T workers protest against possible privatization
The potential privatization of hundreds of Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority jobs wasn’t slated to be decided Monday — but dozens of union members flooded a board meeting to make their opposition clear.
As the authority’s fiscal control board pursues outsourcing jobs — including those within the warehouse, cash-collection, and bus driver and maintenance departments — to shrink a $100 million deficit, the Boston Carmen’s Union Local 589, the MBTA’s largest labor group, is loudly mobilizing against such moves.
The noisy rally that preceded Monday’s meeting — and the sea of T workers wearing matching orange shirts marked “589” — were just a prelude of what awaits the agency as the union organizes more than a dozen rallies against privatization this fall.
James O’Brien, the union’s president, said he believes that all jobs at the T are in danger and that Governor Charlie Baker and the T want to “eliminate the middle class” by slashing wages and benefits.
“The MBTA needs to invest in itself, not a private company,” O’Brien said. “Last year, Governor Baker . . . said, ‘I want to fix the T, I don’t want to privatize the T, I don’t want to slash services, I don’t want to lay off hundreds of T employees,’ but here we are.”
The T has proposed outsourcing its dysfunctional warehouse and cash collection services, which could affect more than 100 jobs.
Recently, the board said it would consider outsourcing driver and maintenance jobs, though no formal proposal has been made public.
On Monday, dozens of workers protested such moves at meetings for the state transportation board and the fiscal control board. Some held signs proclaiming “Keep Public Transportation Public,” and burst into loud applause when speakers decried outsourcing.
Steve Poftak, a board member, acknowledged a recent report that said management would be looking at outsourcing driver and maintenance jobs. “We have an obligation to analyze potential saving opportunities in those areas,” he said, reading from a prepared statement.
Brian Shortsleeve, the T’s acting general manager, downplayed any friction with the union and said seeking out savings is necessary.
“We welcome the dialogue,” he said. “Competition is a good thing.”
Managers at the T have some data on their side: Compared to other major transit agencies, the T’s most veteran bus workers — at about $36 an hour — earn some of the top wages.
Union workers, however, say privatization will lead to a decline in service and unfairly punishes employees for substandard management and poor vehicles and infrastructure.
“We are not the problem,” said Eduardo Yarde, a longtime T worker.
Craig Hughes, who represents the T’s union for bus maintenance workers, told the board that the agency appeared overly ready to privatize, even though a consultant had outlined ways to cut bus maintenance costs. (T officials did not provide a copy of the report to the Globe.)
“I’m unclear about why the potential privatization of bus maintenance has apparently become front-burner when I think there are many steps down that road that must be taken first,” he said.
The battle over MBTA outsourcing comes as the agency grapples with other crucial issues: On Monday, the T revealed that it failed to meet its own target for spending on critical infrastructure projects, despite an apparent increased focus on such projects.
During the 2015 fiscal year, the T spent about $768 million on repair projects and expansion plans, such as the Green Line extension. That number dropped to $743 million the following year.
Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said the T has completely redesigned the department that helps develop such projects to aggressively bolster spending.