Union Challenges MBTA’s New Driver Cell Phone Ban

They are threatening to take legal action to make sure it doesn't immediately go into effect.

Photo via Newton Fire Dept.

Photo via Newton Fire Dept.

The Boston Carmen’s Union, which represents MBTA employees, will seek a court order to block a new regulation implemented by the T that bans bus and train operators from carrying a phone while on duty, and leads to automatic termination if they’re caught breaking the rule.

In a joint statement posted to the union’s website Tuesday night, just days after transit officials announced the stricter penalties in regards to drivers possessing a cell phone or other electronic device, members of the union’s executive board said they were “deeply disturbed” by the MBTA management’s decision to slip the new rule into the books, turning “bargained policy on its head.”

The union representatives, who vowed to challenge the T’s phone ban, said the language in the rewritten policy incriminates operators before they can prove they’re innocent, and eliminates the process that would allow a driver to contest the accusations.

“The questions of when MBTA employees may have or use personal cell phones is a subject of negotiations under the law,” the statement said. “The Boston Carmen’s union will insist that negotiations take place prior to the new rule being enforced. The Union will ask for an arbitration or court order preventing the new rule until such time as bargaining is completed on this subject.”

Last week, the MBTA announced to employees that any bus or train operator who brings a phone or other electronic device on board when they’re operating a vehicle will be fired, regardless of the driver’s prior safety record. The ban effectively means that employees must leave their phones at depot stations when checking into work, and can’t have them in their pockets or purses, even if they’re not in use.

The new rule builds on the T’s prior regulations, which prohibit electronic devices or phones from being used while on duty, and come one month after a bus driver nearly drove off of an overpass in Newton.

Union members representing MBTA employees said they asked T officials to delay the implementation of the new ban, so that details about the rule could be discussed, but the MBTA refused to engage in conversation about the matter.

The Carmen’s Union said the T is rushing into this decision, and overstepping the legalities of an ironed out, negotiated contract. “There are times when alternative communications, like cellphones, are actually needed on the bus—on an urgent basis for everyone’s protection. To the extent that the MBTA proposes to ban them all together, this policy offers no solution to safety emergencies,” the union said. “The rights of MBTA workers should not and will not be pushed aside in a rush to address an isolated situation. Safety and the legal process should both be respected in this case.”