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.”
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.”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.