LYNN — Megan Yaqoubi’s has worked at the MBTA’s Western Avenue garage for more than a decade. Even with that longevity, the mechanic has to work a second job just to make ends meet. But she said that may not be enough if a proposal to privatize her MBTA job passes.
“If Baker privatizes this job, I will have to find a third job just to keep a roof over my head,” she said.
Yaqoubi was one of more than 200 union workers picketing at MBTA maintenance facility on Monday. Picketers and speakers at the rally called on Gov. Charlie Baker to end his bid to privatize public transportation.
Wearing orange T-shirts and holding signs that read: “Tell Charlie Baker to stop waging war on the middle class,” speakers railed against the administration’s efforts to hire private companies to provide MBTA bus maintenance services.
Last month, the T requested bids to privatize bus facilities in Lynn, Quincy, and Boston.
Of the 16 public transit agencies in Massachusetts, only one, the MBTA, does not outsource its bus maintenance work. The T said it can cut the hourly worker rate by nearly 68 percent, from $56 per hour to $18 per hour, by privatizing the Lynn garage.
Through a spokesman, acting MBTA General Manager Brian Shortsleeve, declined to be interviewed. Instead, he issued a statement saying “It is the MBTA’s intent to continue to meet with Local 264, and remains open to the union’s ideas and proposals.”
Bus mechanics say they have voluntarily deferred a 2.5 percent raise scheduled for July 1 and are willing to discuss other concessions.
“We have offered $29 million in annual savings and concessions, that’s more than what the T’s Fiscal Management Control Board has asked for,” said Michael Vartabedian, area director of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. “But they refuse to negotiate with us and chose instead to gamble with rider safety and the livelihood of these hard working men and woman.”
Workers at the Lynn garage perform a number of tasks to keep the fleet running, from simple jobs like refueling, to more elaborate work like replacing brake lines and suspension systems, repairing air conditioning and faulty electrical equipment, and rebuilding engines.
“We ensure buses are safe and we take care of the riders,” Vartabedian said.
Alex Grande, a fueler at the Lynn garage who hopes to become a mechanic, said bus drivers feel safe when they leave the garage.
“Drivers tell me they won’t feel safe taking passengers in these buses if a private company comes in,” he said. “Two colleagues I work with just had kids and Charlie Baker wants to take food off the table of these brand new babies.”
Luke Kramer, a Lynn native and a bus mechanic for 10 years, said the city can’t afford to lose jobs.
“With all the new apartments and condominiums being built in Lynn and the North Shore, now is not the time to privatize a bus company,” he said. Now is the time to invest in public transportation.”
Union members were joined by U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D), state Sen. Thomas M. McGee (D-Lynn), and state Reps. Brendan Crighton (D-Lynn) and Daniel Cahill (D-Lynn).
“I am standing here today with the best mechanics in America,” Crighton said to cheers. “We will keep fighting and make sure your voices are heard.”
Cahill praised the employees for their hard work and said if privatization becomes a reality, it will result in degraded service, poorly maintained buses, and public safety issues.
“If Baker wants Fung Wah to run these buses, I won’t use them or put my kids on them either,” Cahill said. The low-cost bus company lost its federal license in 2013 because of safety violations.
McGee said he stands with the working people who make the T and the bus service the best in the country.
“The governor said he would not privatize MBTA employees and also said core services would not be impacted by privatization,” he said. “We want to make sure a real negotiation takes place and this facility continues to be a place where the machinists continue to work and provide services to the riders who depend on them every day.”
U.S. Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) said the machinists who work in Lynn are the best in the U.S.
“They welcome being compared to New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles,” he said. “These machinists are saying they do the best job that machinists can do in providing public transportation for its citizen and they are willing to go to the table to negotiate. But the MBTA has said they will not negotiate.”
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