Transportation

See What the MBTA Thinks about Our Story about Workers Not Wearing Masks

We asked T workers why they weren't wearing masks, and the answers didn't make anyone happy.


Photo by Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Several weeks ago, I wrote an account of my experience asking several MBTA workers why they weren’t wearing required masks on the job. Afterward, I was interested in learning what the T was doing to remedy the problem. I could have simply asked, but instead I decided to take a different tack. You see, as a public entity, the MBTA is subject to the Massachusetts Public Records Law, which makes most state and municipal records available for public scrutiny by anyone. So I filed a request with the T for copies of internal communications related to my story.

What turned up offers an interesting behind-the-scenes look at the response to my article. To start with, the article circulated all the way up to the top: Gov. Charlie Baker’s Secretary of Transportation, Stephanie Pollack, who was clearly not happy with the piece, which recounted a series of surly responses from T workers.

Citing the article, Pollack wrote an email to MBTA general manager Steven Poftak and his deputy, Jeffrey Gonneville, CCing the T’s chief of staff, David Abdoo, stating, “As you know, your employees expect us to make sure that customers wear masks. The flip side of that is that the customers expect the employees to wear masks.”

Pollack continues: “As I’m sure you do, I find the behavior of the T employees—not just the absence of masks but what they said about it—deeply disturbing. . . .The behavior documented in the article is unacceptable. Period.”

In her email to the two T honchos, Pollack also took a whack at the agency’s long-standing director of communications, Joe Pesaturo, for how he responded when I contacted him for the story. At the time, Pesaturo told me the T had issued oral or written warnings to employees who had broken the rule, and offered to look into specific incidents.

Pollack was less than pleased with this response. “The other thing that struck me about reading the article is that the MBTA’s position as articulated by Joe P. was lame,” she wrote to Poftak and his deputy. “Shouldn’t we be telling our customers that we take mask wearing seriously and are committed to ensuring their safety while they are on transit? That message was not conveyed in this article.”

In response, Abdoo, the T chief of staff and current Lawrence city councilor, wrote, “Agreed, no argument. Next week, we will be prepared to meet and discuss our current efforts, and our redoubling of efforts going forward . . . . We will do better.”

I was pleased to see that at least one person at the T took a liking to my story. The very last line of the original piece was a quote of the snarkiest response I received: a T worker at Kenmore station who replied, “Go fuck yourself, Mister!” In reference to that profane reply, Danny Levy, the T’s chief customer officer, said in an email to Todd Johnson, the T’s chief operating officer, “I love the last line. 🙂”