Governor Maura Healey on Monday vowed to crack down on senior MBTA managers who live hundreds or even thousands of miles away from the transit system they oversee, calling it “outrageous” that some leaders are working remotely in a time of crisis.
“You will see quick action on our team’s part in response to this,” Healey told reporters at the State House. “It is incredibly upsetting to me that people in senior management, not only don’t they live in Massachusetts, but are working remotely.”
Healey’s comments came on a day of harsh reaction to a Boston Globe report that several key MBTA managers have primary residences that are more than 100 miles from the nearest T station, with some owning homes as far away as Chicago and Florida.
“We’ve got . . . men and women out there who are working hard every day out in the field,” Healey said. “But management’s gotta be in the building. Not just in the building, but on the tracks, in the facilities, in the garages.”
Healey said her office has already taken action against T managers who live out of state, apparently referring to a warning given to four managers last week that they need to work in Boston at least three days a week or find another job.
“There was a change in policy last week, as you know,” Healey said. “And there will be more changes in policy.”
Brian Kane, executive director of the MBTA advisory board, said the agency should require all senior managers to live in one of the 176 cities and towns the T services. He said the troubled agency has too many problems to be run by executives working remotely.
“I don’t think the taxpayers of Massachusetts are well-served by someone living 1,000 miles away from the nearest T station,” he said.
The T has allowed employees to work remotely since the pandemic — with permission of their supervisor — and there is no indication that the managers whose homes are far from T headquarters violated any policy. But critics say the agency’s remote policy is much too permissive at a time when the T faces daunting problems from unsafe tracks to slow service to serious accidents.
James “Jay” Neider oversaw the T’s massive modernization program largely from remote locations, sometimes attending meetings on Zoom with golfers in the background as he sat on the veranda of his Delaware home. As chief of capital projects, Neider made $275,000 a year.
Neider was fired without explanation in March, but there were at least four other managers under him who were working remotely as well. Last week, the T, at the direction of Healey’s office, told all four that they need to work three days a week in Boston.
Two of the four who were told to work in Boston more frequently are Neider’s chief of staff, Karli Del Rossi, who owns a house in Bonita Springs, Fla., and Neider’s deputy, Charles Thorn, who has a home in Maywood, N.J., public records show.
A third senior manager ordered to work regularly in Boston is Maysoon Tawfik, chief of capital programs strategy and innovations, who owns a house in New York, according to public records. In an interview, she said it wouldn’t be a problem to work regularly in Boston since she has relatives in the area and can stay with them.
The identity of the fourth manager couldn’t be determined.
Aside from managers in the capital program, the T’s top safety official, Ronald Ester, also has a primary residence far from Boston. Ester owns a house near Chicago, where his wife works and where he is registered to vote. Ester owns a home in Massachusetts, too, but employees say he is frequently out of town.
Other transportation leaders Monday called for immediate changes in the remote work policy.
Kane, of the MBTA advisory board, said T managers should not only commute from time to time on the T, but they should regularly be visiting construction and project sites.
“No one is suggesting the T is doing these projects quickly,” said Kane, who previously worked at the MBTA for a decade. “The fact that these folks are in (other states), it’s unacceptable. They need to be here.”
Kane said he regularly took the Green Line while working in operations at the MBTA and would often call dispatch to report an issue as small as a light bulb being out. Actually experiencing the system, he said, is crucial for its executives.
“I hope the senior managers of McDonald’s are eating McDonald’s every so often,” he said. “I assume they are.”
Brendan Crighton, Senate chair of the Legislature’s joint Transportation Committee, also said it was unacceptable for top managers in safety or operations to have home bases that are hundreds of miles away.
“There are certain jobs that are suitable for hybrid or remote work, but these aren’t those jobs,” the Lynn Democrat said. “During the pandemic, I understand different work schedules needed to be negotiated. But we’ve had derailment after derailment and labor shortages that have led to service reductions.
“I don’t know how anybody could complete these particular jobs remotely. It would have a negative impact on fellow employees in terms of morale, and to a ridership that has completely lost trust, this is a new slap in the face.”
William Straus, House chair of the Transportation Committee, echoed Crighton’s comments. The revelations about MBTA managers living out of state, he said, “prove the point that fixing the T requires not only a new general manager (done), but a directly engaged team of people committed to improving work culture and policies at the T.”
Phillip Eng, who took over as MBTA general manager last week, has already said he will review the T’s remote work policy. Thomas Glynn, the new chair of the MBTA’s board of directors, agreed, saying that pandemic era rules may no longer be appropriate.
“It’s hard to go back and remember the early days when people didn’t know what COVID was about,” he said. “Did the pendulum swing too far in that direction?”
James Rooney, who served as the MBTA’s acting general manager in the early 1990s, praised Healey for pledging to make quick changes.
“The need for action speaks for itself,” Rooney said. “This is an early moment for the new administration to demonstrate that it’s a new day and not business as usual.”
Asked by the Globe Monday if Patrick Lavin, her newly named chief safety officer at MassDOT, will live in Massachusetts, Healey laughed.
”Of course,” she said.