MBTA Operators Call Out Twice for Every 20 Days They’re Supposed to Be Working

Absenteeism is down, but still high.

Despite an apparent downtick in the “unscheduled absences” plaguing the MBTA’s performance, bus drivers and rail operators still call out two days for every 20 they’re supposed to be working, according to new agency data.

This unscheduled absenteeism rate—that is, time off that isn’t vacation, holidays, personal days, or parental leave—is down from 13 percent in fiscal year 2015 to around 10 percent in FY 2017, according to the T.

“That still means that in a month in which an operator is scheduled for 20 days of work, they’re missing on average two of the 20 days—which is equivalent to missing every other Friday,” MBTA chief administrator Brian Shortsleeve told the Herald Sunday.

The MBTA’s Fiscal Management and Control Board changed its attendance policy late last year, much to the chagrin of the Boston Carmen’s Union, which represents more than 4,000 T employees. Under the new policy, T employees must use paid vacation and earned sick time before getting unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

“For months, since the first absentee report was released, we have said that poor policies and a lack of sufficient management were significant causes of high absentee numbers,” Carmen’s Union president James O’Brien said Saturday in a statement. “We have always agreed that these issues need to be addressed in order to improve service for our riders. The original data put forward by the MBTA was later proven false, it was nothing more than an effort to paint employees in a negative light.”

The MBTA has been curiously tight-lipped with its raw absenteeism data, with Steve Koczela, president of the MassINC Polling Group engaged in a long, bitter pursuit of the numbers.