Interview with Bruce Hansen
From Portland Afoot
This interview with Bruce Hansen, candidate for TriMet's union presidency in 2012 was excerpted on our blog and in the June 2012 issue of Portland Afoot's 10-minute newsmagazine.
(talking about the previous interviewee, Tom Horton, as the recording starts)
Portland Afoot editor Michael Andersen: Did you ask him not to run?
Bruce Hansen: I would never ask anybody not to run. It's our right as a member. Well, he's been a member for 17 years, and I've never seen him at a union meeting. I've never seen him at a union event. So, you know, where and why all of a sudden do you want to pop up and run for the top seat? While he's been a member for 17 years. And I've never seen him at a union meeting. I've never seen him at a union event. So, you know, where and why all of a sudden do you want to pop up and run for the top seat?
PA: What'd he say?
He said he felt that it was time. I questioned that. You know, there's rumors that fly around, and I hit him on some rumors. And he denied them. Which is fine.
PA: This is the financial stuff?
Bruce Hansen: Yeah. You know, it is what it is and we'll, you know. The truth will come out. And you got to be truthful to the members. Our members are not stupid, and a lot of people think that they are.
PA: I don't want to make it about anybody – I want to talk about what you want to talk about – but to talk it about Tom for a sec, he was saying that he's underwater, but he continues to make the payments.
Bruce Hansen: That's different from what he told me.
PA: Okay, what'd you hear from him?
Bruce Hansen: That he bought and built his home, but he has continued to maintain it. So it's a little bit of a different story there.
PA: So it's not contradicting, he's just not telling the whole thing?
Bruce Hansen: Yeah.
PA: Yeah, he said he's $50,000 underwater, but has decided that for the moment anyway, he's just going to keep in good terms with his lender or whatever and maybe refinance, something like that. But he said he built his home and had been part of the whole thing up in Sifton. Where do you live?
Bruce Hansen: Hillsboro. In Washington County.
PA: How long?
Bruce Hansen: About 11 and a half, 12 years, something like that? It's been a while.
PA: We went over this briefly – it's in my notes – but how long have you been with TriMet?
Bruce Hansen: 20 years. I just had my 20-year anniversary.
PA: Congratulations. That's straight out of school?
Bruce Hansen: You can't apply until you're 21. I turned in my application when I turned 21. 22 and a half, I got hired on.
PA: That's great. Why did you know so early?
Bruce Hansen: Actually I had managed a franchise 7-11 corporation right here at 92nd and Washington, had a rapport with a lot of drivers. I found that long-term sustainability and I liked dealing with public. So it seemed a job that fit. So you know, that was the fit for me. I love to drive. (inaudible) I figured it was going to be a good fit. I've loved it every day and I continue to love it every day. I've done it for 20 years and if I have to continue for another 20, I'm going to do it.
PA: And when did you first start thinking about being active in the union?
Bruce Hansen: Probably six and a half, seven years ago. I've always continued to be involved, but my intention of involvement got more and more. And then when I was elected a union officer from Merlo transportation, I found out the lack of training that we were received, the lack of support from our union leadership, and I felt that I could change that?
PA: What was the lack of training about?
Bruce Hansen: Well, the first phone call I got was, you have a meeting tomorrow. And what was that about? Well, we're not quite sure. Well, if you're not quite sure, then I don't have a meeting. Kind of deal. I can't defend an issue if I don't know what it's about. You can go in all day long and get caught off guard.
PA: So this was representing an employee?
Bruce Hansen: Right.
PA: And you know management, whoever was there, you know they'd been briefed, I guess, right?
Bruce Hansen: Of course, and they're up to date on it. But the day you take office, you start dealing union business. I had enough knowledge of our contract, so that wasn't our concern, but the issue is, were they going to implement a policy. We didn't have even have all the policies in our hands. So thankfully, Sam Schwartz was able to provide me with a lot of the policies and then show me the resources for to find the policies, so we don't just rely on what TriMet says or what the district says. And of course, they're not always true. Not to us or to the public. It's irritating.
PA: What's an example of them being untrue to the public?
Bruce Hansen: I think right now they're crying wolf with the financial status. I compiled a three-year wage increase for management showing where they have taken increase in wages of upwards of a million dollars. I presented it to Jon Hunt a few meetings back, and told him that we could use this and show where the management is taking raises. They are taking increases. They are hiring nonunion members of upwards of $100,000 a year, but yet they're saying they're broke. They're not out there to benefit the routes, the public that we serve or the operators that drive those routes.
