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Weekly Alibi Bus Drivin' and Cryin'

City Should Give Stressed Bus Drivers a Break

By Cap'n O

SEPTEMBER 2, 1997:  As kids, my friends and I fell into deep depressions where we felt that life was a hopeless, unhappy affair. It was horrible. We had pimples, no money, strict parents and a federal government that was trying to negotiate nuclear arms reductions with the Soviets.

At our worst moments, though, there was always one group of people to whom we turned to break our free-fall into despair--bus drivers. It was those drably uniformed men and women who helped us find meaning, hope and laughter in life.

We'd wait in groups of four or five at bus stops. When the door opened, we'd walk onto the bus, each saying that the one behind would pay the fare. The last in line, rather than paying all the fares, would throw a whipped cream pie into the driver's face. We'd race out the back door and hoot, laugh and dance, knowing then that life was better than we thought.

Bus drivers must endure all kinds of crazy things. Grouchy passengers, kids with pies, kids and adults with guns, fare skippers, idiotic drivers, nonstop talkers and, here in the desert, a lack of puddles on streets to drive through and splash people.

They take enough crap on the job and shouldn't have to take abuse from their employer, which in Albuquerque is city government. But that's what's happening. The city, which funds the bus system, has been screwing bus drivers for years and wants to keep doing it.

The screw job is the drivers' schedules and what they're not paid for. Drivers work split shifts. Some start work around 5 a.m., drive for four or five hours, go home for several hours and then resume driving during the afternoon rush period. Some return home at 7 p.m. or later.

While the drivers are expected to remain in working condition and on call during those midday hours, they're not paid for it. They're also not paid for the time they spend being shuttled around the city to various intersections where they relieve other drivers--shuttles that can take up to 20 or 30 minutes.

This treatment is unfair and should stop. The drivers should either be paid for their midday down time or, preferably, they should be given straight, eight-hour shifts. They should also be paid for the time they spend driving around to relieve other drivers.

Our babbling president, his domineering wife and just about every other politician at the local, state and national levels has talked in recent years about the need for the return to families and family values. They're right. But you can't raise or be part of a family when you're never home when everyone else is.

It's doubtful that the children will be up at 4 a.m. wanting to bounce on mom's or dad's knees or talk about school and life before they go to work. And if you get home at 7 p.m., chances are good that everybody's eaten without you. So much for quality time with the family around the dinner table.

Recent talk about the need for the return to family values has been just that--talk. The assault on American families and workers has intensified. Companies are increasingly hiring temporary or contractual employees so they don't have to pay benefits. Wages are down from what they were when we were a manufacturing nation and companies want more leverage to make people work split shifts. It's hard to raise a family or even stay sane when you don't have a steady job, benefits, reasonable hours or wages to keep food on the table.

Americans can take back their work places. Giving Albuquerque bus drivers reasonable, humane hours would be start. The city is negotiating a new contract with the bus drivers union. It's an opportunity for Mayor Marty Chavez to do the right thing and give them a better deal.

Will you do it, Marty? Or will you give them a pie in the face?

--Cap'n O

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