Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Les Cols Bleus

Montreal is an old-school town. I love listening to the local news here. Guy grabbed in a barber shop in St. Leonard, bundled into a van and driven away. Another guy kidnapped and held in Île des Soeurs for a ransom. Good old school craziness. But today's news about the cols bleus was just the best.

The city employees who are responsible for snowplowing, repairing potholes, putting up street signs and all of those other municipal responsibiilites are known as the Cols Bleus. This literally means Blue Collars. They actually wear shirts with that name on it. They are part of a powerful union and, judging by the media, seem to be constantly at war with the mayor's office. Montreal is famous for its potholes and a lot of the anger about the bad streets is directed towards the cols bleus. Every winter, as well, there is always some section of town that isn't getting properly plowed. The mayor goes out to the city yards with a bunch of security guards and confronts the workers.

I sympathize with the working people whose physical labour allows the rest of us to live our lives in comfort. I think they should be paid well, at least as well as a mid-level executive who works in an office, and they should be treated with respect. I'm envious especially of the ones who drive the mini-plows that clear the sidewalk. I always give them the thumbs-up and would love to invite the plowers in for a beer after they've cleared my street.

I don't know any cols bleus personally, and I wish I did because I'd love to hear their position from one of them directly rather than from the union spokesperson. Because more and more, I am losing respect for them. It's always lame to watch government work in action, but it is ridiculous here. Whenever the Ville de Montréal trucks are parked around a job, there are almost always two or three guys just sitting there, smoking. And acting like they should be doing that. How did that culture develop? People work hard in Quebec and they always have. The original french settlers worked famously hard to build a nation. The waves of immigrants since then have all been hard-working. How do the cols bleus become so justified in doing a half-assed job? Especially one that directly benefits the city they live in.

Here is a specific example. The sidewalk at the base of the stairs outside our building was torn up at some point in the past. There is a two meter wide strip that is just gravel and dirt. Probably it's the result of a gas line being put to the building. One day, early last spring, I came out to see a bunch of orange lines spraypainted around the edges of the gap in the sidewalk. Cool, I thought to myself, they are going to repair this. It wasn't a big deal, but it did get muddy in the spring and icy in the winter. The spray paint marks stayed there through the spring and the summer. One day in early September, there was an incredible screeching and grinding noises. I came outside to see a guy with a concrete cutter, slicing into the sidewalk just outside the gap. It was 6 months later, but at least they were going to do the job. Wrong. They cut the concrete and that's it. I'm still waiting.

There is an episode of the Bougons where the uncle, who really does want to work, gets a job with the Cols Bleus. He's so psyched when he gets the job, and is disappointed when they spend the whole day driving around, going to strip clubs and taking naps in the city trucks.

The news that I was so psyched about today was that the city spied on a cols bleus pot-hole team. They punched in, got their trucks, drove directly to a coffee shop, had breakfast for an hour then drove around "aimlessly" for another hour. So good. So busted. How do they feel? Probably resentful and finding some defensive excuse for their behaviour. Already, the union is asking why was management spying on them instead of supervising them. Now that's spin.

Hopefully this will kick those goldbrickers among the cols bleus (because I'm sure there are many hardworking ones - I sure hope so) in the ass and start them doing their jobs. C'mon guys, you've got the greatest city in North America to keep in repair. Go out and do your job!


WeSailFurther said...

This reminds me of when I was in the Navy. I had so many different jobs and duties while I was waiting for official assignments - schools, bases, etc.

Once I was the assistant to the Mattress PO. Which meant that I went with the Mattress PO to inspect the barracks and see who had made their bed properly, see which barracks needed the floors waxed, and which barracks bunks needed mattresses. Mostly we went to the chow hall and took naps in storage closets.

They tried hard to convince us that the work was important, and mattered.

Here in NYC I often see cable or telephone or Con Ed guys sleeping in the truck, but never do I see a city employee slacking off. For real. In fact, there's a story in today's NYT Metro section about a city employee working in Albany who got canned when Bloomberg, on a trip to meet with Pataki & Bruno, saw a game of solitaire running on his computer. "City employees don't get paid to play games on their computers," said Mayor Mike.

Mustapha Mond said...

There seems to be a pretty strong blue-collar slacker ethic in general. It's a running gag out on LI (probably everywhere) that for every guy filling a pot hole on the LIE there are two more who are paid to stand around, hold signs, and look busy, while actually doing nothing.

Friends of mine (self-employed blue collars) who work closely with town employees have no end of jokes about how stupid and lazy the town workers are. They even do a little shtick called "Town Worker," where they act all dumb and do-nothing-ish. And they'll tell you that the only place to get decent labor is to pick up the Mexican day laborers. The Mexican dudes will apparently work their asses off -- but only as long as you don't pick up the same guy too many days in a row. Otherwise they get comfortable and then they slow down. (I suppose there's a harsh lesson about labor in there.)

The thing is though, the reason blue collars get a rep for being lazy is because when they slack it's so obvious. First, you can see them standing around literally doing nothing. And second, the things that don't get fixed when they slack are very physical, like roads and sidewalks, so we're constantly aware of what's needing doing.

But white collars are just as lazy. It's just easier for them to hide it. They're sitting at their computers all day and can easily switch from their excel spreadsheets to email, the Web, and IM (or solitaire). Or they can walk from place to place very quickly with an empty folder in their hands and make it look like they're busy when all they're doing is laps around the office. Plus, what gets missed when a white collar slacks? A TPS report? A deadline that never meant anything in the first place? Half of the are cogs in a bloated corporate bureaucracy that doesn't need to exist in the first place -- they're cogs that aren't even hooked up to the rest of the machine. So who cares if most of their time is spent spinning pointlessly?

Anonymous said...

I live in Montreal by choice. I travel the world on a regular basis and I sincerely think it is the most liveable city in the world.

However the pot holes have just absolutely gotten to me. As a taxpayer, and a copious one at that I am convinced that my fellow tax payers and I are being robbed blind.

We pay for road services that are not being provided and which result in countless repair bills both to body and vehicule.

It is time for a class action suit is my point of view... anyone interested in helping me get the ball rolling ?

I can be reached at:

Cheers ! Claude