Transit Ambassadors complain about working conditions

Cite stabbing of colleague, raise possibility of forming union

SOME OF THE MBTA’S Transit Ambassadors, the people in the red shirts who assist passengers at train stations, are not that thrilled with their working conditions and rumbling about forming a union.

The roughly 200 ambassadors work for a third-party company called MyDatt Services of Nashville, which serves as a hiring agency for the T, which trains the workers. 

Several of the ambassadors, who asked not to be identified, tentatively stepped forward after the MBTA’s board of directors raised concerns last month about a new $102 million contract on which MyDatt was the lone bidder.

The ambassadors complained about their working conditions – being on their feet all day, dealing with a ridership that sometimes can be threatening, and getting paid $19 to $20 an hour with limited benefits.

“We need more. We put ourselves out there on a daily basis,” said one of the ambassadors.

“We’re on our feet all day long,” said another ambassador, who added that he is allowed to take two 15-minute breaks and 30 minutes for lunch. 

Safety appears to be a major concern. One of the ambassadors said he regularly deals with drunks and homeless people who sometimes can be aggressive. Another said he has talked 10 people out of committing suicide.

The ambassadors said one of their colleagues was stabbed in November 2020 by a transit rider at Copley Station in the Back Bay. They said the worker was let go after the incident for straying from his post. 

The workers said they have been talking among themselves about forming a union, but the idea appears to be in its infancy. 

The Transit Ambassador program was launched in 2017 and the initial contract with MyDatt Services is set to expire at the end of this month. T officials said they notified more than 200 vendors that the agency was looking to sign a new five-year contract and expand to 30 more locations. Only two companies showed any interest, and MyDatt was the only company to submit a bid.  

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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.

Members of the MBTA board at their meeting last month raised concerns about the size of the contract and the lack of interest from bidders. They asked for more information on worker benefits. 

Steven Poftak, the general manager of the T, said he did not want the agency to be saddled with hiring the ambassadors, rather than contracting for their services, at a time when its human resources staff is struggling to hire workers in key operational and safety positions. 

“The notion of internally standing up another function would be very difficult for the T to do at the current time and would be dilutive of those efforts,” he said.