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Testimony Spurs MBTA Board To Rethink Janitorial Contract

This article is more than 3 years old.

Jorge Rivera has worked as a janitor on the MBTA for more than a decade and said he enjoys his work, but on Monday he told the board that oversees the T that he has been losing sleep over his current work conditions.

"I'm ashamed to say I'm working for the worst company ever," Rivera, who works for S.J. Services, told the T's Fiscal and Management Control Board. "They're doing stuff that they're not supposed to be doing: changing schedules, not even paying the union fees, giving us more work, they're not supplying us with supplies, not giving us uniforms. We haven't gotten our uniforms for the last four years."

Plus, Rivera said, his hours have been cut back to just 25 each week and with the reduction in hours comes a reduction in benefits.

"I love Boston, I love the people and I like to do my best work," Rivera said. "I get out and clean and make sure that T is clean and sanitized. It's not fair for them to cut my benefits away, it's not fair for them to do this to us."

Rivera was among the dozens of T janitors represented by 32BJ SEIU who attended Monday's meeting of the T control board to put a human face on the impacts of a recent contract extension for T janitors.

The T, which has long outsourced janitorial work, signed contract extensions for the vendors tasked with cleaning subway stations. The extensions kicked in on Sept. 1 and have already affected 120 workers, according to the union.

"I've been doing double work; three, four stations," Jose Farjado, a janitor who works on the MBTA, said. "We would appreciate it if you guys have the time to talk to the companies, because the companies are doing a lot of things they're not supposed to be doing."

The MBTA, which has a roughly $2 billion budget and a roughly $110 million structural deficit, said the new contract will save about $8 million over the next two years. But 32BJ SEIU, the union that represents the janitors, said more than 70 full-time positions have been eliminated, and that "many more" will lose their health care and see their hours cut.

Roxana Rivera, vice president of 32BJ SEIU, told the FMCB on Monday that 120 of the 300 janitors who work on the T have either been laid off, seen their hours slashed or watched as their hours were cut to below the threshold at which their employer would have to contribute to health insurance costs.

"What's clear for the hardworking janitors who clean the T is that the MBTA should rebid this janitorial contracts to stop the race to the bottom," Rivera said in a statement after the meeting. "A public agency like the MBTA shouldn't be in the business of lowering standards to a point where workers are pushed into public healthcare, and forced to cobble together two, three jobs to support their families."

Members of the FMCB on Monday expressed an interest in re-bidding the janitorial contracts after hearing testimony from janitors.

Brian Lang, a union president who serves as a director of the FMCB, said he was moved by the testimony and said it is "unconscionable" that one of the T's cleaning services contractors — S.J. Services and ABM — would cut a worker's hours to avoid contributing to health coverage.

"I would like to know if this is exactly what's going on and if workers are being replaced by day laborers. If that is happening, I think that we should take action," Lang said. "If those are the practices that are going on, and we should investigate it, I would say that they either have to change or I'm going to make a motion that we break those contracts and we get responsible contractors."

FMCB Chairman Joseph Aiello said he was "equally disturbed" by some of the testimony and requested that the T's procurement department "begin preparing an (Request for Proposals) for re-bid of these services and put in there some reasonable protections ... that would say to business and labor these are going to be fair contracts."

"We do want the innovation of the private sector, we don't to dictate how they should do their work," he said. "On the other hand, some of this stuff seems abusive ... but I'd like to have that drafting begin so if these contractors don't serve to the standard that director Lang just prescribed that we contemplate putting this out to bid as soon as possible."

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