T notes: Machinists hit deplorable conditions

‘Revolutionary' Red and Orange Line commitment

THE HEAD of the MBTA’s machinists local said on Monday that the union is living up to the promises it made as part of a labor contract signed in 2018 but the T is failing to address the deplorable conditions at its maintenance facilities.

Michael Vartabedian, business agent for Local 264 of the International Association of Machinists, said he was astounded to learn last week that the T was thinking of hiring private companies to perform maintenance on 60 newly ordered buses. The contract between the machinists and the T guaranteed the union it would continue to perform maintenance work on the existing bus fleet, but allowed the T to hire private contractors for any expansion of the fleet.

Vartabedian said the T’s decision to explore privatization was a slap in the face to existing union workers, who have succeeded in improving bus performance (he said one performance indicator, miles between breakdowns, has increased) despite having to work in conditions he called deplorable.

Vartabedian said employees have had to work with no air conditioning in the summer and no heat in the winter. He said some maintenance facilities have metal plates covering holes in the floor that become slick when water and fuel mix. Other facilities have sitting water on the floor even though electrical wires snake through the facility. And he said jacks are often used to hold up floors in the maintenance garages rather than buses.

He said the T promised to spend $25 million a year starting in 2018 to upgrade maintenance facilities, but $24 million in the first year went instead for a sea wall outside the Charlestown maintenance facility.

Despite the conditions, Vartabedian said, his union members have made significant improvements on bus maintenance. “We’ve done our part but we don’t think the MBTA has done its part,” Vartabedian said. “I’m looking for the T to have faith in its workforce.”

Joseph Aiello, the chairman of the Fiscal and Management Control Board, said the panel has asked T staff for an update on the maintenance work and facilities.

‘Revolutionary’ commitment to future service

 The chairman of the Fiscal and Management Control Board said on Monday that the transit authority is making a “revolutionary” commitment to not just upgrade the Red and Orange Lines over the next few years but guarantee that they will continue to meet high service standards over the next 25 years.

The T is spending billions buying new Red and Orange Line cars and upgrading signal and power systems on the two lines. The T is also promising, starting in 2024, much higher service levels – 3 minute headways with 95 percent reliability on the Red Line and 4.5 minute headways with 96 percent reliability on the Orange Line. The T is pledging to maintain those service levels over the next 25 years.“We will be the only transit authority in the country making that commitment,” said Joseph Aiello, the control board’s chairman.

Michael Fitzgerald, chief of the Red and Orange Line transformation program, said the T will need to spend nearly $1.4 billion more between 2020 and 2025 on capital improvements to make good on the pledge. He said 124,000 feet of track on the Red Line and 76,000 feet of track on the Orange Line will need to be either replaced or overhauled. He said the cost estimate does not include additional operating expenses.

212 obtain ‘X’ licenses

The Registry of Motor Vehicles issued 212 licenses over the last month with the nonbinary sexual designation of X.

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.

Registrar Jamie Tesler told the board of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation on Monday that his agency began issuing licenses and identification cards with the X designation on November 12. He said he didn’t know if the 212 were standard license renewals or people coming in to change their existing licenses.

The Registry, after a system upgrade, allowed drivers to select from three gender designations: male, female, and non-binary, or X. Legislation authorizing the X designation failed to pass in the Legislature, held up in the House.