Workers Say Cuts to T Cleaning Services Will Leave a ‘Mess’ on the MBTA

But the T claims nothing will change.

Photo by Margaret Burdge

Photo by Margaret Burdge

During the MBTA board’s monthly meeting on Wednesday, a group of janitors responsible for keeping the stations clean will tell transit officials not to “make a mess” of the T by allowing staffing levels to be mopped up.

SEIU District 615, the union that represents contracted cleaners at the MBTA, claims that “unprecedented cuts” to the number of employees picking up trash and making sure the T is in tip-top shape for riders during their commutes will have a drastic effect.

The union predicts that projected cuts will result in a reduction in staffing of 90 out of 315 janitors, or 29 percent of the current workforce. “Riders expect and deserve a clean and safe environment when they use public transit,” said Roxanna Rivera, director of 32BJ SEIU District 615. “The MBTA has a responsibility to ensure that its stations are clean and secure, but these drastic staff cuts are not the way to do it.”

Rivera said she’s not only concerned about the cleanliness of the transit stations; she’s also worried about the increased workload that will be put on the backs of cleaners who are already overworked. “Because the usage and how the public grows, the workers feel short staffed. It will be further exasperated,” she said. “We are really concerned about just how the stations are going to be maintained, as well as just the health and safety issues for the public.”

Under the terms of an agreement signed last year between two cleaning firms, ABM Industries Inc. and S.J. Services Inc., and the T, the contracted companies are allowed to make adjustments to their staffing schedules and cleaning plans beginning in the second year of the contract, which starts September 1.

Rivera said the stations that could see the most impact would be the Orange line North of Downtown Crossing, the Blue Line between Bowdoin and Wonderland, and South of Downtown Crossing along the Red Line.

The union is also worried about the impact the cuts will have now that the T has introduced late-night service options. “In an environment in which workers are routinely called upon to clean not only soil and trash, but urine, vomit and feces, this has significant quality and public health ramifications.  This outcome is clearly inconsistent with the MBTA’s stated goal of providing exceptional cleaning standards at all times,” said Eugenio Villasante, a spokesman for the union.

But despite the claims and possible changes to staffing, the MBTA said riders shouldn’t expect to see messier stations and stops, because the companies have promised to keep the same standards of cleanliness even with a smaller workforce. “The MBTA is saving an estimated $15 million because the contractors have pledged that they can provide equal or better service at reduced staffing levels,” said MBTA Spokesman Joe Pesaturo.

Additionally, Pesaturo said that if the contracted companies don’t live up to their promise to keep the stations up to par, even after cutting some employees, the T can “order them” to add additional employees at no cost to the transit agency. “The T…reserves the right to require that contractors make changes to their staffing schedules or cleaning plans if the MBTA, in its sole discretion, determines that such changes are necessary to achieve performance standards,” Pesaturo said.

The MBTA can also end a contract, or part of the contract, at any time, according to officials.

Union members first protested the new contracts and potential for cuts last June, as the T got ready to pick between a pile of new proposals. Workers from the union also staged a protest outside of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation building at the time.

But even before the T entered into an agreement with the two cleaning service companies, Pesaturo said, “one thing is certain—there will be no change in the scope of cleaning services provided.”

Rivera said with the impending cuts coming down the line in the next few months, union members would continue to push their message. “We will be putting out this message that we don’t want the MBTA to make a mess of not only the stations, but the workers and families that live in the Boston area,” Rivera said.