MBTA privatization comes with tradeoffs

Workers at Brink’s earn far less than T counterparts

MORE THAN 20 state, federal, and Boston lawmakers rallied with MBTA union leaders at Faneuil Hall on Wednesday to protest privatization, with several officials lamenting the transit agency’s decision to shift work to companies that offer their employees lower benefits and wages.

Under a legislative-approved exemption from state law making it easier to privatize services, the T is closing down its in-house, cash collection and money-counting operation and turning the work over to Brink’s Inc. of Richmond, Virginia. Brian Shortsleeve, the chief administrator and acting general manager of the T, said the move will save the agency about $5.4 million a year and yield better service. T workers in the money room will lose their positions but all of them will be allowed to take jobs driving buses.

The Brink’s website says its employees receive health care benefits and can participate in a 401 K retirement plan, but it appears pay and benefits are nowhere near the level of the T. Workers in the money room at the T are paid $35.86 an hour and also receive significant health and pension benefits. In April last year, a group of Brink’s employees in Chicago walked off the job for a day to rally with other workers for wages of $15 an hour.  The Brink’s workers said their starting wage was $13.25 an hour. The workers also complained about the lack of overtime pay, a wage freeze, and poor working conditions. Brink’s officials did not return a phone call.

US Rep. Stephen Lynch (right) with MBTA Carmen's Union President James O'Brien.

US Rep. Stephen Lynch (right) with MBTA Carmen’s Union President James O’Brien.

US Rep. Stephen Lynch said at the Faneuil Hall rally that privatization is happening across the country, and the common denominator is low wages and nonexistent pensions. “That’s the engine of inequality,” he said.

James O’Brien, the president of the MBTA Carmen’s Union who was arrested last week at a privatization protest, condemned the loss of union jobs. “This is an attack on wages and working families,” he said. “It’s a systematic beat-down of the middle class,” added state Sen. John Keenan of Quincy.

Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton said it’s unlikely the Brink’s contract would have passed muster if the state law restricting privatization had remained in effect. He urged his legislative colleagues to return to session to halt further T privatization efforts. Sen. Thomas McGee of Lynn, the cochair of the Legislature’s Transportation Committee and the head of the state Democratic Party, said he would also support returning to session to address the issue, but he acknowledged that was unlikely.

t-privatization-protest-3

T officials in recent weeks have indicated they plan to review all of the agency’s operations with an eye toward privatization where it makes sense. Pacheco said the recent announcements by T officials run counter to what Gov. Charlie Baker said when he pushed for a three-year exemption from the law restricting privatization.

At a legislative hearing in May 2015, Baker said he wanted to fix the T. “I do not want to privatize. I do not want to slash services. I do not want to lay off hundreds of T employees. I do not want to drive people off the T by making services unaffordable. What I do want to do is give the people of Massachusetts and those who pay for the T and those who ride it a reliable, predictable, affordable public transportation system.”

Meet the Author

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.

T spokesman Joe Pesaturo issued a statement on Wednesday saying the agency anticipates a robust discussion over the coming months as the T explores more privatization. “The Legislature provided the T with the tools it needs to bring reform to the agency, and we’d be remiss in our responsibilities to taxpayers if we didn’t explore the use of those tools,” he said.

Rep. Paul Mark of Peru, which is in western Massachusetts well outside the T service area, said he came to the Faneuil Hall rally because he’s been a union member since he was 16. “This matters,” he said. “This matters everywhere in the state.”