Last month’s abrupt departure of HSR General Manager of Transit, Murray Hill and the retirement of Scheduling Manager Jim Dahlms has Amalgamated Transit Union boss Eric Tuck predicting uncertainty ahead in HSR labour relations. The two senior managers left HSR just a few months after Debbie Dalle Vedove was hired from Oakville Transit as HSR Transit Director replacing David Dixon who departed last summer.  Dixon had recruited Murray Hill and union boss Tuck thinks that had something to do with Hill’s departure. “Murray and Dixon had really improved the culture around here for the drivers, and maybe they got along too well with our members,” Tuck said. In an interview with the Bay Observer last year Dixon said one of his first big tasks at HSR was to try to improve the decades-old toxic relationship between the HSR and its Drivers’ union. Dixon implemented a series of policies that recognized the bus driver as the primary point of contact with the public, and he reoriented the operation to support the driver through route alignments and ensuring the vehicles were in proper running order. Tuck said Hill in his role overseeing the operators, could often be seen at the garage at 4:30 in the morning when the drivers started their shifts.

ATU President Eric Tuck says he is hearing rumblings from his members but so far has not seen significant change in labour management relations, although, he added, his members have started filing more grievances. An email from an anonymous HSR employee circulated to council and the media alleges that the new transit boss, Vedove  has been seen publicly dressing down drivers. “The new Transit Director has shown herself to be pervasive, controlling and systemically unprofessional in her treatment of HSR drivers,” the email charged. The email went on to say that Vedove’s support for LRT might have been a factor in her hiring. In response to a request for comment Vedove  wrote, “My main focus right now is customer service – I want to ensure our customers have the best experience riding the bus and that our operators are providing safe, on-time and courteous service to each passenger. While I’ve only been with the City a short time, it’s very clear to me that there are a lot of really hard working, dedicated staff who work for HSR, and who I know are committed to improving transit in this city, just like I am. …We’re currently working on reviewing our strengths and weaknesses, growing as a department, and ultimately providing an outstanding experience for our customers, every time they ride the bus. All of this is pinned on continuous improvement – which I think is essential in successfully operating an organization like this one.”

Dixon’s departure, while voluntary, was widely seen to be in part because of his open skepticism of the viability of LRT in Hamilton. When Dixon unveiled a comprehensive city-wide 10-year transit plan that largely omitted LRT, Mayor Eisenberger expressed his surprise and displeasure, although council eventually endorsed the plan. The plan was quickly thrown into limbo when the province announced funding for LRT but none for the Dixon plan.

For his part Eric Tuck says there are too many unanswered questions about LRT. He worries about the project being let out to a third party operator, depriving HSR of the revenue from some of its most lucrative routes. “LRT must be operated and controlled by HSR or transit will suffer,” he said, adding that there is a lack of overall focus on building transit city wide. “Right now transit is floundering,” he said. A recent HSR budget submission to council showed ridership in 2016 down about 400,000 riders, reflecting a trend seen in municipal transit systems across the province. In a recent council discussion on the subject of absenteeism and overtime, the HSR was identified as an area of concern. Tuck says Drivers are increasingly suffering from stress-related health issues, and an ever more confrontational and even violent ridership. “Our drivers have to endure stresses and dangerous passengers like never before,” he told the Bay Observer.

Providing a Fresh Perspective for Burlington and Hamilton.

One Comment to: Shakeup at HSR has drivers’ union uneasy about labour relations

  1. Demi

    July 17th, 2017

    Interesting when you consider “the ‘toxic relationship’ between the HSR and its Drivers’ union”.…

    Metroland Media, Wed Jun 25 2014…

    Parachuting in a new boss won’t fix the “old boys’ club attitude” largely responsible for a toxic workplace, said several HSR employees and recent retirees of both genders interviewed by Metroland, both on and off the record. Most wouldn’t agree to having their names published for fear of workplace reprisals.

    But driver Amy Semple agreed to speak up — despite worries she’ll be labelled a troublemaker or ostracized by co-workers — because she’s worried city leaders will treat the arbitration complaint as an “isolated incident.”

    “I’m frustrated because that seems like the public perception. It’s not isolated. This sort of thing only happens if you have a systemic problem,” said the 37-year-old, who joined the HSR in 2006 and is now one of 450 drivers, about 30 per cent of whom are women.

    Semple filed her own sexual harassment complaint with the city in 2009, but can’t talk publicly about the details because it was settled internally and includes a nondisclosure agreement.

    The arbitration decision that awarded $25,000 to an unnamed female HSR inspector last year lists prof ane insults, unwanted touching and pornographic emails as examples of sexual harassment by former supervisor Bill Richardson, who was fired by the city midway through the hearing.
    Richardson has denied the allegations of unwanted touching and emailing pornography and questioned the fairness of the arbitration hearing, noting he wasn’t able to participate because of a private settlement with the complainant.

    After the arbitration decision went public, Hull vowed to take such complaints more seriously. “That’s a lesson I won’t have to learn twice,” he said.
    That quote bothers Jennifer Somogyi, a former HSR driver who filed a grievance alleging harassment and a poisoned work environment in 2008, as well as a parallel application to the human rights tribunal alleging discrimination based on sex.

    Somogyi said the complaint was settled and is also subject to a nondisclosure agreement. But in a brief interview, she noted all the managers in charge when she made her complaint remain in charge today.

    “To say you don’t have to learn that lesson twice … that is difficult for me to hear,” said Somogyi, who now has a different job with the HSR.

    A clearly conflicted Semple emphasized she doesn’t want to “vilify the many good people” working at HSR, many of whom she argues “play along to get along.”

    But she argued a persistent old boys’ club attitude among managers translates into trickle-down acceptance of on-the-job sexism “that wouldn’t be tolerated elsewhere.”

    The joking labelling of a new automated call-out system for bus stops as “the bus bitch;”

    “Whistling and catcalling” at women by a trainer driving with trainees;

    A garage display of “nudie posters”— a practice that Semple said, in fairness, ended after complaints in 2006, shortly after she was hired;
    Use of an extremely vile and vulgar sexual insult in casual conversations between coworkers — sometimes in reference to female drivers.

    “I’ve been called bitch, hose-bag and all those other words you can’t print,” said Bonnie McLean, who estimates she was the 14th female bus driver to join the HSR when she was hired in 1987.

    To be fair, McLean said, things have gradually improved since then, a change she attributes to union prodding and the growing number of women employed by the HSR.

    Gradually improved to the point that the media can report that while male superiors “got along too well” with the drivers, a “controlling” female boss is creating tension in the ranks. Maybe some more prodding is needed. And maybe, as a public sector organization, the HSR’s workforce should reflect Hamilton’s demographics.


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