STL drivers working under pressure

STL whistleblower: Drivers have horrendous working conditions laced with abusive treatment and unbearable harassment by supervisors

STL and City officials: This is nonsense

Undoubtedly, urban bus drivers, including STL ones, confront some of the most demanding, stressful, and unhealthy conditions in the labour force, precipitating higher rates of mortality and morbidity, excessive absenteeism, and much[1]too-rapid turnover.

The daily grind of the work engenders emotional on-the-job exhaustion, which negatively impacts job-and-life-satisfaction, commitment-to-service-excellence, and mental health needed to perform competently, shift[1]upon-shift, day-after-day, week-after-week, year-in-year-out.

Echoes of stress

A veteran STL driver, speaking personally and for others, cited countless stressors of unreasonable-job-demands and lack-of-organ[1]izational-support, fuelling emotional fatigue. Psychologically harassed by STL supervisors, drivers regularly suffer loss of well-being.

“Bus drivers work under the most demand[1]ing, stressful, and unhealthy conditions,” the STL driver told The Laval News, under cover of anonymity for fear of disciplinary reprisals, sounding the alarm, adding that there have been three suicides within the last 2-5 years.

“Bus drivers encounter considerable occupa[1]tional hazards – traffic congestion, conflicts with passengers, rotating-shift-schedules, poor cabin ergonomics, and tight schedules. The work environment and job characteris[1]tics make drivers vulnerable to specific health problems, forcing early retirement traced to disability. Not only do they have to drive safely, they must simultaneously deliver satis[1]factory-customer-service, balance passen[1]ger-and-management requests, and strictly follow the rules-of-the-road. Hence, these heavy work-related expectations and requirements lead to burnout in too many cases…

“We stay because we need to put bread on the table, but the atmosphere is oppressive, toxic,” the driver summed up, adding that job-demands exceed the worker’s resources to cope with depersonalization, detachment from others, indifference-to-the-work, and reduced-professional-efficacy.

“Supervisors frequently evaluate our efforts in negative ways, power-playing to score points with management. Suspensions-without[1]pay come along with their negative wrongful reporting. It’s all one-sided,” The Laval News was told in an extensive telephone interview.

“Sadly, there’s “la culture du silence” within management; complaints are covered up.”

More support needed

Long hours and split-shift-work-schedules throw drivers into remote-working environ[1]ments and limited interaction with co-workers. It’s difficult for drivers to fulfill family roles, creating potential conflict between work and home. There must be more supportive job resources.

Management has to be more vigilant and proactive in providing physical and psycho[1]logical support, to help drivers achieve work goals, foster personal growth and develop[1]ment, and accordingly eliminate the negative physiological and psychological influences of job demands.

This, apparently, is not part of the STL’s mantra. “It appears that the corporation is not concerned or they don’t care,” said the driver. “The supervisors intimidate and harass us and should not hold those positions. One in particular should be fired if not in jail for maltreatment towards us. It is recommended to positively and fairly evaluate additional roles apart from safe-driving that drivers have to perform – ticket-checking, greeting passengers, or monitoring on-board-situations.”

Thus, according to the driver, the role of job resources in mitigating driver-burnout has been neglected, contributing to the drivers’ job-strain and associated outcomes such as the recent daycare tragedy. A driver’s job is crucial to overall life-satisfac[1]tion. Because work-life occupies most of drivers’ day-time, it implies that improving the work environment will enhance their well-being.

“It’s clear that the STL doesn’t care. It’s unbearable how drivers are treated. There’s no teamwork, no unity,” the anonymous source declared. To the contrary, according to the driver, there’s obstruction by management.

“One particular STL supervisor, who advises, defends, and supports drivers has been told to change reports to incriminate us, but refused. We’re not criminals, but we’re treated as such. A nightmare, enough to become crazy. “STL drivers suffer injustices from their super[1]visors, making them sad and depressed. Our spirit is destroyed,” the driver concluded.

