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Lawmakers attack privatization at the MBTA

Kevin Lewis (front, center) and other MBTA workers listened to Democratic lawmakers during a rally outside Faneuil Hall in Boston on Wednesday.
Kevin Lewis (front, center) and other MBTA workers listened to Democratic lawmakers during a rally outside Faneuil Hall in Boston on Wednesday. John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe/Globe Staff

State Senator Marc Pacheco called on lawmakers Wednesday to go back into session to prevent more outsourcing at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, a year after legislators gave the agency more latitude to privatize its services.

Governor Charlie Baker’s administration last year successfully lobbied lawmakers to suspend the so-called Pacheco law, which restricts the state government from outsourcing jobs. But in light of the MBTA’s recent move to privatize its cash collection department, Pacheco said the Legislature should reverse its stance.

“If we had enough members that wanted to sign onto a letter to request that we wanted to go back into the session before the end of the year, and straighten this out, it can be done,” said Pacheco, a sponsor of the law that limited privatization. “We need a two-thirds vote because we know it will be vetoed, but we can do it.”

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Pacheco, a Taunton Democrat, spoke at a pro-union rally at Faneuil Hall, where he was joined by a host of union leaders and Democratic lawmakers. They were flanked by giant, inflatable animals conveying pro-union messages — a “fat cat” choking a worker in a hard-hat and a menacing pig dressed in a suit.

Last week, the MBTA’s fiscal control board awarded Brink’s, a Virginia-based company, a five-year, $18.7 million contract to operate the cash collection department, a move that will save an estimated $8.6 million the first year. The department has been considered poorly run for years.

More than 70 union workers are expected to lose their jobs, although they would be offered bus driving positions.

On Wednesday, union officials and lawmakers criticized the deal. Some pointed out that Shellie Crandall, the consultant hired by the MBTA to analyze the cash collection department, had worked extensively for both Brink’s and GardaWorld, the two companies that bid for the contract.

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“Does that pass the smell test?” Steven Tolman, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, asked the crowd in a booming voice.

The crowd answered no, and cheered.

Joe Pesaturo, an MBTA spokesman, defended its outsourcing process.

“All of the rules and laws pertaining to a public bidding process were followed to the letter,” he said.

Facing a wide budget gap, the MBTA is also looking to privatize its warehousing department along with bus maintenance and driver positions.

James O’Brien, president of the Boston Carmen’s Union, which represents most of the workers in the cash collection department, described the outsourcing as an attack on families.

“This isn’t going to stop with T employees,” he said.

O’Brien and several other union leaders were arrested last week in a protest over the outsourcing.

US Representative Stephen Lynch echoed O’Brien’s comments, saying he has seen the situation play out in other cities.

“It’s not good for consumers, it’s not good for the citizens of Massachusetts, and it’s certainly not respectful to the workers of Massachusetts,” Lynch said.


Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.