Add the monthlong Orange Line shutdown to the long list of woes Boston-area employers and front-line workers have faced recently.
From COVID closing businesses and keeping customers away to mask mandates, labor shortages, supply chain interruptions, and skyrocketing inflation, the obstacles have been relentless. The MBTA service interruption — stretching from Malden to Jamaica Plain starting Aug. 19, just as schools reopen and office workers are expected to return in greater numbers — is yet another bump in what has been an extremely rocky road toward recovery.
The T will run shuttle buses along the route during the closure, but the time this adds to workers’ commutes could have a significant impact.
Security guard Ryan Akerley, 42, takes the Orange Line from Oak Grove to Downtown Crossing five nights a week to his job at the Plymouth Rock Building near South Station. He’s endured shuttle buses in the past and estimates his commute will take an additional two hours round trip.
“My job, there’s no coming in a little late‚” he said. “Somebody’s waiting for me so he can get home.”
Akerley, who was once stuck at work for 32 hours when the T shut down during a snowstorm, is part of the bargaining committee negotiating a contract for 32BJ SEIU’s 2,800 security guards in the Boston area. On those days, he takes the Orange Line to the union office downtown to push for better pay and benefits on behalf of his colleagues, who he notes have increasingly long commutes as they’re pushed farther out of the city by rising housing costs.
“We’re the ones who have to put up with the disruptions. We’re the ones who have to show up every single day,” he said. “You just grin and bear it, whatever it takes. You don’t have any options.”
At the Boston public affairs firm Benchmark Strategies near City Hall, workers who usually rely on the Orange Line will be able to work remotely or expense taxi or Uber rides during the shutdown. The company is also looking into additional bike storage and shower access.
“If people are anxious about how they’re getting to work in the morning, they’re not going to be doing their best work,” said Benchmark president Patrick Bench.
But many workers will be navigating the shutdown on their own.
Jiezhen Li, a 52-year-old home care worker who takes the Orange Line from Assembly Row in Somerville to serve elderly clients in Chinatown, fears her commute will be less predictable when she has to take the shuttle bus. Li doesn’t speak English, nor does her husband, who once spent three hours going in circles because he didn’t understand the announcement to get off the train and take a shuttle.
“If something happens and I have to change routes, that would be very nerve-wracking for me,” she said through an interpreter.
In Malden, many residents commute into Boston on the Orange Line, said Kevin Duffy, the city’s business development officer, and local business owners rely on the T to get their employees to Malden. Without the convenience of the “natural resource” that is the Orange Line, he said, “You’re really in for a trek. . . . What do you say to your boss? ‘I’m going to be late?’ Or what do you say to your kids? ‘I’m leaving the house before you’re even out of bed?’ ”
Malden has been trying to get people back to its downtown with festivals, pub crawls, and a gaming district that features escape rooms, quests, and mini golf with lasers and projections. Many participants come on the Orange Line, Duffy noted: “These people aren’t pulling up in their Cadillacs.”
Three “murder mystery” pub crawls are scheduled during the shutdown period, and the first stop is Idle Hands Craft Ales. The lack of T service is problematic, said owner Chris Tkach, noting the brewery’s Sept. 10 Oktoberfest celebration is the biggest event of the year. “We encourage people to take public transportation because alcohol’s involved and we don’t want people driving,” he said.
Tkach had been anticipating the return of the after-work crowd as more people return to their offices, but worries the T shutdown could delay that once again.
Nearby, Piantedosi Baking Co. is just getting back to “somewhat normalcy” in its production of bread for restaurants and supermarkets, said co-owner Joe Piantedosi, whose Italian immigrant grandfather started the business in 1916. Like many companies, the plant has been struggling to find workers, but its proximity to the Orange Line is a selling point. At least it was.
Piantedosi supports making the T safer, but he’s concerned about his workers — including immigrants from 26 countries, many of them women — having to navigate new routes to the 24/7 operation, particularly at night. And if they arrive late, it could affect production. “This is something we really didn’t need thrown upon us,” he said.
Betsy Garcia Rivera, who just started working in the distribution department, may have to pay to take an Uber home when the Orange Line shuts down. Her shift ends at 2 p.m., and she has to be home with her three daughters in Chelsea before her husband leaves for his job at 3. Taking a shuttle from Malden to Haymarket and then catching a bus back to Chelsea, or taking three buses the whole way, would take far too long, she said.
“I’m really worried,” she said.
Northeastern University dining hall worker Xiaolan Zhou, 48, estimates her current hourlong journey from Malden could double. If she’s scheduled for a 7 a.m. shift on Sunday, when service is less frequent, it will be tough to get there on time, she said.
If she’s late to work, she gets paid less. If she’s late getting home at night, she gets less sleep.
At the other end of the Orange Line, in Jamaica Plain, Canary Square owner Michael Moxley is also worried about his employees’ ability to get to work. The restaurant is down nearly 20 workers as it is, forcing him to limit hours and close on Mondays, and without the ability to “dangle a carrot” of taking the Orange Line to work from across town, he said, hiring new people will be even more difficult.
He also worries that existing employees will show up late or quit rather than deal with the hassle of taking a shuttle, just as business starts to ramp up again.
“It’s been a really long 2½ years,” Moxley said. “One hit after another.”
Catherine Carlock of the Globe staff contributed to this report.