Getting Up to Speed

Seems there are times where I get into these ruts where I end up pushing the website to the back burner, but usually return some with regular news. While many won’t have any interest in what I am discussing, it’s just one of those things I like to keep updated, especially when going back years later to reread what I wrote.

While nothing has had my undivided attention, the looming strike at work may be coming to the forefront as of Sunday evening. While it would be nice to have some time off, having that extended break would come with no paycheck. So a few days…sure. A few weeks…not really. Any period longer than that. Uh, no. I really don’t have an opinion I feel needs to be voiced about the situation. I say that because I don’t want anything to come back and bite me in the ass. And while the Internet is a vast, back hole, somehow I could see my opinions doing that. So, with that said, if indeed there is a strike, I will honor it, along with others in my union.

As I have said before, many employees who have never worked outside this company do not know how good they have it. United was a living nightmare for at least 5 years! Pay cuts, benefits cut, pensions cut. Yet, because of the love of the airlines, I wanted to stay. Unfortunately it got to a point where I knew I would not be able to provide for my family and have a comfortable retirement. So I did what was BEST for me.

That is probably my only point of contention when it comes to outsiders voicing their opinions when they do not have the full story. Each person in their given situation has the choice to get out and make life better for themselves. That is what I did and I was fortunate (and a bit lucky) to be hired by BART. I am thankful every day for it to, even those days when the shit is hitting the fan and things go from bad to worse. So while others might bad mouth some employee groups, those individuals can change things for the better, yet many will choose not to. I guess it is easier to bitch and complain, than doing something to better your situation.

Enough of that. I am still somewhat behind on the website for various reasons. I seem to have projects started that I cannot seem to finish or tackle a new job with finishing others. Just ask my wife. I have been meaning to get some well needed updates posted, but time has not permitted me that luxury. Not that I finally have my former game PC up and running in support of my ham radio, I should have the web cam back online shortly.

It’s funny, but as much as I complained about Facebook, I seem to frequent the site every day. Steph, you can STFU and stop telling me, “I told ya so.” Anyway, you can find me on Facebook with some updates, but this will always be my main playground. More later, as it is time to get off work.

Negotiations: My Impressions

*sigh* I remember the previous BART strike. Did I already talk about this? It was 4 years ago, I was working for United at SFO. I recall wondering how I was going to get to work, as I had been riding to and from the airport predominately since the 1:45 drive got long and tiring. Fast forward 4 years and I find myself no longer a paying patron, but a BART employee. So what does this have to do with anything?

First, I was never upset at BART employees. I was more upset with management and the fact they seemed to raise ticket prices on a yearly basis. It was no different than the bridge tolls going up a dollar every year since I lived in the bay area.

With contract negotiations going on this year, I have started reading some of the unofficial BART web sites on the Internet in order to get some reactions, comments and thoughts regarding the situation. Let me say, I am rather astonished at some of the attitudes on both sides. Being a patron for about 3 years I wanted the most economical, reliable transportation to and from work. BART was really the only option for me. Since then the economy has tanked. House prices has tanked. Jobless claims seem to climb on a weekly basis. Overall everything is down, yet my move from United to BART, everything was up.

I came out of a very bad situation at United Airlines, which culminated with 9-11. Things at United were bad years prior to that fateful day. After that day there were furloughs, retirements and an overall reorganization of the airline. Pay and benefits were cut as well, not to mention the company stock taking a huge fall. Over the course of 3 years I lost nearly 35% of my total pay.

It was not until my son was born in 2005 I realized I could no longer make a career, like my father did for 35 years, at United Airlines. I wanted to. I loved airplanes. I loved the job. But I hated the direction the company and it’s once proud principals were heading. I decided I needed a change. The opportunity to make that change came and I seized the day, so to speak.

On the day I was offered the job I immediately received a 30% pay raise for accepting the job. Based on the information provided from the Contra Costa Times and their nicely indexed salaries of all BART employees, my pay has increased another 31% since being hired. Nearly a 61% raise since making a decision to find a better job, with better working conditions and a future to look forward to.

I can understand and relate to the negative comments from many outsiders, looking in at BART. I understand the frustration and resentment of many patrons who are not happy with dirty trains, rules and regulations that are not enforced, high ticket prices and some front line employees who seem to come off with an “I don’t care” type of attitude. Unfortunately, everyone at BART suffers because first impressions do go a long way.

This is my first contract experience at BART. I can say I am comfortable with my yearly salary and benefits, based on where I came from, not the past practice at BART since I don’t know much prior to being hired. I hear employees from a few different unions voicing their displeasure with what management is trying to do or has (or hasn’t) been doing leading up to the July 1 deadline. Now we are 10 days past and still in negotiations.

Hopefully whatever transpires benefits all parties involved from employees to management to those patrons who pay their fares to ride daily. As optimistic as I would like to be, negotiations always seem to be ugly and someone always feels they get screwed. Hopefully it is not the patrons who feel screwed in the end.

