Special Reports

Globe Spotlight Team | Dec. 14, 1979

MBTA hiring record risks losses of $2b

MBTA trains in 1979.
Globe File/1979
MBTA trains in 1979.

Editor’s Note: This article originally ran on Dec. 14, 1979, and was the first in a series of reports that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1980.

This report was prepared by the Globe Spotlight Team which consists of editor Stephen Kurkjian, reporters Alexander B. Hawes, Jr. and Nils Bruzelius and researcher Joan Vennochi.

The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, under chairman Robert L. Foster, has dramatically decreased the number of blacks and other racial minorities hired for management and clerical jobs, a decrease that could jeopardize $2 billion in federal grants, including funds to extend the Red Line and relocate the Orange Line.

Since Foster took over as MBTA chairman last Jan. 29, only five of the 101 professional-clerical positions, ranging from director of operations to secretaries have been filled by blacks or other racial minorities. In 1978, under Foster’s predecessor, Robert R. Kiley, minorities were hired to fill 57 of the 142 similar positions.

In addition to its poor minority-hiring record, the MBTA, under Foster, has failed to meet federal standards requiring each department within the system to award a certain percentage of consultant and service contracts to minority-controlled businesses. Latest records available show that four of five departments involved have not met the percentages required under the Affirmative Action plan.


In an interview, Foster said he was unaware how many blacks he had hired while chairman. He said that his policy for hiring minorities had not changed

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from Kiley’s, but was unable to explain the decrease in minority hiring. “Obviously those numbers show there have been some change, but there’s been no change in policy,” Foster said.

While minority hiring has been on the decline at the MBTA, political patronage has been a top priority. At least 17 persons hired by Foster - mostly for management and professional jobs - either have direct ties to the election of Edward J. King as governor or to King supporters.

In his interview, Foster said a person’s political ties are not a major factor in deciding whether he is hired. However, according to an aide, during the summer Foster was receiving so much pressure from the governor’s office to place campaign workers on the MBTA payroll he grumbled, “They must think I’m running an employment agency down here.”

MBTA jobs have historically been the the most sought-after of state positions, because the salaries and related benefits are the highest of any state agency, and, for most positions little technical expertise is required.


Last September, the federal Urban Mass Transit Administration (UMTA), which monitors the MBTA’s compliance with Affirmative Action guidelines, warned Foster that federal funding on capital and operating grants, which includes funding for major construction projects, would be withheld if Foster’s performance on the hiring of minorities and minority contractors did not improve.

The MBTA was given until Nov. 15 to correct a UMTA list of deficiencies that covered four pages. In November, MBTA officials sought and received an extension until Feb. 1 to correct the deficiencies the UMTA had found.

Continued federal funding of such projects as the Red Line extensions to Braintree in the south, and Arlington Heights in the west, the relocation of the Orange Line tracks to Forest Hills, and numerous renovations of bus garages and bus stations could hinge on satisfying UMTA requirements.

In December 1977, the MBTA Board of Directors agreed to an Affirmative Action plan that called for 10 percent of all MBTA jobs to be filled by minorities, and another 10 percent by women, by January 1980.

Because of strides made by the Kiley administration, the MBTA as of August 1979 had met its agency-wide goals for the hiring of blacks, but women filled only 6 percent of the jobs throughout the system.


The Affirmative Action plan also required that in addition to the goal for the entire agency, 10 percent of the professional jobs be filled by minorities, and another 10 percent by women. Foster’s record in these areas has lagged behind the projected goals. As of last August, minorities filled 7 percent of these jobs, almost all of them having been hired under Kiley. Women also filled only 7 percent of the professional jobs, most of them having been hired during Kiley’s administration.

Based on the MBTA’s August hiring statistics, 17 minority males - and no white males - would have to be hired by Feb. 1 in order to meet the 10 percent goal in the professional category. Nineteen women would also have to be hired in the professional category to meet the 10 percent goal. In addition, no blacks or women employed in a professional position as of Sept. 1 could be terminated.

It is doubtful that Foster will meet the January 1980 minority hiring goals by Feb. 1. In the two months since the last reporting period ended, Foster has not hired a single black to fill the 13 professional jobs counted by the Affirmative Action plan for meeting the federal goals.During that same period, only two women have been hired for professional jobs.

The King administration’s overall track record on the hiring of blacks, Hispanics and women for state jobs has been the target of recent criticism from the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD).

At a press conference held this month, the MCAD charged that 20 percent fewer minorities were appointed to state government jobs during 1979, and those hired have been relegated to the lowest-paying jobs. However, the MCAD’s review was limited by its inability to gain access to all recent employment records, and it did not include any of the hirings by the MBTA, which is one of the state’s largest public agencies.

The Globe Spotlight Team did obtain a computerized breakdown of all persons employed by the MBTA as of Nov. 23, including those hired under Foster. The computer listing, which includes the names, race, job titles, salaries and dates of employment of the MBTA employees, shows:

- Two of the five minorities hired for professional positions under Foster are employed in the MBTA’s Affirmative Action office. The other three hired were a police officer, research assistant and junior inspector.

- In June, July and August, Foster filled only one of the 45 job openings with a black. The black man, hired as an MBTA patrolman, said he had applied for the job almost two years before he was hired.

- Foster’s record on the hiring of professional-level women has also been below Kiley’s. This year, under Foster, nine white women have been hired to fill the 80 management jobs, as opposed to 17 women, nine of whom were black, to 104 similar-type jobs under Kiley.

