Months into a pitched battle over its efforts to hire private contractors to repair buses, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority on Friday reached a tentative deal with its mechanics’ union on a new collective bargaining agreement.
But both parties refused to discuss details of the agreement, and it is unclear how it will affect the agency’s proposal to outsource maintenance at up to three garages that service buses.
In a joint statement, the T and the union — the International Association of Machinists Local 264 — said they “have reached a tentative agreement on the general terms that will constitute a new multi-year collective bargaining contract.”
“Both parties have agreed not to discuss specific terms that remain under discussion until a final agreement is reached and subsequently ratified by the members of IAM Local 264,” the statement continued.
Officials at the T and union either did not respond to requests for comment or refused to discuss details Friday morning.
In an effort to save millions in labor costs, the Baker administration put the maintenance work at three garages out to bid last summer. The proposal, officials said, could lead to a 20 percent reduction in bus maintenance employees at the T.
The machinists responded with a widespread campaign using many local, state, and federal politicians to fight the outsourcing and keep the work in union hands. The union also recently claimed that only one company — Ohio-based First Transit — had bid for the outsourcing work, an assertion the T did not confirm or deny.
In January, Attorney General Maura Healey wrote a letter to the MBTA general manager, Luis Ramirez, warning of the state’s previous experience with First Transit. The company had won a contract with the T but abandoned it shortly before it began.
First Transit has repeatedly declined comment on the maintenance contract bid and did not immediately return a call Friday.
Although it’s unclear whether the bus work will be outsourced, the T has previously used the threat of outsourcing to win concessions from its union workers. In 2016, the agency struck a new deal with the Carmen’s Union Local 589 that canceled a planned raise and cut costs, saving an average of about $20 million a year. In exchange, the T pledged to protect most union jobs, winning the right to outsource only some remote functions.
The agency historically had limited power to hire private contractors for work typically done by agency employees. But in 2015, Baker won a three-year reprieve from those outsourcing restrictions. And although the T has outsourced certain jobs since then, including money-counting operations and warehouse management, officials have also celebrated the Carmen’s contract as a success, saying the reprieve gave the agency more bargaining power.
“It is my personal, clear belief that without outsourcing on the table, we wouldn’t have reached this agreement,” Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said when the deal was signed.
But the Carmen’s Union represents thousands of T employees, giving way for more significant savings, compared to a few hundred bus mechanics. The bus maintenance work has been among the largest functions considered for outsourcing during the three-year window, which expires in July.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated which month a reprieve from a state contracting law expires at the MBTA.