Skinning the CAT (How the City of Charlottesville abuses some in its employ)
by Clifton Smith

Guest Editorial Graphic Schilling Show BlogCircumstance saw me without my vehicle for a few days. Deciding to explore the alternatives, I chose to utilize the local transit system, known as CAT, the Charlottesville Area Transit System. I was a far younger man when I last utilized a transit system, in a city of much greater population. The system runs well, was on time, and I found the various points of transfer with other busses, in order to get across town, to be relatively easy. However, what I discovered while on board these busses has forced me to ask a serious question. How can a city municipal government, in the 21st century, which receives federal funding, be allowed to deny to its employees some of the most simple and basic rights guaranteed to workers by the EEOC and the Department of Labor?

As I was making my travels, I overheard conversations between veteran drivers and those who were apparently being trained. What I heard was incredibly unbelievable. It seems that those individuals behind the wheel, with whom we entrust our lives and safety each and every time we step aboard a CAT bus, are denied the simple ability of having a break in their shift, as well as being denied an allotted time to even eat lunch. All these years, as I have witnessed these busses carrying on around town, I like everyone else no doubt, took for granted that those drivers were extended the same basic privileges as every other worker in the 21st century. But we would all be wrong. While I can appreciate, from a safety point of view, the disallowance of cell phone and personal audio equipment use, as well as not being allowed to eat or drink while driving, I cannot agree to the other policy. That is the one that does not build into the work schedule of the drivers, an established period of down time, such as a fifteen-minute break in the morning and afternoon, as well as an established period of time that allows the driver to eat a meal.

I made it a point to pay greater attention to the drivers, and indeed, the schedules are so constrictive, that many barely have time to step off the bus to take care of simple basic human bodily functions, much less the luxury of actually eating or drinking.

I can not help but be curious as to the level of Council involvement in CAT transit affairs. Does council reach down into the administrative infrastructure, or does it simply hire folks such as Judy Mueller and trust in their leadership? I do not know how involved City Council currently is involved, but if they are highly engaged I can not help but be curious as to why Council members would abuse CAT employees, forcing them to work under conditions that not even an inmate at the Charlottesville-Albemarle Regional Jail would be legally required work under.

According to one of the drivers, breaks and lunches used to be extended to operators. Indeed, this driver said that they learned all of the routes by having to drive almost every one, as they filled in for the driver at lunch and at breaks. So what happened? How did the policy get eradicated? How can the CAT system and the city, which receives federal funding and it is my understanding, some state funding, not obey the law regarding treatment of city employees? As a taxpaying citizen, I am extremely uncomfortable in having any employee treated in this fashion, in my name.

One driver stated that there is supposedly a provision in the law that does not extend the lunch/break provisions for transit workers. However, he has never seen it in writing, nor does he know the statute number. So, I have to wonder if it really exists.

From simply a safety point of view, it is unbelievable to me that we can force a person to stay in a seat for up to ten hours, maybe more, and not get a chance to partake of nutrition and hydration. Answers need to be provided to these actions, along with a legally sound defense of same.

I would like to see Judy Mueller and all of her administrative staff not eat or drink from the time the go to work, until they get off work, plus two to three hours—the shift time of some drivers. I’ll bet that they could not do it.

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  1. Even the inmate workers are allow bathroom and meal breaks………. So does this mean that transit workers are less human than someone in prison.
    I guess we need to stop drinking the city water.

  2. This is true, and I’ve see it for some time. The drivers schedules are such that they barely have time to exit the bus to use the restrooms. They can eat, if you want to call it that, only if they step off the bus at a layover spot, where they are meeting other buses, or if they are slightly early. This is why you see the drivers literally running into the mall, (restroom), and running back with a soda and a candy bar in hand. Cliff makes a great point. I am willing to bet that the administrators who crafted these rules, leisurely eat and drink, at will, in their offices, without a second thought. If the drivers must operate under such inhuman, and legally questionable conditions, then let their leaders lead by example.
    I guess this will be addressed, when a driver passes out behind the wheel from a blood sugar crash, or dehydration. Rob, the next time our new mayor is on your show, ask him about this. See if you’ll get any form of an answer that makes sense.

  3. You don’t know the half of it! Some of the schedules are so tight, that if anything (loading & unloading a wheelchair, passenger with a lot of groceries, passengers with strollers that have to be folded and stowed) puts the driver behind schedule, they spend the rest of the shift trying HARD to catch up! Forget bathroom breaks if you are not running hot (ahead of schedule). Commercial drivers have the worst record of urinary infections of any profession. Gee, I wonder why?

    Another thing is this: try sitting behind the wheel for 10 hours, no breaks, there is an exhaust leak in the driver’s area that management and maintenance KNOW about, no heat shielding on the engine compartment, and the driver is sitting practically on TOP of the engine. The heat can run up to 110 degrees (highest I measured it with a digital thermometer) where the driver is sitting.