My 3% (as opposed to $.02 cents)

I recall a former train controller trainee, when asked how he heard about the job, he Googled $100,000 BART jobs and was surprised to find an Excel file that held his answer. Being inside the proverbial “glass house” and looking out I think I am paid very well for what I do on a daily basis. Looking at this realistically coming from an airline that has been sliding downhill since 1999 (or a few years prior) I felt very fortunate to be hired. My pay had been reduced nearly 35% over the course of 4 years at United, in addition to furloughs and changes and more job responsibilities.

The hiring process at BART was long and the training even longer and more stressful than I ever imagined. I believe I earned every penny I was offered. Still do in fact. Now that the media has made all 3,200 BART employee salaries available via an organized database that can search by last name, department or job title. Amazingly enough each work has their pay broken down based on gross, net, overtime and other pay. Wow! Who would think the entire world could know how much I make. Again though, I stand by my previous comment, I believe I am worth every penny I make.

While the job I do is not for everyone, there is a very high (70%) failure rate for candidates who just cannot make the grade and end up failing out of training. Again, I should know because at a few points during training I could have been a statistic. Thankfully after countless discussions with managers and trainers I was able to refocus and adequately demonstrate my learned abilities to be certified. This was not a simple process. I don’t ever recall having such a difficult time during training, this training was different.

I won’t comment on the unions and their proposal for a 3% raise. Would it be nice? Sure, it would. Can I live without it, yup. I am more worried about medical benefits and retirement more so than giving concessions for a 3% raise of a proposed 2 year period. We all know the economy will turn around and the current situation will get better for everyone. Hopefully I don’t find myself walking a line with a sign in my hands because that is the last place I expect to be. I would much rather be at work, helping patrons get to work by keeping all the trains moving.

Sick Days: An Excuse to Take Time Off?

I was talking to a buddy the other day as we were relating our work experience, current and past and we got discussing the topic of sick days. Now, at all the jobs I have been at, you accrue “sick time” as you work. It may only be a few hours a month, but this paid time off is for calling in sick when you are sick and possibly other reasons.

While at United Airlines I spent nearly 12 years without ever taking a sick day. What did I get for it? Not a God damn thing! Nothing. Zilch! Compare that with my current employer and I will be able to take 50% of my accumulated time in pay when I retire. That’s cool! My friend started telling me about his recent experience using sick time.

He related a story to me about his union steward talking to him “off the record” regarding his attendance. Fair enough, I guess. Obviously, the union being on his side did not want to see any action taken on his suggested “pattern” of calling in sick, if indeed that was a pattern.

This got me thinking…if a company is going to bitch and complain about an employee taking sick time and come up with some bullshit excuse of making it habit forming or trying to connect dots that are not there into a pattern, then why provide employees with sick time at all?

Last Wednesday about 3pm I called to take two sick days as pe the doctor’s instructions after my right knee collapsed and I fell down some stairs. He provided me medication, as well as a doctor’s note, but last time I checked this was not school and regardless of the note the sick day would be filed as missed time from work.

I’ll admit I was a very good employee in terms of attendance when I was at United. Not sure why, maybe it was the last thing the airline had not taken away from me. I could also claim I was on time with a perfect attendance record.

Since hiring on at my current job I admit I have missed some days of work because of calling in sick. Based on my opinion and comparing the situation with my buddy I see no pattern in what I have done. Having a family, where both my wife and I work and daycare is sometimes not available I have called in because my wife could not change her schedule. Sick? No. But am I abusing the sick leave I have accrued?

I guess the answer to that depends on who is answering it. This is time I earned, as well as my friend did. So why does he get called out on his attendance being problematic? He is a great worker, works hard and will go out of his way to help others. Yet some in management have nothing better to do and too much free time on their hands to go and fuck with good people.

Regardless of the reason, no letters will be drawn up or charges levied against his sick calls or mine. But the fact remains that good people are hard to find these days, yet with cuts, furloughs and layoffs I guess some in management are trying to throw some workers in front of the bus in order to possibly save their job.

Sick time, I earned it. I will decided if I use it and when.

A Funny Feeling

Yesterday morning, I received a phone call while at breakfast. The call came from a friend of mine, whom I have worked with since my transfer to San Francisco with United a number of years back. He and I were both supervisors in the operations center, eventually we both made the move to BART and green pastures.

He called to tell me he was relinquishing his position as Train Controller (in training) and going back to be a Train Operator. I was saddened to hear this news because he has the mind and skills to be a great controller. I guess he delayed calling me because I would have attempted to talk him out of it. Maybe I actually pushed him too much to get in during the interview stages. I don’t know.

Regardless, he and I will still be good friends and I consider him one of the best operators we have in the system just because he is so thorough and knowledgeable. He will be a better train operator now for going through the 2.5 months of training he had, but it makes me wonder just how good of a controller he would have been. I will be curious to hear the “rumors” fly around the office when I return off vacation.

I guess he knew in his heart that this position was not for him after operating trains. I know I have talked to other former operators who are now in the operations center and sometimes they wish they were back out in the system, just them and their train.