Union protests T privatizing

Workers blast Baker and board for refusing to discuss alternatives

HUNDREDS OF ORANGE-CLAD MBTA union workers and supporters crammed the Fiscal and Management Control Board meeting Monday to loudly — and, in some cases, profanely – protest the administration’s efforts to privatize agency services.

“We think it is time we make our voice heard,” said Carmen’s Union President James O’Brien. “For months, we have attempted to present the facts and explain why privatization is wrong for the MBTA. Each one of these jobs represents a person and a family… The MBTA needs to invest in itself, not a private company.”

Lou Antonellis, president of the IBEW Local 103, was blunt in pointing the finger at Gov. Charlie Baker for the board’s decision to bid out the use of third parties for money counting, custodial services, and warehouse operations.

“We are being squeezed out of the middle class by a governor who, quite frankly, doesn’t give a shit about any of us,” Antonellis said. “It’s getting harder and harder every day to make it. We don’t need your foot on our throats.”

The issue was not even on the board’s agenda but it overshadowed the rest of the meeting as speaker after speaker stepped to the podium to lambast privatization efforts. The protests were spurred by a report from the board earlier this month that indicated there would be an increased focus on outsourcing services in an effort to continue to save money and cut the agency’s reliance on taxpayer funds.

Board vice chairman Steve Poftak insisted privatization would only occur when the members are convinced it’s “in the best interest” of riders. He countered union claims that prior privatization contracts were failures because they were not adequately drawn and the vendors not sufficiently vetted.

“This board has sought to be deliberative, and in some corners over-cautious, in applying the waiver, and for good reason,” Poftak said. ““We have an obligation to analyze potential saving opportunities in these areas.”

Interestingly, while most of the ire was directed at Baker and his appointees on the board as well as Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack, no one blamed the Democratic-controlled Legislature, which last year granted the T a three-year waiver from the so-called Pacheco Law which makes it hard for state agencies to contract out services without proof of savings.

State Sen. Thomas McGee, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee of Transportation, issued a statement through the Massachusetts Democratic Party supporting the union protest and laying the blame squarely at the feet of Baker.

“Governor Baker’s push for privatization does little more than ensure that working men and women would lose jobs,” said McGee, who is stepping down as party chairman over what many perceive as his lukewarm condemnations of Baker. “The Legislature gave the administration the tools to work with the MBTA, but unfortunately Governor Baker only wants to use what should be a last resort as his first option.”

Meet the Author

Jack Sullivan

Senior Investigative Reporter, CommonWealth

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

About Jack Sullivan

Jack Sullivan is a veteran of the Boston newspaper scene for nearly three decades. Prior to joining CommonWealth, he was editorial page editor of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, a part of the GateHouse Media chain. Prior to that he was news editor at another GateHouse paper, The Enterprise of Brockton, and also was city edition editor at the Ledger. Jack was an investigative and enterprise reporter and executive city editor at the Boston Herald and a reporter at The Boston Globe.

He has reported stories such as the federal investigation into the Teamsters, the workings of the Yawkey Trust and sale of the Red Sox, organized crime, the church sex abuse scandal and the September 11 terrorist attacks. He has covered the State House, state and local politics, K-16 education, courts, crime, and general assignment.

Jack received the New England Press Association award for investigative reporting for a series on unused properties owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and shared the association's award for business for his reporting on the sale of the Boston Red Sox. As the Ledger editorial page editor, he won second place in 2007 for editorial writing from the Inland Press Association, the nation's oldest national journalism association of nearly 900 newspapers as members.

At CommonWealth, Jack and editor Bruce Mohl won first place for In-Depth Reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors for a look at special education funding in Massachusetts. The same organization also awarded first place to a unique collaboration between WFXT-TV (FOX25) and CommonWealth for a series of stories on the Boston Redevelopment Authority and city employees getting affordable housing units, written by Jack and Bruce.

A Boston native, Jack has lived in Massachusetts all his life. He was a major in English and history with a minor in political science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. A father and grandfather, he lives in Plymouth with his wife, Susan.

Former Inspector General Gregory Sullivan, now research director at the Pioneer Institute, repeated his group’s support for privatizing services, citing data that shows the T is an outlier compared to much of the rest of the country. Sullivan offered data he said shows between 1991 and 2013, there were 559 million more trips by private operators versus a drop of more than 130 million trips by public transportation providers.

“This is an accepted business practice in the transit industry,” Sullivan told the board.