T notes: Migraines prompt 40% of FMLA leaves

20,000 at UMass Lowell can ride commuter rail for free

ROUGHLY TWO-FIFTHS of the 1,850 MBTA employees eligible for intermittent leaves under the Family and Medical Leave Act suffer from migraines, according to Bonnie Haase, the assistant general manager for human resources.

At a meeting on Monday of the T’s Fiscal and Management Control Board, Haase outlined the steps her office is taking to curb employee absences under the Family and Medical Leave Act. She said approved leaves under the Family and Medical Leave Act had fallen during the last three quarters of fiscal 2018, dropping from 822 in the second quarter (October through December 2017) to 664 in the fourth quarter (April to June 2018). Over the course of the fiscal year, however, the average number of workers approved for FMLA leaves was 1,819, with the number hitting 1,850 in the fourth quarter.

Haase said the two most common ailments workers give for applying for FMLA leaves were migraines and asthma, with migraines accounting for roughly 40 percent of the leaves. Haase said workers who drive and repair buses receive the most FMLA leaves.

Monica Tibbits-Nutt, a member of the control board, wanted to know whether Haase and her staff were reaching out to workers to learn about their working conditions and whether those conditions might be contributing to the leaves. Tibbits-Nutt said her experience is that many bus drivers are not provided time to leave their bus for bathroom breaks.

MBTA General Manager Luis Ramirez said it’s not just bus workers who have difficulty getting time for bathroom breaks, but subway drivers as well. Haase said she and Ramirez are scheduled to meet with drivers soon to discuss their working conditions.

More time for commuter rail collision-avoidance system

MBTA officials said on Monday they expect federal regulators to grant them an extension until the end of 2020 to complete the construction of a $459 million system to avoid collisions on the commuter rail network.

The mood at the meeting of the Fiscal and Management Control Board was one of relief, as the federally mandated project had encountered lots of problems and officials had been nervous that they wouldn’t meet the benchmarks needed to earn an extension.

Three years ago the MBTA was one of 12 major transit systems nationwide deemed at risk of not meeting the deadline. A year ago the control board reacted angrily to reports that the prime contractor on the project, Ansaldo STS of Italy, was having quality assurance problems.

“This was the biggest financial and operational risk that I saw in the organization when I got here, this project not doing well,” said Luis Ramirez, the general manager of the T.

But all was well on Monday, as officials from Ansaldo and other contractors were on hand to celebrate completing the work needed to gain an extension.

UMass Lowell, T strike commuter rail deal

UMass Lowell and the MBTA have launched a pilot program allowing the school’s 20,000 students and employees ride the commuter rail into Boston for free.

T officials said the program launched September 17 and 3,000 members of the UMass Lowell community signed up in the first week. The program makes it easy for students and faculty to commute into Boston for jobs and internships and avoid bringing cars to campus.

Officials did not disclose the financial terms of the arrangement, but UMass Lowell is reportedly paying a per-rider fee.

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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.

Joanne Yestramski, UMass Lowell’s senior vice chancellor for finance, operations, and strategic planning, said she took the commuter rail to Boston for the Fiscal and Management Control Board meeting and planned to take it back in the afternoon. She estimated the free service saved her close to $70 about between driving and parking.

“This is a huge savings for us,” she said.