Capuano backs T workers, lays off Baker
Unlike union officials, congressman doesn’t target governor
US REP. MICHAEL CAPUANO lent his support on Wednesday to MBTA bus maintenance workers who are fighting efforts to privatize some of their jobs, but the congressman didn’t join union officials in attacking Gov. Charlie Baker.
At a rally at the MBTA’s Arborway garage in Jamaica Plain, union workers held signs saying “Charlie Baker is hurting families” and “I want a governor who cares about my family.” Michael Vartabedian, the business agent for Local 264 of the machinists union, has said repeatedly that the privatization initiative is coming directly out of the governor’s office.
But Capuano didn’t mention Baker once during his remarks. Afterward, he said he was not interested in targeting Baker because he didn’t know whether the governor was directly involved in the union negotiations and he also thought more could be accomplished with an approach that emphasized, to use the old adage, honey over vinegar.
“I’m here for the purposes of honest negotiations,” Capuano said. He said the MBTA’s Fiscal and Management Control Board has called for $21 million in annual savings from bus maintenance operations and the union has offered a plan that would save $29 million.
The MBTA said it is pursuing a hybrid approach with its bus maintenance operations – revamping operations at most of its garages while privatizing the garages in Lynn, Quincy, and Jamaica Plain. The T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board voted in April to pursue the hybrid plan, but also unanimously adopted a motion indicating the preference of the board would be to find all the savings through negotiations with the union.
Vartabedian says the T has refused to negotiate, but T officials say the union is refusing to budge on privatization. T officials say the union’s $29 million savings proposal includes a lot of initiatives management is implementing on its own. The officials say the $29 million union proposal would actually generate only $3.6 million in new, annualized savings.
Steven Poftak, the interim general manager of the T, said the authority believes it has identified $8.8 million in annual savings so far in bus maintenance, and is looking to privatization of the three garages as a way to potentially save an additional $12 million.
Capuano said the MBTA machinists are making the best of a lousy situation. “These are the oldest buses in the country,” he said, motioning to the buses coming and going from the Arborway Garage. “In order to keep the oldest buses in the country going, you need to have the best mechanics to do it. We have them. It works. The fact that they’re beating the rest of the country with the oldest fleet in the nation is stunning. It’s perfectly stunning. Now if the state wants to come up and say we’re going to spend a gazillion dollars getting a whole new fleet of buses tomorrow, maybe you don’t need the best mechanics to keep that going. “
T officials say they are modernizing the bus fleet and don’t have the oldest buses in the country. The T has taken delivery of 375 new buses since the fall of 2016, which represents more than a third of the entire bus fleet and more than half of the buses needed to provide daily peak service.Capuano said he hopes the MBTA does the right thing. “I can’t believe that before they finalize whatever road they want to travel down, that they don’t treat these people with the respect that they have earned and the respect they deserve,” he said. “Be honest with them and be open with them. That doesn’t mean that [the T has] to cave or even agree. It means these people deserve the respect that all people deserve, all unions deserve, all working people deserve.”
The MBTA issued a statement saying it plans on “continuing its ongoing dialogue with Local 264.” The T said it has replaced more than one-third of the T’s bus fleet and is exploring ways to reshape bus maintenance to attain additional savings. The T also noted that the state’s regional transit authorities and the Boston public school system use private contractors to deliver all their services.