Despite high scores, T may replace private cleaning vendor

Agency backs janitors in push for full-time employees

MBTA OFFICIALS ON MONDAY said they may replace one of their private cleaning contractors as part of a  selection process that requires would-be vendors to, wherever possible, maximize the use of full-time employees.

The decision is a victory of sorts for the unionized janitors who work for the two firms. They have alleged that the T had a responsibility to intervene because the contractors had slashed worker hours and failed to provide adequate supplies and safety equipment for them to do their jobs.

The T currently retains two companies – ABM and S.J. Services – to clean its stations and platforms. When the contracts with the two companies were originally signed in 2013, the companies were supposed to comply with agreed-upon performance standards at a cost of $36.5 million over three years. T officials say the two companies were instead paid a total of $53 million because payments were made based on employee levels.

When current T management exercised a two-year extension of the contract, officials insisted on the original performance-based terms. Union officials said the companies responded by laying off many workers and reducing the hours of others to a level at which they were no longer eligible for health insurance benefits. The janitors also complained that the companies failed to provide proper equipment.

Erik Stoothoff, the T’s deputy chief operating officer, reported to the Fiscal and Management Control Board in December that ABM had laid off 19 of its 100-plus employees and reduced the hours of six other full-time workers. S.J. Services laid off two workers, but reduced the hours of 51 employees to below the qualifying level for benefits.

At Monday’s board meeting, Stoothoff said the T had doubled the number of cleanliness inspections at stations in the wake of the contract extensions and found the two firms scored 97.1 out of a possible 100 points between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31 in 2016. S.J. Services, however, had three failed inspections in December at the Downtown Crossing, State Street, and Aquarium stations.

Stoothoff also investigated other union complaints, discounting some and verifying others. He said all cleaning workers operating within stations are certified on safety rules. He also said any work done in the train pits was done with T flaggers present. Stoothoff said some S.J. Services employees who were clearing snow outside stations were wearing improper vests and using shovels in poor condition. He said S.J. Services corrected both problems by obtaining the correct vests and purchasing 100 shovels.

John Englander, the T’s legal counsel, told the board that five contractors already prequalified to do cleaning work for the state have been asked to essentially bid on the work currently being done by S.J. Services. Englander said the request for response document mirrors the existing performance-based contract but includes language stating that “while an effective cost structure is critical, the MBTA desires a staffing model that, whenever possible, maximizes the use of full-time employment.”

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

Englander said the responses are due Feb. 22.

David Shea, president of S.J. Services, told the board he was amenable to working out any problems with both the union and T management. He insisted vests were provided to every worker and cleaning supplies fully available. He said he has already restored 10 full-time positions.