Fifty eight years old this week, a lifelong Chicagoan and a widower, Mr. Lopez was laid off from his city building department job three years ago and hasn't found full-time work.
"The last year or so I've been living off of my savings," said Lopez.
In April, Lopez also spent nearly $2,000 to obtain his commercial driver's license and so when the CTA advertised a job fair he waited in line to fill out an application to for part-time city bus driver.
"Last Tuesday was the test, last Wednesday was the interview," he said.
Lopez passed the test and was told to return to transit authority headquarters a week ago Wednesday.
"When you walked in there, to the CTA that day, did you think you were close to finding a job?" Chuck Goudie asked Lopez. "Sure, sure," he responded. "I just thought it was, you know, academic, I had everything, I'm bilingual, I have experience, a lot of life experience. I'm certified as a driver. I have a clean record."
But then he crossed the invisible blue line.
"I get called into an office and the young man there tells me, 'I can't interview you.' I says, what happened, what did I do? He says, 'You've got jeans on'," Lopez said.
Lopez says the blue jeans were clean, pressed and the best he could afford. Those blue jeans were deemed unsuitable for an interview to be a part-time CTA bus driver who, incidentally, wear navy blue uniform pants.
"He said, 'Well, you have to dress up more. You should have worn a suit.' I said, well, you guys should have told us, should have told me to wear a suit," Lopez said.
CTA executives say that a sign at the job fair instructed applicants "dress to impress." The public agency would not provide anyone on camera to discuss it and there is no written policy.
By phone and email a CTA spokesperson says appearance and attire as one of many factors in the evaluation of potential hires; three applicants per week are sent home for not wearing "appropriate attire" to interviews.
But officials declined to define "appropriate." They claim anyone turned away for underdressing is given a second chance, and that Lopez would have been allowed back until he "became irate and slammed his hand on the desk."
"Were you belligerent?" Goudie asked Lopez. "I kept my calm. I never raised my voice. I spoke to the man four times and told him that I was in shock and reminded him that it wasn't personal, that I wasn't mad at him but that I was astounded at the turn of events."
CTA officials say they have interviewed 900 people to be part time bus drivers the past few months and hired 191.
John Lopez is still looking for work.
STATEMENT FROM CHICAGO TRANSIT AUTHORITY:
"Approximately 900 applicants have been interviewed thus far. Like any other business and organization, the CTA considers appearance and attire as one of the many factors in the evaluation of potential hires. CTA employees are expected to act professionally at all times and address situations fairly and patiently. This is especially important for workers like bus drivers who interact directly with the public every day.
This was not an issue of an individual's attire, it was an issue of their behavior. Inappropriate attire for an interview does not disqualify an applicant; they are afforded a second interview date typically within several days. Hiring has been occurring for nearly three months, and roughly 3 people per week are asked to come back wearing appropriate attire. Thus far, all of the applicants who are asked to return are promptly rescheduled within 3-5 business days. This particular incident is the only time an applicant refused to return after being offered the opportunity to reschedule and return with appropriate attire."
CTA BUS DRIVER
Primary duties and Responsibilities (Source: CTA iRecruitment)
Drives bus and announces stops along routes.
Announces cross streets and intersecting transit stops.
Inspects passes; ascertains appropriate fares.
Ensures that customers deposit only appropriate coins and bills into fare-box.
Issues and receives transfer cards (collects invalid transfer cards) and receives and returns fare-cards.
Contacts Control Center regarding all problems.
Operates lift to board and discharge disabled passengers.
Inspects vehicle for lost articles.
Prepares daily trip sheets and bus for service.
Removes refuse and prepares bus for pull-out.
Tallies various categories of boarding passengers by manually operating a recording device.
Enters tally numbers from recording device at beginning and end of run.
Performs other duties as assigned.
CTA BUS DRIVER
Education and Experience Requirements
Required to submit to and pass drug and alcohol testing as mandated by the Federal Transportation Administration.
Required to be at least 21 years of age.
Required to have an acceptable driving record and a valid State of Illinois Class "B" Commercial Driver's License (CDL) or a valid State of Illinois CDL permit with the following three endorsements: KNOWLEDGE, PASSENGER and AIR BRAKES.
Must possess a High School diploma or GED equivalent.
Possess customer service experience or skills to provide outstanding customer service to passengers.
Must possess a comprehensive knowledge of the rules, regulations and procedures relative to the operation of surface vehicles.
Must possess a comprehensive knowledge of pertinent state and municipal traffic laws.
Must possess the skills necessary to accurately read and interpret bus schedules.
Must possess a thorough knowledge of the fare structure, transfer regulations and the rules and procedures governing Bus Operators.
Required to possess a knowledge of arithmetic.
Required to speak in a clear and accurate manner.
Must possess a thorough knowledge of the preparation and usage of applicable transportation forms.