PA: TriMet will tell you, oh, these are very important positions, that we need to maintain our relationships with the public. We need to keep on having the website be accessible and have people find out when the bus is coming, and that's just as important as having people driving the bus.
Bruce Hansen: In their eyes? If we don't have a bus fill in that route, how is that important? If we don't have an operator. Since I've been here, our boards have been shortened, our extra boards have been shortened, we have less drivers, we have less routes. And our public, our population, I would love to see the growth in the last 10 years. And those are the type of statistics that I would love to put out there to the public and show them. We care about the public we transport. We have the bad apples like everybody else, but the 90th percentile – the 99th percentile – are good operators. Our favorite saying is, we don't hire them, we just represent them. That's the best way to put it to them.
PA: To the public?
Bruce Hansen: To the management. Because the management are the ones that try to make the operators look bad. Here, the most recent thing we have is an operator who comes to the aid of a citizen that's not even involved in public transportation. That speaks loud for the operator.
PA: Did you hear what happened with that? I got from the spokeswoman that there was no discipline on the guy.
Bruce Hansen: No, there was no discipline. Basically I guess what they've done is just inform him of TriMet's policy.
PA: Right. And it's not entirely clear to me why TriMet has a policy against that. Does TriMet get sued if he does that, or is it just like, y'know, he's not behind the wheel so he's not driving the bus at that time? In an emergency, I don't know what they want you to do.
Bruce Hansen: Take a description and tell them what the person looked like. Human nature is you protect the other person involved. I mean, that's just human nature.
PA: What is it about serving on TriMet has appealed to you personally? Why have you liked it so much, enough to stick around?
Bruce Hansen: I like the daily change. I worked the extra board for probably the first 9 and a half years, where my job changed every day. I did something different every day. Different route. Had different people on my bus every day. Never got discouraged if I got lost, I was still paid to be lost. You know, you're out there, you're your own person, you're driving the road every day. You're dealing with sometimes difficult people, but the majority of the time you're dealing with good people. So that's what's kept me here. I looked at it every day as my first day. You can't come in with a bad attitude. Created by our management – and I tell them this every day – that they're our first influence when we come in. We get something bad in our mailbox – an SIP, which is a service improvement process program, that's not true, then that disrupts my whole attitude out on the bus, that whole thing.
PA: And that happens?
Bruce Hansen: Every day.
PA: Every day?
Bruce Hansen: Every day there's an innaccurate SIP come in on operators. Numerous.
PA: Really? What's the cause of that?
Bruce Hansen: Lack of investigation. The latest one that I was served with was driving a 57, I pulled in Beaverton at 12:23. The SIP said I left at 12:03 on the 57 and I left a mentally challenged person on the platform. And I'm like, if they rode my bus, it wasn't, but then I looked at the time, and I don't even get there until 12:23 and I don't relieve until 12:45. So I took it back, and he said, well, who is that? And I said, that's not my job to tell you. And that's exactly what I told them. I'm not going to do their job for them. If I am, they can pay me their wage.
PA: Well, isn't that a job that should be done by some management employee that it's important for them to hire?
Bruce Hansen: It is.
PA: So maybe they should … looping back to the complaint about management, it's hard for me, to the extent that I'm a member of the public it's hard for me to accept the refrain that management employees don't also have roles to play. Right?
Bruce Hansen: We are held accountable as employees. TriMet management is not held accountable. Not for their spending, not for their lack of investigation, not for numerous things.
PA: Okay, that makes sense. Except hopefully by the union and the public.
Bruce Hansen: But really, I mean, when they hold the public (?) Milwaukie light rail is the perfect example. How many of the public that we're interrupting down there don't want light rail to go through the district that it's going through? The historic district, and TriMet is going through it anyway. They're holding a public meeting. Are they listening? Obviously not.
PA: Well, there's some folks who are very excited about it.
Bruce Hansen: True, but the folks who live in the immediate area that we're going to be disrupting are not going to be fond of it. And we've taken upwards of probably $150,000, $200,000 homes, and we're going to rattle the heck out of them.
PA: And take money out of the general fund to pay for the whole thing.
Bruce Hansen: Right. Take their taxpaying dollars and use them against them. I mean, that's my opinion.
PA: So in terms of light rail expansion, you think they should be slowing that down, they should not be doing as much of it, or is it just this line in particular?
