"Sometimes when I’m driving my bus I feel like I have a target on my head. I wonder if today’s the day someone is going to kick, punch, stab me or worse—spit in my face,” says John Gillet, describing what it is like to sit day after day behind the wheel of a public transit bus.
A 25-year veteran of London Transit, Gillet has experienced more than his share of violence and harassment on the job. A member of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) local 741, Gillet had driven a bus for 15 years without incident before “all hell broke loose” and he was assaulted on the job twice in the same year.
The two incidents, which occurred within six months of each other, took place while he was working alone on the night shift. Gillet suffered from a sprained neck and a concussion not to mention related stress, anxiety and fear. After the assaults the employer took no action to prevent another occurrence. In fact one manager went so far as to suggest that perhaps Gillet was assaulted because he “used the wrong tone of voice with the passenger.” The assailants in both incidents were arrested and fined. Only one of them was banned from using public transit in future.
Gillet decided it was time to act.
“I started thinking about other operators on the night shift and wondered if they were experiencing the same abuse and hassles. So I decided to run a survey,” says Gillet. With the help of the union and a research student from Western University he surveyed his co-workers.
Not surprising, the survey results showed 35 per cent of the drivers were either, punched, kicked, or spat upon, while 55 per cent were verbally threatened. The survey was repeated four years later with similar results.
When Gillet presented management with the first set of results, they decided to form a joint “violence in the workplace” committee made up of worker and management representatives.
Gillet has been on the committee since its inception eight years ago. Together, they have made several recommendations to the joint health and safety committee (JHSC) which have been implemented, including new policies and procedures developed to protect transit operators in the event of, or threat of, a violent incident. For example, there is now a panic button installed on the buses. Once pushed, it signals the dispatcher to call the police.
Gillet has also represented operations workers for the past three years as a certified member of the JHSC. And again, not surprising, Gillet was involved in developing a nationwide survey for ATU which polled transit operators (from both large and small properties) about their exposure to workplace violence. The national survey confirmed local survey results—30 to 35 per cent of operators have experienced violence in the workplace.
Robin West, ATU Canadian Council president credits Gillet with helping the union to take an important next step. “The local London and national violence surveys have been instrumental in convincing NDP politicians we need to change the Canadian Criminal Code to give transit operators the same protection as there is for firefighters, paramedics and police officers,” reports West. “This would never have happened without the dogged determination of John Gillet,” he adds.
Looks like John Gillet drives more than buses.