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Union fears T cuts will hurt cleanliness

The board of directors of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is expected to approve a package of MBTA cleaning contracts Wednesday that would cut the number of hours spent cleaning train stations, a change that union representatives say will result in overworked janitorial staff and dingy station platforms.

The contracts with two companies, ABM Industries and S.J. Services, would cut the total number of janitorial workers by 29 percent in 2014, reducing the hours of service performed at T stations across the system by 25 percent.

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T officials are hoping they can maintain the same level of cleanliness for less money. But union officials say they do not think that is possible.

In a June 6 letter to MBTA general manager Beverly A. Scott, the president of SEIU Local 615, the union that represents the affected workers, said the contracts would be disastrous for janitorial workers and would result in declining cleanliness at MBTA stations.

“The proposals include extreme and unprecedented eliminations of jobs and cuts in hours,” wrote Rocio Saenz, the union president. “The current bid would harm workers while jeopardizing the quality of the MBTA’s cleaning services.”

Joe Pesaturo, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, said a system of checks in the contract would prevent the cleaning companies from cutting corners in efforts to provide cheaper service.

“The MBTA is well aware that cleanliness and comfort are important elements of our customers’ transit experience,” Pesaturo said. “The proposed contracts are carefully structured to ensure that . . . requirements are met or exceeded.”

The three-year cleaning contracts, which have an option for a two-year extension, will cost the T $61.8 million and will be voted on by the MassDOT board at a meeting in Westfield. The same employees who currently clean MBTA stations will automatically be employed by the new companies. Once the contract is approved, staffing must stay the same for at least a year. After that, the contractor can decide to trim the janitorial staff.

The change comes as Scott faces pressure to combat the perception that the T is a bloated agency: The Pioneer Institute, a public policy research organization, is expected to release a report Wednesday asserting that the T spends twice as much money as comparable agencies on cleaning the interiors of MBTA buses.

“The T is overstaffed compared to comparable transit agencies, and its employees are overpaid,” the organization said in a statement Tuesday.

Ingrid Nava, general counsel for SEIU Local 615, said that mandate from the T — to provide the same level of service as cheaply as possible, by whatever means necessary — caused companies to race to the bottom, providing overly ambitious estimates of how much staff they could cut without sacrificing service.

Pesaturo said a series of stipulations built into the contracts would ensure that T stations are not left unkempt, including a requirement for quality inspections and financial penalties if they fail to meet cleanliness standards.

But Nava expects that some of the janitors’ current tasks will go undone and workers’ conditions will decline as they scramble to fulfill their duties in fewer hours. Union members protested the contract outside the MBTA building last week.

Martine Powers can be reached at mpowers@globe.com.
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