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Comment: Bus drivers wearing jeans to make a point

Oct 26 2012
B.C. Transit driver Graham Orr works without a uniform Oct. 10 while his route takes him along Douglas Street. 

B.C. Transit driver Graham Orr works without a uniform Oct. 10 while his route takes him along Douglas Street.

Photograph by: Darren Stone , timescolonist.com

With B.C. Transit and the Canadian Auto Workers Local 333 still embroiled in contract negotiations, Victoria's bus drivers have now completed their third week of driving uniform-free - and I have to say that I straight-up love it.

Quite aside from the fact that it gives our stodgy-looking, cargo-wearing transit operators a refreshing "Friday casual" feel, it ensures that every person who gets on a bus knows what the score is.

I don't think I'm surprising anyone when I say that I'm a big ol' lefty. I tend to support those who strike for pay raises and benefits, and I think that job action is necessary if workers want to be treated fairly.

But there's no denying that strikes can be a downright pain, and so far, the bus drivers of Victoria have been doing their best to avoid a strike while publicizing their unhappiness with what CAW says is an unfair situation.

Their lack of uniforms is a nonaggressive, non-confrontational way of voicing their dissatisfaction. I think they should get points for that (although some people are apparently concerned that any random person off the street could spontaneously commandeer a bus, now that our drivers are no longer easily identifiable).

It's their way of reminding the bus-going public that they want to be doing their jobs.

All too often, strikers lose public sympathy simply because strikes are inconvenient for the rest of us. Now that the weather has turned, losing public support is more of a danger if CAW does decide to strike.

It's not uncommon to hear people express their anxiety about transit strikes around the water cooler, but neither is it uncommon to hear people complain about them, as though strikes were invented to inconvenience them.

Last Monday, for example, I was left waiting for my bus in 7C temperatures. I'd forgotten my sweater in my office, my blazer was soaked, the rain was making cold puddles in my flimsy work flats, and I wondered if the bus - my bus, the one the schedule promised me would come, the one that would save me from my sopping wet misery - was one of the few that had been affected by CAW's decision to cut overtime shifts. And I found myself thinking, in pure selfish misery: "It better not be."

And I'm pretty lucky. I'm not dependent on the bus, not really. I can walk to my work and I can walk to my grocery store, and while I don't own a car, my roommate does. I can borrow my parents' car, or my friend's. I can afford to cab. The people who would be hurt by a transit strike - not just inconvenienced, but hurt - are people who cannot afford to live in neighbourhoods that have good amenities, or people who cannot afford to take a cab, or people whose mobility issues mean that they cannot drive.

But it's precisely because our transit system is so crucial to so many that we should support our drivers' right to strike if they must. Strikes suck, it's true, but we strike to keep our industries fair and our systems sustainable, so that they can enrich our communities. We need to pay our drivers a proper wage, and give them proper benefits, and listen to them when they have concerns about the integrity of their work - as is the case here, as CAW and B.C. Transit fight over the level of training and qualifications required for drivers to operate our newly commissioned buses.

But sometimes it's hard to remember that when your socks are wet.

When it comes to job action, too often people remain indifferent to (or ignorant of) the issues involved - until their services are cut, and then they care about the situation only insofar as their convenience has been interrupted.

This is why I really, really like the uniform thing. It provides a visual reminder of what's going on, without interrupting service to those who need it. It gives our drivers a form of protest that does not inconvenience the community they serve.

So huzzah for our bus drivers in their jeans and sneakers and dresses. Even though we all now face the extreme danger of being bus-jacked on our way to work by a renegade pedestrian, I'm glad they're not wearing their uniforms.

Maybe next Monday, I'll wear better shoes.


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