T, bus repair union negotiating again

Lang, of oversight board, working both sides

MBTA OFFICIALS AND THE UNION representing workers at three bus maintenance garages facing privatization have entered into serious negotiations, with a member of the T’s oversight board working to bring both sides together.

The T and the union, which had barely talked for months, have met three times in the last two weeks and are preparing to meet again this week, according to Michael Vartabedian, the business agent for Local 264 of the International Association of Machinists.

“That is a big change,” Vartabedian acknowledged.

Indeed, the machinists union and its many political backers have repeatedly condemned the MBTA for refusing to meet with Local 264 to discuss the union’s proposal to save the T money without resorting to privatization. The union claims its proposal would save the T $29 million a year, well above the $21 million the T says it needs. T officials, however, say the union proposal is not worth anywhere near $29 million.

US Rep. Michael Capuano said at a rally in Jamaica Plain on Aug. 23 that the T should talk face-to-face with the union. “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.”

While Vartabedian said the two sides are now talking, he insisted there has been no progress on the key issues, with the T refusing to take privatization of the three garages off the table and the union continuing to push for job security for its members.

Brian Lang, the head of a food and service workers union who serves on the Fiscal and Management Control Board, said he has been working to bring the two sides together. “Just trying to get the administration officials who are in charge of [the negotiations] and the union to find some common ground,” he said. Asked for his prognosis, he said: “I’ve always seen light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s just getting the two other parties to see what I see.”

Even as the two sides negotiate their differences in private, in public they are continuing to seek leverage wherever they can. Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack said until some resolution is achieved all options will remain on the table. “There is a numerical budget savings that needs to be achieved through some combination of collective bargaining, unilateral management actions, and, potentially, using private vendors,” she said. “All three of those are going to stay on the table until we have a strategy for meeting the budget.”

The union, meanwhile, announced on Monday that it is launching an advertising campaign this week on TV, radio, newspapers, and billboards that will target Gov. Charlie Baker and his efforts to privatize the bus maintenance garages in Lynn, Quincy, and Jamaica Plain. At a rally on Monday outside the state Transportation Building, union officials carried signs saying “Stop Baker’s scheme.” Their Beacon Hill political allies accused Baker of pursuing privatization for political purposes.

Rep. Marjorie Decker of Cambridge said Baker doesn’t want to negotiate with the union because his privatization initiatives are all about burnishing his image with conservatives. “What does Massachusetts gain when you steal the security of middle class jobs?” she asked. “It helps nobody except these private companies.”

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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.

Privatization is on the table because the Legislature went along with a Baker proposal to give the MBTA a three-year waiver from a law requiring public agencies to justify their privatization initiatives and win approval from the state auditor.

Sen. Marc Pacheco of Taunton, the lead sponsor of the law requiring justification for any privatization, made clear he opposes the privatization of state jobs. “This is about ideology, my friends,” Pacheco said. “This is a battle – for working employees, and not just for public employees.”