MBTA workers have been without a contract for two years. Arbitration will settle the matter soon, but could stir an angry hornets’ nest for 2010.
Perhaps because it hasn’t exploded into a public shutdown of services (as happened a few years ago in New York), arguably the most important fact about the MBTA has escaped public notice: most of its workers have been without a contract for nearly two years. That little-known tidbit is even more surprising since any plans made by the MBTA inevitably hinge upon the status of its union contracts — wages and benefits comprise more than half of the agency’s operating expenses, so any change, up or down, has a big impact on the budget.
Now, the end of the current negotiations are at hand. The Boston Carmen’s Union, whose 6000 or so members represent the bulk of the agency’s employees, recently entered into binding arbitration with the MBTA that will result in a final agreement later this spring or early summer. (Other unions representing T workers are expected to be offered, and agree to, whatever deal emerges with the Boston Carmen.)
But rather than providing stability and predictability for future planning, the final leg of the contract process may just be the beginning of an even more contentious and uncertain chapter in agency-union relations.
Because this four-year contract has taken so long to work out, it will be half over by the time it is signed. That means the two sides — at least one of which figures to be displeased with the arbitrator’s decision — will return almost immediately to the bargaining table to debate the contract that will take effect July 1, 2010.
They will do so in the looming shadow of state-government leaders, who have vowed to reduce through legislation benefits that the union has negotiated. In fact, government officials tried to do so this past month, directly butting into the arbitration process. They backed off, but are moving forward with plans that would dictate the terms of the next contract.
: News Features
, Deval Patrick, Salvatore DiMasi, U.S. Government, More