The leader of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s largest union said Monday the labor group would be willing to agree to pay cuts for new workers this coming year and lower raises in the future, as part of a deal that would stop the T from privatizing a number of jobs.
As the MBTA grapples with an $80 million deficit for the 2017 fiscal year, the agency is pursuing privatization and voluntary retirement and separation packages, while considering possible future layoffs. But Carmen’s Union officials say they’re willing to agree to lower future raises and other concessions —which would add up to about $24 million over the next four years — to make sure many jobs aren’t outsourced.
James O’Brien, president of the Boston Carmen’s Union, told the agency’s fiscal control board that the union is willing to reduce new employees’ wages by 11 percent over their first four years and extend a contract to 2020 with raises of 1.5 percent per year, instead of the current 2.5 percent annual raises in effect through 2018.
“This plan we’re presenting today is evidence of the Boston Carmen’s Union doing its part to identify cost savings that will help improve the system,” O’Brien told the board.
But the T’s financial chief, Brian Shortsleeve, told reporters it was “unlikely” that officials would abandon many of their plans for privatization because of the deficit — a sign that the battles between the T and its labor unions could intensify.
The union, which represents about 4,100 transit workers, negotiated a contract through 2018. But as the agency prepares to outsource several departments to close its budget gap, the union says it is willing to negotiate a contract extension that would grant workers lower raises than they currently get and lower pay for workers who start after this month.
Under the plan proposed to the board, union officials said those changes would go into effect only if the T agreed to preserve the union’s jobs, except for those in the T’s central warehouse operation, which is a target for privatization. Under the agreement, workers there would need to be transferred to other stock room jobs throughout the agency.
The proposal could affect the agency’s future contracts with its other unions. As the agency’s largest and strongest union, the Carmen’s Union’s wage increases often set the stage for the other labor groups. Shortsleeve said he would expect other labor groups to follow the union’s lead in asking for lower raises in the future.
The agreement proposed to the board on Monday would also reduce new part-time employees’ wages by 8 percent over the first six years of service. In addition to the pay cuts, the union also proposed an agreement that would cap the annual health reimbursements to $600 per employee.
The concessions come as privatization and possible layoffs become more of a reality for workers. Last week, Shortsleeve sent out a memo about voluntary retirement and separation packages that said “any shortfall will require involuntary measures in the short term.”
On Monday, Shortsleeve said there has been an “extensive, good dialogue” with the union and he believes wage concessions are important — but he also said that they must be part of a broader discussion that would involve concessions on overtime and scheduling for workers.
“I applaud the union’s acknowledgment that wage concessions are going to be a good part” of the savings they need to make, he said.