- The only job categories in which a significant number of blacks have been hired under Foster have been selected by a lottery system, over which he has virtually no control. Instituted under the Kiley administration, the lottery system required the hiring two blacks and one woman for every five positions that opened up for bus drivers, porters, guards and collectors.

When the lottery was established in 1977, approximately 32,000 persons signed up for potential hiring by the MBTA. The names of approximately 2400 of the people were randomly selected and listed according to race or sex. The persons chosen under the lottery are given a 90-day probationary period before being formally hired. Last June, when the lottery system formally expired, Foster decided to cut back on jurisdiction of the lottery system to cover only bus drivers, according to his press office.

- Insofar as consultant and service contracts are concerned, records show that under Foster only the Community Affairs department has met its percentage of awards to minority-controlled businesses.

For example, the records show that Foster’s personnel office has awarded 12.5 percent of its consultant contracts to minority businesses, but 28 percent is required. The Treasurer’s office is suppose to award one percent of its consultant contracts to minority businesses, but of the five awarded so far none has gone to a minority. In the Construction division, 10 percent of the materials and safety-related contracts were to go to minority businesses. But so far only one percent of the contracts awarded went to companies controlled by minority persons.

Informed of the Globe findings, MCAD Chairman Jane C. Edmonds said such results would warrant her agency to initiate a formal complaint of discrimination by her agency against the MBTA.

Edmonds directed her staff to take a closer look at the charts submitted to the MCAD by the state office of Affirmative Action, which collects data on the hiring of minorities by all state agencies. That closer look, Edmonds later said, showed that since March, the overall number of minorities employed by the MBTA has dropped by two percent. Foster’s hiring record appears to reverse the gains made by the Kiley administration, which increased the number of minorities employed by the MBTA by two percent during 1978, she said.

According to sources, one of Foster’s first decisions on taking office was to strip the director of the MBTA’s Affirmative Action office of the right, which was required under the Affirmative Action plan, to approve personally all potential new employees before they were officialy hired. The former director, Dr. James Corbin, said losing the “sign-off” authority eliminated his office’s effectiveness in enforcing the hiring of minorities.

Foster denies that he took the responsibility away from Corbin. However, in his letter of warning to Foster, UMTA Regional Director Peter N. Stowell cited the “sign-off” issue as a deficiency which had to be corrected.

Last October, after The Globe began making inquiries to the MBTA about its performance in hiring minorities, the “sign-off” authority was restored to the Affirmative Action office. However, under the new policy the Affirmative Action director receives the employment forms after Foster has approved the hirings and the new employee has been notified of his hiring.

Joan Kapolchuk, appointed acting director when Corbin left, admitted that Foster’s actions have weakened the Affirmative Action office’s input into overall hiring at the MBTA: “It’s too late for us to have any input at that stage. A commitment has already been made,” she said.

Foster’s below-required performance in the hiring of racial minorities has been felt in the black and Hispanic neighborhoods where the unemployment rate is the highest in the city. James Clarke, director of the Roxbury-based “Recruitment Training Program,” which is funded through the Department of Labor’s Manpower and Development Office, said he has not been contacted once by MBTA Affirmative Action administrators concerning job openings since May, when Corbin left the director’s post.

During the Kiley administration, Clarke said, his recruitment office received weekly phone calls from Corbin and his staff notifying him of upcoming job opportunities for blacks.

”The MBTA called us so much (under Kiley) I felt like we were working for them,” said Clarke. “There’s been no communication with anyone over there since Corbin left . . . We have people hanging by their teeth waiting to hear about resumes sent in and tests taken. Everything stopped completely. There’s been absolutely no follow-through.”

His comments were echoed by officials at the Hispanic Advocacy Center- Program Development on Beacon Hill, which maintains a job skills bank for Hispanics in Boston.

While minorities have been virtually ignored under Foster for professional positions at the MBTA, the relatives of a number of politically connected persons have found it a haven for better-paying jobs.

Foster told The Globe that he receives requests for jobs from “lots of legislators” and members of the governor’s staff including King himself and Transportation Secretary Barry Locke. He said while a person’s political ties are a “factor” in whether the person is hired, it is not a “major factor.” “When everything else weighs even (between two candidates vying for the same job), then it (political ties) is a factor . . . that’s life,” Foster said.

Some of those patronage-linked jobs have gone to Ann Doyle, the sister of state Rep. Charles Doyle (D-W.Roxbury), who is being paid $21,892; David B. Quinn, son of former Atty. Gen. Robert Quinn, $17,940; John B. Glynn, son of Boston Municipal Court Judge Theodore A. Glynn, $23,920; Rhonda Frattaroli, daughter of George Frattaroli, King’s former personnel director, $16,952; Edward Kennedy, a close friend of Boston Red Sox star Carl Yastrzemski, who strongly supported King’s campaign, $19,945; and Richard McGlynn, son of Deputy Secretary of State John McGlynn, who is being paid a $10 an hour consultant’s fee.

Several others who worked for King’s campaign also have been hired by Foster including Martin Burke, who is being paid $22,926; Sheryll F. Dell Isola, $17,784; James W. Sullivan, $24,432; James W. Hennigan, $29,380; Judith Craven, $23,920, and Francis X. Mallahan, $19,916.

Even the Affirmative Action director’s job became a potential political plum once Corbin left in May. In June, former Rep. Royal Bolling Sr. was seriously considered for the director’s job. His son was the first black legislator to support King’s gubernatorial campaign.

Bolling was removed from consideration for the job after a Globe story reported that he owed a total of approximately $300,000 in federal income taxes. The job was subsequently given to Alan Dobson, a Kiley holdover.