evaluating a transit system. By many of these indicators, HSR is falling short, and the public is understandably losing faith as a result.

Surprisingly, media, elected officials and HSR bosses have all led the public to believe that managing Hamilton's transit system is not the responsibility of management, but of frontline bus operators, mechanics, administration and support staff. Reading these reports, you would think the much-celebrated management team created by the current Director of HSR has no power to improve on-time performance.

The root of HSR's failure to meet the public demands is actually much simpler: they are not hiring enough operators. Management wants to focus on absenteeism to explain this. Yet, if every single operator who is off sick, on vacation, on WSIB, or on emergency leave were to show up and work 40 to 50 hours per week, HSR still wouldn't have enough staff to fill all the work on the schedule.

If every single operator who is off sick, on vacation, on WSIB, or on emergency leave were to show up and work 40 to 50 hours per week, HSR still wouldn't have enough staff to fill all the work on the schedule.

To compensate for this, HSR's Management coerces operators to work overtime, up to 60 sometimes as high as 68 hours per week. When that hasn't filled all the service gaps, Management begins rejecting all requests for time off to attend weddings, funerals, family commitments, medical appointments - even necessary cancer treatment.

Operators are finishing their shifts with no one at the end of the line to take over their bus and are forced to stay at work, sometimes hours longer. We are forced to choose on the spot which obligations - to our passengers, to our employer, to our families - ranks first on that particular day. Like any good transit professional, of course, we try to do all three. That results in overworked operators prone to stress, burnout, injury, illness, and fatigue-related errors.

It is any wonder, then, that more operators are calling off sick or refusing overtime? It is the logical outcome of this incompetent Director's repeated refusal to address a litany of management-created issues that undermine our transit system, adequate staffing especially.

What have we been doing?

Transit workers often feel they could manage a system better than the people in charge, usually "experts" with no experience in any of the jobs they're overseeing. But in our system of labour law, management has the sole right to manage, even if that means managing it into the ground. ATU 107, however, is not interested in standing idly by and allowing this HSR Director to do that. Instead, we get up every day and pull together to move our city where it needs to go, no matter how many obstacles and excuses management puts in our way.

During the summer, our union agreed to increase the allowable overtime that an operator could work to 68 hours per week. During special events in the city, our operators have stayed on the bus beyond the end of their shift to make sure you got home safely. Everyday, operators have consistently agreed to work overtime to keep this system running.

This week, at the request of HSR management, we are again agreeing to this stopgap band aid solution and we know that our members will step up to fill this work. But this is not a safe or sustainable way to run a transit system, and it never has been.

This management will continue to work our operators into the ground, reject requests for time off and treat transit riders with disrespect, all while pretending that it isn't their job to manage transit. This also explains the inexplicable aversion some in management have to HSR operating the LRT. They simply do not want the cumbersome burden to manage transit. So, we have a solution to offer.

What's the solution?

The City of Hamilton, the Province of Ontario, our riders and ATU 107 are all working toward a world-class transit system.

There is no room in such a high-quality, publicly-operated transit system for people who don't want to do their job. Thus, the best first step toward our goal is for the City of Hamilton to remove this incompetent management team, starting with the director, and hire a world-class director of transit who wants to see HSR run on time, grow, and thrive.

Hire a transit director who is committed and has the skills necessary to build a comprehensive transit system, who is committed to respecting the people who operate and ride transit, and, most importantly, who is committed to taking ownership of the quality of service being delivered, instead of punishing the public and the front-line workers for their own lack of leadership.

Start fixing the HSR by fixing the management. In the meantime, we will continue to fight for a world class public transit system and we'll continue to do our job, so you can get to yours.

Eric Tuck is the president of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 107, the union that represents HSR employees.

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By brendansimons (registered) | Posted November 02, 2017 at 11:59:41

Surely the director is not the only cause of a 19% absenteeism rate. A management shakeup is probably required, but I don't think it's going to fix that kind of shit show very quickly.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted November 02, 2017 at 12:28:02

I bet this is a case of where, HSR management at one time had been told to balance the books and make sure that every dollar was tracked at all costs (usually in some budgetary stress moment brought on by their political masters). Then when the fiscal pressure eased, the harsh employee management policies that were introduced to control employee costs stayed and became permanent. These policies are now hindering the hiring of new bus operators. Whether that is by design or by accident, the effect is clear. This goes a long way to explain the low passenger but relatively high operational efficiency numbers the HSR always seems to have when comparing the HSR to other Ontario Transit Agencies.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted November 02, 2017 at 12:51:22

Based on these revelations I hope Matt Green does the right thing and rescinds his request to have the ATU run the LRT. Clearly the HSR hasn't got its own house in order. Now is not the time to add further commitments to the HSR and ATU membership.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted November 02, 2017 at 13:45:00

This is rather profoundly disfunctional. Since overtime is paid out at a rate of at least 1.5 times regular hours, how are they saving anything by not hiring more employees?

The counter-argument is new employees also get benefits, but working overtime does not incur any benefits costs. In the USA, where health insurance is typically an employee benefit, I have seen cases where overtime hours are actually cheaper than regular hours for this reason.

But this is Ontario! ATU members are covered by OHIP. I find it rather hard to believe that their benefits are so good that it would not save money to hire more people and cut back on this crazy overtime.

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By GWW (registered) | Posted November 03, 2017 at 14:39:34

Perhaps Mr Tuck could advise of what the hourly costs of an existing bus driver is once overtime is reached compared to the costs per hour of an added new worker with his benefit package. (also reflecting the employers portion of CPP,EI,WSIB,EHT etc).Only then can judgement really be passed as to what management is doing.

Based on managements behaviour presumably the incremental costs for a new employee as it relates to CPP,EI,WSIB,Pension Benefits,Health Benefits, Health and Safety Training etc. exceeds the incremental overtime costs. Or are there other constraints put on management that the public is unaware of?

Comment edited by GWW on 2017-11-03 14:40:33

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 06, 2017 at 08:54:44 in reply to Comment 122105

That assumes management is making rational, decisions based on the data. But the evidence suggests they haven't actually been tracking this stuff and are just winging it.

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