New MBTA bus drivers are going from among the lowest paid in the US transit industry to the highest paid.
A new four-year agreement between the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and its largest union, Carmen’s Local 589, will include a $30 starting hourly wage for bus drivers, Governor Maura Healey announced Wednesday, up from the current rate of $22.21. Healey celebrated the new contract alongside Local 589 president Jim Evers, T general manager Phillip Eng, and Secretary of Transportation Gina Fiandaca at the T’s Cabot bus yard in South Boston.
But it was not immediately clear what else is included in the new agreement. The Healey administration declined to provide a copy of the contract Wednesday. The MBTA board of directors is expected to vote on the contract on Thursday.
The new starting wage for bus drivers aims to make the T a more appealing workplace, Healey said. Other provisions will allow drivers to receive full pay if they are not working because of an assault-related injury, Evers said, and create a committee to review how to improve bathroom access along routes.
“It’s an investment in the world-class transit we need for our economy, our quality of life, and our environment,” Healey said. “Everything that we want to do with the MBTA depends on a strong and growing workforce.”
The agreement marks a new relationship between T management and the union, said Cabot shop steward Alix Gaston.
“I’ve been a bus operator for 19-plus years . . . and collectively we haven’t seen any contract close to this one,” he said.
The new $30 starting wage puts the T ahead of its peers. The next highest starting hourly wage for bus drivers at a large US transit agency is $29.49 at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in D.C. New drivers make $28.99 at the Chicago Transit Authority, $25.49 at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City, $24.26 at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, $23.21 at New Jersey Transit, and $20.14 at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority.
The planned increase comes as the T struggles to hire and retain workers, forcing service cuts and cancellations even as the agency has promised to expand bus service by 25 percent over five years. There are about 20 percent fewer scheduled bus and subway trips this summer compared with before the pandemic, according to figures provided by T spokesperson Joe Pesaturo, meaning riders are waiting far longer for transit service than they were before.
And a record number of workers left the MBTA in the fiscal year that ended on June 30, according to a presentation given during the agency’s July 13 board subcommittee meeting. Despite hiring more people than in prior years, the T was only able to add around 200 employees net because of attrition. The agency is still more than 200 bus drivers short of its staffing goal, according to the presentation, a year and a half after launching an “aggressive” hiring campaign.
To boost hiring and limit attrition, the T has been offering hiring bonuses, training for the commercial driver’s license, and tuition reimbursement. Earlier this year, the agency began offering full-time employment to new bus drivers who previously had to start as part-timers, bringing the agency in line with large transit agencies.
The contract will include longevity incentives for existing workers, Healey said, and will result in an 18 percent wage increase over the life of the agreement, the most significant pay increase for the agency’s frontline workers since the 1990s.
Evers, the union president, called the contract a “game changer for our public transit system” and called Eng “a great partner.”
“This won’t be an overnight success, but we have that winning formula,” Evers said.
Eng declined to say when the T will be able to restore prepandemic service.
“This will help us further,” he said. “The team is ready and looking at new schedules and anticipating hires. When we have that ready, we’ll share that.”