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Union blasts MBTA plans to limit janitor layoffs

A proposal by the MBTA to soften the blow of planned janitor layoffs has been blasted by union officials who argue that the concessions fail to go far enough to address concerns about staff cuts scheduled to go into effect next month.

In a capitulation to janitorial workers and protesters, MBTA General Manager Beverly A. Scott said Friday the agency plans to negotiate new contracts with two private companies that provide cleaning services in T facilities, decreasing the number of layoffs each company can institute.

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Under the current contract, which went into effect last year, the companies will be allowed to cut as many as 92 jobs starting Sept. 1. On Friday, Scott said she planned to decrease the amount of allowable layoffs by a “double-digit” number.

Officials with the Service Employees International Union 32BJ — representing janitorial workers employed by outside contractors to clean T stations, garages, and offices — said the figure offered by the transportation officials in meetings this week was inadequate.

“The proposals they put on the table definitely didn’t address the concerns of our members,” said Eugenio Villasante, a union spokesman.

The battle between the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and SEIU 32BJ has ramped up in recent months. Cleaning workers have taken to increasingly high-profile protests — at public meetings, on Boston Common, and at dozens of T stations — to argue that layoffs would have a detrimental effect on cleanliness. They’ve dressed up in cockroach costumes, filmed an informational music video, and proffered the catchphrase #SmellSomethingSaySomething.

They’ve also garnered sympathy from Boston City Council and state legislators, who have urged the T to find an alternative to dramatic cuts.

Roxana Rivera, director of SEIU 32BJ, said she and other union members recently met with Governor Deval Patrick.

“We want to work towards a solution, and we put out ways in which they would have cost savings . . . but cuts wouldn’t be so draconian,” Rivera said. “At this point, we’re going to try to continue to engage with the governor.”

Before now, MBTA officials have given no public signal that they planned to backpedal on the cost-saving measure. Instead of paying for a specific number of workers or hours of labor — the standard arrangement for previous cleaning contracts — the T’s newly implemented contract provides a lump sum to the cleaning companies, along with a set of required quality benchmarks.

Scott said the T’s current plans to curtail layoffs are aimed only at those who clean T stations; there will be no changes to the planned layoffs for janitors who clean facilities closed to the public, such as garages and offices.

Scott said her agency has undergone significant staffing cuts in recent years and outside companies can’t be immune to belt-tightening. Union officials have asked for too much.

“The numbers they [SEIU 32BJ] have indicated that could potentially be acceptable to them would basically wipe out any savings,” Scott said. “That’s what we cannot agree to.”

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