Action Laval city councillor for Saint-Bruno David De Cotis.

A tragedy waiting to happen

“That driver had a very difficult route, 151. He’s also a victim. Was fine before going to work, no sign of anything. He was kind, respectful, married, two children, biked to work so that his wife could have the car. I guess he cracked,” stated his colleague.

According to David De Cotis, current Laval city coun[1]cillor and former president of the STL Board of Directors, 2014-2017, told The Laval News that it was affirmed by colleagues that the driver looked and behaved very normal before he left for his shift. No sign of distress.

“The driver didn’t become that way overnight. We need to know what provoked him. That’s still under investigation, we have no answers yet. And there are other negative aspects to the job, such as STL supervisors harassing bus drivers.” From the sentiments expressed by the anonymous source, it’s clear that the STL must take stock of the drivers’ perception of whether the bus company is concerned about them and cares about their welfare.

Closer attention must be paid to the concerns of these men and women whose rights as driv[1]ers, mothers and fathers, husbands and wives deserve respect; promoting these rights will produce beneficial effects in lessening emotional exhaustion and psychological break-down. Management must understand that drivers suffering higher levels of emotional exhaus[1]tion due to elevated in-job-demands will exhibit lower productivity and experience health-threatening psychological and physical discomfort.

Asked for comment by The Laval News on this real or imagined STL crisis, former STL President David De Cotis stated that there’s no accountability at the STL, there’s just a hiring spree in the offices wasting loads of money.

“They should be giving service to people getting on buses, more frequency of buses, more focus on transportation for students who work weekends. Focusing on electrical buses that are environmentally friendly won’t put more people on buses. STL looks for awards, for example, an innovative website. These awards won’t help people on the ground. More to the point – all this is done to the exclusion of caring for the needs of the central element in the process – the drivers.”

STL Union position

Bus in Laval Qc.

For his part, STL Union head Patrick Lafleur spared no words, about 6 months ago, in July of 2022, when he sounded the alarm about problems at the STL, exhorting elected officials to show that they really believe in the importance of public transit in Laval. “Investing in public transportation also means investing in its employees,” he stated.

De Cotis agreed. “The STL does not have a full-time psychologist for employees to seek help if in need.” I believe the STL should have psych[1]ological testing every 3-6 months and every driver should be evaluated. Anyone working on the front lines – drivers, police, fireman, etc. should be subject to mandatory psychological testing.” De Cotis said he intends to propose this at City Council in April.

City of Laval and STL position

What of the management’s point of view? “We listen to all employees and the working climate is important to us at the STL,” president Jocelyne Frederic-Gauthier told The Laval News, speaking through spokesperson Estelle Lacroix. “We are always open to hear[1]ing from employees, who would like to share their dissatis[1]faction with us, and we invite them to discuss this with their manager.”

Ville de Laval actively contributes to the public transit budget in Laval, mayor Boyer’s office told The Laval News. “However, the transfer is made through the Regional Metropolitan Transport Authority (ARTM). It is therefore not a direct transfer to the Transit Company. What we can tell you is that in 2023, the City of Laval paid $99,523,700 to the ARTM.”

Mayor Stéphane Boyer.

Asked if there had been any complaints about a negative atmosphere in the STL, from the drivers especially? “No complaint of this type came to our ears. However, this question should be asked of the STL to have a convincing overview of the situation.”

Specifically, have you had complaints that drivers are treated poorly by supervisors? – to which the identical answer was given. Will the mayor put in place a full[1]time psychologist, a matter of mental health?

“The mayor has mentioned on several occasions that he will ensure that all employees in need of psychological support following the tragedy at Sainte-Rose daycare will be able to benefit from it.

It should be noted, however, that it is not the mayor who sets up such a service and that the terms and conditions may vary, but the administration’s wish is clear: to take care of those who have been affected by the tragedy,” The Laval News was told.