Bruce Hansen: I think they need to reevaluate their light rail to see if it's cost-effective right now in the time that we are, if the expansions are needed or can we warrant putting a new bus out there with an operator doing the same work. I mean, the 57, I used to drive it when it came all the way in from Forest Grove into downtown Portland. Jam packed. You know, light rail now is the same way – but it took time to build up that. So now is it beneficial for the 57 to end in Beaverton, hook up with the light rail? It probably is. But you look at some out here, these rural routes, these 82s and 83s, we don't service a lot of people, but the people we service actually need the service. And they're paying the same portion as the people in town that's getting every 15-minute service and they're maybe only getting every hour service, if they get that. (inaudible) I mean, we're rattling around in 20-year-old equipment.
PA: Why are you running, and what's the biggest issue you're running behind?
Bruce Hansen: Why I'm running is the betterment of the entire management, not myself in particular or one individual person, but it's the entire membership. And my opinion is based on, if you're not out there knowing the membership's issues, how can you represent them. So I guess that's the easiest answer for me to answer you on that.
PA: So why are you in particular running? Why are you better than someone else? (pause) You know, I hate talking about myself.
Bruce Hansen: You know, and that's the truth with me. I hate talking about myself. But you know, the bottom line is, when you have members coming up and saying, Bruce, you fought for me, you need to run for this position, and it's not just one person, it's numerous people, and you're hearing about it hundreds of times throughout the day – you know, then you recognize that you may be that person. So my membership spoke to me numerous times. And ultimately, I didn't think that I was the right person. I thought we had more qualified people out there. But when you start looking at the people who are self-serving for their own interest, then you have to reevaluate what is best for the entire union. We represent 23 different properties, from Walla Walla north to Medford south. As far as six members in North Bonneville, 40 in Medford, 40 in Walla Walla, 150, 250 in Eugene, Salem. So we're made up of a vast variety. And those people are the ones that talk to you.
PA: That brings me to the next question, then. What has the current administration done that you'd want to change?
Bruce Hansen: Battle the media. Put our voice in public. Let the public know our stance. Let them know why we make the wage we make. Why we suffer from high health costs. Why we deserve what we get. There's not one person that rides our bus that would tell you they would love to do our job, to drive consistently or drive the train consistently. There's not one person who sits out there and does that. The majority of people that ride our system recognize what we do. We're like a 911 call every day. Our adrenaline--we're always anticipating what's going to happen, is that car going to pull out in front of us? Are we going to react? We have to be able to react.
PA: So they're not talking to the media, or they're not getting their message through the media, anyway.
Bruce Hansen: You read in the Oregonian, Joseph Rose tried to contact president Jonathan Hunt, no callback.
PA: Same thing to me.
Bruce Hansen: That's not acceptable. I mean, I understand the respect issue. It's a give-and-take respect issue. And I wonder sometimes if it's not because he doesn't report back to you guys or anybody, Joseph or whoever. If that's not why our voice isn't being heard of. I suggested we do a picket when we're doing our informational pickets right in front of the KGW news station downtown. We don't get the small neighborhood pickets. You get right downtown in the heart of our transportation system. Let the people know that's riding our system what's going on.
PA: And what'd he say?
Bruce Hansen: "Oh, that's a good idea." I have lots of good ideas. He just never acts on them.
PA: What about Heintzman in particular? He's been very successful in the past at getting these contracts. I assume you'd agree is a good contract, right? The one you have right now, you know, they've done an excellent job getting benefits for the union.
Bruce Hansen: You have to agree that. Do we agree on the tactics that he's used against our members? I don't.
PA: Like what?
Bruce Hansen: You hear lots of different things. I've been in union meetings where people have been told to "shut the hell up," "you're out of order," "point of order." If he doesn't agree with you, he's going to shut you down. If you don't let me speak, how do you know where I stand and maybe convince you that your way is not going to be the right way. It's not a dictatorship, which is the way we have been led in the past. The membership has to have a voice. I don't like to pick on anybody individual, but there's certain issues that you have to address. I mean recognizing the position that we're in, you have to be accountable for your actions at all times. And to me, for Ron to come in and associate himself with Jon – and to me, Ron never left our union 10 or 12 years ago when he actually went to International – then you have to wonder if he condones the behavior that has been done and acted by Jonathan. And still today I can't condone it. I feel sorry for him. I feel sorry for his family, you know. But I don't condone it.
PA: For what in particular?
Bruce Hansen: His DUI. Personal issues that he's got out there.
PA: How does that his presidency?
Bruce Hansen: Well, it definitely affects his 24/7 job. Because we are out there to represent members 24/7 and he's driving on a restricted license 24/7 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., what happens if he's got a meeting at 7:30? Do they have to have somebody take him, or what? I've been called a drunken sonofabitch driving my bus. I've had accusations that we're operating drunk, that we have no nicknamed swampies, we've been nicknamed everything that's associated with him reflects on me as an operator. And I'm a professional, and I'm offended by that. And I let him know that.