    One driver was taken (just in ONE summer!) from the trolley 3 times by rescue for heat exhaustion. Yet, the workmans comp claims were denied. Driver was out paid time, medical bills, etc! Several passengers called 911 for medical one time, the driver was so sick from the heat! Actually HEARD OVER THE RADIO one supervisor telling the driver that the heat was “part of the job. Suck it up!” Also, Virginia does NOT participate in OSHA. Apparently, Virginia has their OWN version, which comes no-where close to the standards of OSHA. So, you cannot file a complaint for having to work long hours in excessive heat, with no breaks! As Mr. Richardson said, maybe something will be done when a driver passes out behind the wheel. But not before! Count on it.

  4. I ride four different routes on a fairly regular basis and I have observed drivers taking bathroom breaks, cigarette breaks, and cell phone breaks. I have never seen one help anyone with a stroller. Once a group of us were waiting for Route 7 to come up W. Main St. We had seen two Route 7’s go downtown. After two cycles had past, one passenger in our group got angry enough to call the downtown transit center asking when was another Route 7 coming. She was told that the driver was sitting downtown waiting to get back on schedule. We waited 40 minutes for a bus that has a 15-minute headway. Perhaps someone was eating then. Somebody is doing something while those buses are sitting there idling at the transit center. Many of the drivers talk a lot (inappropriately) and I have yet to hear one say he was hungry. He did announce to us on the bus that he couldn’t wait to get work so that he could have a couple of beers as he proceeded to get me to the transfer stop too late to catch the next bus. The trip was amazing. We started out four minutes late and, with his 15 – 20 mph driving, we ended up 7 minutes late. I had to wait another half hour for the next bus. So many of the drivers do not realize there is a schedule.
    Has anyone checked with Judith Mueller or Bill Watterson about the writer’s allegations? I am too busy sitting a bus stops wondering when the bus is coming to take the time to call them.

  5. I was on trolley 833 last night. The fumes were so bad in the drivers compartment, he had to stop at the downtown station, open every window and take a break, putting all of his passengers on trolley 848 behind him, and wait, to air out the trolley. He was complaining of severe headaches, etc.

    I am forced to use the CAT services on a regular basis, and Dee is spot on with her observations. Have never seen the likes of what Cville Eye claims, and I’m a regular on the route 7. So, I guess Cville had a once in a blue moon experience.

    Based on what I’ve seen from the drivers, they are very professional, given what little they have to work with in the way of job treatment by CAT. Given that, I’ve not a doubt in the world that this story is true. And also given that, can you blame the drivers for their negative attitudes? Would you or I be any more prone to patience, etc, if the basic ability to eat and drink when needed, is denied us? I do not usually support unions, but in this instance, I firmly believe that the Teamster’s would love to hear of this.

    Instead of establishing a committee to establish a dialogue on racial relations in the city, how about a committee established to discuss HUMAN relations instead. City Council, and Public Works are to be ashamed for this.

    So to be clear. We can give Maurice Jones extra time and money to get his residence and educational requirements in order. But WE CAN NOT LET DRIVERS CRAP, EAT OR DRINK!!!!Impressive.

  6. As a former regular rider, I can tell you that this is pretty much accurate. Drivers are not, by policy, allowed to assist with either strollers or bicycles. They are of course expected to strap in wheel chaired individuals. This is why Cville Eye does not see stroller and bicycle assist. But the bigger issue. For all of the liberal warm fuzzy do-gooding rhetoric that this council has ever espoused, and attempted, appalling is the word that comes to mind in light of this information. It seems that the powers that be have out and out lied to the drivers, as well as any watchdog agencies in the state, and federal government. This is a shame and a sham, and obviously a well guarded little secret, that was only brought to light by the observations of a new rider. Were I an attorney of any sagacity, I would be looking to the drivers for a class action in order to receive the appropriate compensation for all of the years of abusive actions by the city council and the public works department. When, not if, the time comes where an accident occurs, due to driver impairment from these abuses, well, the city will be opening its pockets deep and wide, to compensate both the driver forced to work in such conditions, as well as any victims said forced conditions created. Keep on playing the odds, they stack against you every day.

  7. Since this story has hit the airway, the city management has gone into their protection routine. All employees are remind if caught running you mouth, you can and will get two week on street, no money and no job. This is now the city, country and state works. I know I used to work for the state. Next to impossible for a govenment employee to win a court case or collect workman comp. Why because we have had general assembly craft laws to protect the govenment and to hell with employees…..
    If and when a transit driver is involved in serois enough accident, it will be transit driver who will take the fall.
    Why because the person failed to call into dispatch and tell them that they needed assistant.
    Wake up Charlottesville and it time to vote out the ruling class and put someone in there that give a dam about us (citizen and employees) before it is too late. Oh! Don’t forget —- property taxes are going up $0.01per $100.00 assest value the last meeting the city counsel and business office had in Janurary. so don’t bitch if voted for them…………….

  8. I’ve got a family member who was a bus driver in NYC. They were written up for FAILING to take their required 15/15 & 30 for lunch. So, since the C-ville City Council is so apt to ape the larger metro areas it wishes it were, copy this practice. So far, the inquiries/messages left for Council and Public Works have not been acknowledged nor responded to. What a surprise!

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