There is a public relations war underway between City Council and the union representing Hamilton Street Railway employees over who is to blame for the crisis in Hamilton’s public transit division.
The City is trying to place the blame for the HSR’s 25-years-in-the-making crisis on its employees, citing a 19% absence rate as the reason for the crisis. Amalgamated Transit Union Local 107 says the problem is mismanagement and is calling on council to fire the HSR’s Director who has been on the job for 13 months.
What is the truth of the matter?
I’ve been working on the Transit Crisis file for months, digging to get to the truth. Unfortunately, my efforts to get the truth via a Freedom of Information request was stonewalled by the City requesting $3000 for simple performance and statistical data.
When I made this stonewalling public, the City was forced to admit buses were in fact missing, and we’re finally seeing Council act on the crisis.
The problem is we’re dealing with a crisis we don’t understand because the City won’t release basic performance and staff complement data – the City claims they don’t have it, yet is able to state with confidence that there is a 19% “absenteeism” rate.
The City’s claims are mutually exclusive – either they have the data or they couldn’t produce their main speaking point.
What Does 19% “Absenteeism” mean?
This is important, because it’s all the City wants to talk about.
Does 19% absenteeism mean 97 of the HSR’s 509 bus operators are deciding to not show up to work every day? The way its being spun, and some people may be lead to believe this to be the fact.
The 19% includes staff on long-term disability, short-term disability, work accommodation, illness, emergency leave, sickness, and other causes for absences. We don’t know the breakdown, because the City won’t provide it.
Bus operators have strict standards for licensing and health, including regular medical reporting cycles. HSR operators must hold a Class ‘B’ drivers license.
If there are questions about their health, for example high or low blood pressure, they are not allowed to operate a bus for a period of time until the medical concern is resolved. This is for good reason, the consequences of a operator going into cardiac arrest while operating with 50 or more people on a bus would be disastrous.
This is a short term disability, contributing to the “absenteeism” rate.
Many drivers are presently off on Workplace Safety and Insurance Board coverage due to complaints about skeletal muscle injuries, citing the lack of shock absorption in the new NOVA buses the HSR has been purchasing for the past two year.