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Protesters slam MBTA plan to cut janitors

Service Employees International Union members marched on Boylston Street in support of T janitors who could lose jobs.

John Blanding/Globe Staff

Service Employees International Union members marched on Boylston Street in support of T janitors who could lose jobs.

For the second time in less than a week, union workers crowded around the state transportation building Saturday, protesting an MBTA cleaning contract that could cause up to 90 janitors to lose their jobs cleaning train stations.

“What they’re trying to do is to make people do more work with fewer people,” said City Councilor Tito Jackson to the crowd of marchers that gathered on Boston Common. He was accompanied by City Councilor Josh Zakim, as well as state representatives Marjorie Decker and Aaron Michlewitz. “We will not lose jobs . . . We will tell the MBTA to turn that bus around and make the right decision.”

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Last Wednesday, dozens of protesters arrived at a Department of Transportation board meeting to air their grievances, but security guards kept most outside because, they maintained, no more seats were available. The group spent an hour outside on the sidewalk, chanting at the third-floor window where the meeting was held.

This time, Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ had numbers in their favor — at least 500 members and outside supporters from around the region — as well as the backing of a handful of political leaders who joined in their march through the Theater District and vowed to aid in the fight to protect the janitors’ jobs.

Last summer, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority signed a contract with two cleaning companies, ABM Industries and SJ Services, that allowed the companies to cut the total number of janitorial workers by as much as 29 percent on Sept. 1, 2014 — 90 employees — as long as the quality of service stayed the same.

Pressure has increased on the T to prevent those staff cuts. Earlier this month, 52 members of the state Legislature signed a letter to Transportation Secretary Richard A. Davey, calling on him to “take all necessary steps to stop this change.” The Boston City Council has planned a hearing for June 30 at City Hall on the issue.

MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said the agency is shifting toward performance-based contracts, which ensure that the cash-strapped transit agency gets the best deal on services.

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Routine inspections will be conducted, Pesaturo said, and if the cleaning contractors don’t perform adequately in the months after staff cuts, the T may step in and demand that the contractor rehire employees.

He maintained that the new contract could be good for workers: If the contractor surpasses standards, it could receive bonus payments — and that money must be shared with employees.

“The MBTA last year adopted this innovative approach in order to provide a cleaner and safer environment for employees and customers, while improving the training and job satisfaction of cleaning employees,” Pesaturo said.

On Saturday, members of SEIU 32BJ marched through the streets around the state’s transportation building, chanting slogans, tooting horns, stepping in time with a brass band, and holding signs that read “MBTA — Don’t Make a Mess” and “Keep our T Safe & Clean.”

They said they intend to protest at every train station in the T system on July 1, when MBTA fares will increase by 5 percent. Customers should know that they will be paying more for inadequate service, protesters said.

“You know how hard the work is,” said union member Cecilio Rodriguez, who has worked 13 years cleaning the Blue Line. “I have to clean the worst of the worst.”

The workers are also lobbying on behalf of a youth pass, which would provide all residents age 21 and under with an unlimited transit pass for $10 per month.

Rich Rogers, executive secretary-treasurer of the Greater Boston Labor Council, criticized MBTA officials for allowing the layoffs just one year after a statewide 3-cent hike in the gas tax was intended to preserve the quality of T service.

“Am I missing something?” Rogers said. “A year later, we’re talking about laying off workers — it’s an absolute betrayal.”

Martine Powers can be reached at martine.powers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.

Correction: The SEIU local that was involved in the protest was misidentified in an earlier version of this article.

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