PA: And you think that's because he was in the newspaper for the DUI?
Bruce Hansen: It was. There's no doubt about it. With no response. No defending himself. Granted, he was innocent until proven guilty. When you're proven guilty we hold you to a high standard, and the contracts you negotiate have a clause in there for termination with a DUI. Why does he feel that he's better than everybody else? I mean, it's tough to say, but it's the same thing that I feel about our general manager now. He doesn't have the issues of his employees at heart.
PA: What do you think he has?
Bruce Hansen: You know, that's a good question. In 2011, when he started taking our benefits, making us pay for our benefits, I filed an HR complaint against him personally for bullying, intimidation, creating a hostile work environment. Couldn't even get the guy's attention. If I did that to any one of these managers that I talk to here today or any time other, they would have said, "Hey Bruce, what's up? Why do you feel that way?" This guy, to date, has never talked to me.
PA: So can you name two or three things you'd do differently? You mentioned returning calls to media, you mentioned not shouting people down in meetings. Anything else you'd do to change the behavior of union leadership?
Bruce Hansen: I think the best thing for me to say is understanding the membership's needs by regular property visits, getting out there, understanding what they're going through, why our buses are dirty, why we don't have enough buses in service. Is it because we don't have enough mechanics in service? Is it because our fleet is depleting? And putting these issues out to the public, and defending ourself out to the public?
PA: Is any of that related to the need to run up and down to Medford and Walla Walla all the time?
Bruce Hansen: It is, because we've unionized our brothers and sisters in Walla Walla. Do they deserve the same representation, 110% they do.
PA: And obviously I'm referring to Tom's criticism, that you should break it up.
Bruce Hansen: I understand you do. And you hear the passion that comes out in my voice when you talk about my brothers and sisters. I don't care if it's our brothers and sisters in North Bonneville which is only six, our brothers and sisters in Tillamook that's 16, our brothers and sisters in Medford that's 40. We organized it. We represent them 110%, to our fullest.
PA: Would you want to be the same union that represents Seattle? Would it be better to have one union for both metro areas? At some point is there going to be a breaking point, or is bigger always going to be more efficient?
Bruce Hansen: First off, do you understand why ATU is spread out to 23 different units?
Bruce Hansen: OK, let me bring you up to date on that. The best part is Ron Heintzman was president of the time. So he negotiated these outlying properties when he started losing the power within TriMet. So he started losing the votes within TriMet, so he went out and negotiated contracts for the smaller properties. So he built his empire to surround him and engulf the larger entity, which was TriMet.
PA: And you view that as deliberate?
Bruce Hansen: In my heart, I do.
PA: Hm. That's pretty smart! That's pretty ruthless.
Bruce Hansen: No one says Ron's a dumb man. The question is, is he an eligible candidate?
PA: So if the motivation for doing this was self-serving on Ron's part, why are you defending it as it is now?
Bruce Hansen: Because it's our family. That's my best answer: it's our family. We created our family and we have to support our family. We have at times a disfunctional family, and we need to support each other. There's no reason that because North Bonneville has six members that I couldn't represent them if they're doing the same job that we are.
PA: Well, couldn't they do, like, a contract deal where they could, like, hire this union to negotiate on their behalf or whatever?
Bruce Hansen: Would that be beneficial for six members to hire an outside agency to do that?
PA: Isn't that what they're doing now, basically? I mean, they're sending their dues to a central agency.
Bruce Hansen: Well, it's their monthly dues, and would they get the same bang for their buck? From what I've been told, and this is only what I've been told, because we're not privy to this information – we sent a consultant up to negotiate their contract. That consultant will cost us numerous amounts of years of their dues. How is that beneficial? How would we not send our salaried president or vice president to negotiate that contract? Why would we send a consultant at $50 an hour?
PA: I have no idea.
Bruce Hansen: Those are the questions that the membership's asking.
PA: And you're saying that maybe the salaried officials should be doing that.
Bruce Hansen: They should be. That's what we elect them to do. We don't hire them to hire somebody else to do their job so they can go off and take trips to Romania or whatever. They feel that they need to be here in our property that we represent.
PA: Yeah, I heard about that Romania trip, and I don't know what the deal was with that. What's your impression?
Bruce Hansen: It goes back to Ron Heintzman. He was the one that organized the Romanian council to build international ties. Based on what I know of it, just from text messages that I've seen relayed, I don't know that it's ever benefitted our membership. It's supposed to build First Transit/First Student ties in there. I don't think I've ever seen a benefit showing us where they want these trips.
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