Metro

MBTA makes peace with bus mechanics union

The MBTA and union bus mechanics agreed to a new four-year contract.
Brian Feulner for the Boston Globe/File 2012
The MBTA and union bus mechanics agreed to a new four-year contract.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and its unionized bus mechanics ended a long labor fight Monday, when the T’s governing board approved a new contract with the workers that eliminated plans to privatize some of their jobs.

The new four-year contract with Machinists Union Local 264 will save the agency $60 million over 10 years, and $250 million over the next 25 years, the T said, by restructuring the mechanics’ job classifications and pay, changing overtime rules, and establishing new work rules meant to boost productivity.

In exchange, the T is tabling a plan to outsource work at up to three bus garages — which would have saved the agency millions of dollars but cost the mechanics about 20 percent of their jobs.

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“It took us a long time to get to this, but I think the process was very productive,” MBTA general manager Luis Ramirez said. “It’s an agreement that quite frankly allows us to work in partnership now, together, as we look at ways to continue to improve service.”

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The board voted unanimously to approve the deal and directed Ramirez to end any plans to outsource the work.

“It’s a win-win,” said Michael Vartabedian, the union’s business agent. “For the riders, they keep the quality of the mechanics, number one in the nation. There are savings for taxpayers, and job security for our members. . . . And it provides the T the means to make their budget.”

The T also gained some flexibility from the contract to outsource maintenance of any future expansion of the bus fleet, which currently includes more than 950 buses. The T may increase the bus fleet in the coming years as it rethinks its routes and service plans.

However, the agency will need to hold contractors to the T’s internal standards if it wants to provide that work in the future, Vartabedian said.

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Historically, the T had limited power to hire private contractors for work typically done by public employees. But in 2015, the Baker administration won a three-year reprieve from the outsourcing restrictions of the so-called Pacheco Law. The waiver expires in July.

Brian Shortsleeve, a board member and former general manager at the T, said Monday that the agency could not have won savings through the contract negotiations without the leverage to outsource the work.

MBTA officials have now twice used the threat of outsourcing to win concessions from workers. In 2016, the agency struck a new deal with the Carmen’s Union Local 589 that canceled a planned raise and cut other costs to save an average of about $20 million a year. The T pledged to protect most of the Carmen’s Union’s jobs and explore outsourcing of only some remote functions or future service expansions.

While the T has outsourced some functions using the three-year reprieve, such as cash counting and warehouse management, it has celebrated the savings from the Carmen’s agreement as the largest financial benefit of the reprieve from the Pacheco Law.

The d’etente Monday marked the end of a long, public dispute as the T sought to save money on bus maintenance.

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The union had mounted a fierce counterattack to the T’s plan, enlisting several high-profile Massachusetts politicians to also oppose the outsourcing. Workers were also sharply critical of First Transit, a company that was interested in running the outsourced garages, and Attorney General Maura Healey wrote the T to warn that the company had previously reneged on a separate contract with the agency and later paid millions to settle fraud complaints.

But the tensions suddenly thawed as the agency and union in January announced they had negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement.

The announcement was significant enough that the mechanics dropped plans to picket Governor Charlie Baker’s State of the Commonwealth address the following week.

Union members ratified the new contract on Super Bowl Sunday, with officials celebrating it on social media as a “long, hard fought victory.”

Adam Vaccaro can be reached at adam.vaccaro@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamtvaccaro.