The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s warehouse operations could be run by a private company by October, as T officials take a major step toward outsourcing a part of the agency.
MBTA officials on Thursday released a request for proposals from outside firms for the operations of its warehouse, which T executives have blasted for being inefficient and dysfunctional.
The move is already prompting fierce opposition — and a request for arbitration — from the agency’s largest labor union, whose members could lose jobs. James O’Brien, president of the Boston Carmen’s Union, pledged to appeal the move, under a federal process that — if successful — the union argues could eventually cost the T significant federal funding.
“Transit workers are being unfairly blamed for management’s failures,” he said in a statement. “The fact that MBTA leadership remains committed to moving forward with outsourcing without first addressing these problems is proof that they will seek privatization at any cost.”
The union said it has filed a request for arbitration. If an independent arbitrator does not side with the union, the labor group could start an appeal to the US Department of Labor under a federal law meant to protect the collective bargaining rights of public transit workers.
At the T, warehouse operations would be the first department to replace public workers with private ones since the Legislature lifted restrictions on outsourcing at the agency.
Governor Charlie Baker had pushed hard for lawmakers to make the T the temporary exception to a state law that put hurdles up for privatizing public services. The law is often referred to as the “Pacheco” law, after its sponsor, Senator Marc Pacheco, a Democrat from Taunton.
The T’s chief administrator, Brian Shortsleeve, called the request for proposals an “important first step” and said the T will continue to pursue privatization of several other departments, including maintenance of its fare machines, and marketing departments.
“Every one of these is an opportunity to run more efficiently and streamline operations and work with the private sector,” he said.
In its request for proposals, T officials warned bidders that the union would likely contact them to say that federal law protecting collective bargaining rights may require private companies to honor certain union agreements. But officials said in the letter that the agency disagrees with that position.
T officials earlier this month blasted the warehouse department for its dysfunction, saying it sometimes takes more than three days for spare parts to arrive after being requested by maintenance workers. The T outlined a plan that would privatize a sprawling department that employs about 38 workers for about $4.2 million annually.
The T’s chief procurement officer, Gerald Polcari, said privatizing the department could be a “game-changer” that could speed up maintenance for the T’s aging infrastructure.
But Carmen’s Union leaders have said workers should not be punished for the management failures at the T.
“Recent reports and audits have shown that insufficient oversight, a complete lack of investment, and inefficient management practices have led to the problems facing the MBTA, not the hard-working men and women who have kept the system running,” said O’Brien.
Earlier this week, O’Brien publicly laid out a plan that would have cut new workers’ pay and lowered future raises, if the T had pledged not to outsource most of the jobs it had been targeting for privatization. On Thursday, he said he was “disappointed” that management did not work with the unions on such a deal.
Who will get the new Youth Pass?
Transit advocates cheered the fiscal control board’s approval of a continued Youth Pass program, which will provide steep discounts on monthly passes to young people ages 12 to 25.
So who will actually benefit from the Youth Pass, which officials said should be in place by September?
The T doesn’t know yet — mostly because the agency still needs several cities to sign on with the program to make it work.
The T started a yearlong Youth Pass pilot with Boston, Chelsea, Malden, and Somerville to test the program. Participants had to apply for passes and retrieve them at offices in their cities — a move that shifted the bureaucratic responsibility of approving applications and giving out the passes away from the MBTA.
Many heralded the program as a success, which prompted the board to approve a continued Youth Pass program that would include low-income riders up to 25 years old. The passes would now cost $30 a month, the current price for a student pass after Friday’s fare increases.
The pass would be available to 12- to-18-year-olds not currently in school, and 19- to-25-year-olds who can prove that they receive public assistance for low-income households or are enrolled in a GED or job-training program.
But the T hasn’t yet figured out all the specifics — and thus, hasn’t asked which communities would like to opt into the program.
The T says it could offer the new Youth Pass to 17 communities: Arlington, Belmont, Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Lynn, Malden, Medford, Melrose, Milton, Newton, Quincy, Revere, Somerville, and Watertown.
“We are currently working on the eligibility and implementation detail of the full program,” wrote Laurel Paget-Seekins, the director of strategic initiatives, through an e-mail from a spokesman. “Once those are set, we will reach out to other cities to see if they want to partner with us.”
The agency said young people who participated in the Youth Pass pilot won’t go through summer without the discounts, though. Those riders will be able to get their discount passes for both July and August, before the full program rolls out in September.
Traffic website upgrades debut
On a weekend known for mind-blowingly bad traffic jams, the state transportation department has upgraded its live traffic websites to give drivers better real-time information.
The site mass511.com includes images from 350 live traffic cameras and includes information on crashes and construction sites that may slow down traffic.
You can also get e-mail updates on personalized routes.
MassDOT also upgraded its travel information website to become more user-friendly.
Highway Administrator Thomas J. Tinlin said in a statement that the initiatives show the agency’s commitment to help drivers make informed decisions about the best routes.