Testimony of Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Steven Tolman, As Prepared for Delivery
Regarding H. 3347: An Act for a Reliable, Sustainable Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority
Hearing of the Joint Committee on Transportation
Monday May 11, 2015 in Gardner Auditorium
Thank you Chairman McGee, Chairman Straus and members of the Committee for the opportunity to testify this afternoon. For the record, my name is Steven Tolman and I am privileged to serve as the President of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. I am here today to speak on behalf of the 400,000 working families in Massachusetts that we represent – many of whom rely on the MBTA to get to work every day, and many of whom work incredibly hard at the MBTA and take great pride in keeping our public transportation system running.
The legislation being heard today, H. 3347: An Act for a Reliable, Sustainable Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, and the recommendations from the Special Panel report on which the legislation was based, properly diagnose some of the management problems and infrastructure needs that absolutely need to be addressed at the MBTA. However, the policy solutions in this legislation focus far too heavily on changes that would negatively impact workers at the T but do nothing to improve service to the public. The men and women who make up the MBTA’s workforce want to deliver the best possible service to the public, and are dedicated to making the nation’s oldest public transportation system its best public transportation system. This legislation, however, falls far short of giving them the tools needed to do the job, and instead puts them front and center as the source of the T’s woes by attacking their rights to collectively bargain for fair wages and benefits.
Section 20 of H.3347 seeks to eliminate the system of binding arbitration by giving a newly created fiscal management control board veto power over an arbitrator’s decision. Binding arbitration is a tenet of collective bargaining that balances the interests of both labor and management. The decision of an arbitrator is designed to be final – giving neither party the incentive to invoke the arbitration process until other options have been exhausted. To give one side – in this case management – the power to override an arbitrator’s decision disrupts that balance and incentivizes management to delay the bargaining process and drag it out through arbitration, knowing that they hold a trump card if they do not get their desired result.
This incentive for management to delay and drag out negotiations is further sweetened by another provision in Section 19 of this legislation; the elimination of retroactive awards. Retroactive pay adds nothing to the value of a contract – it simply makes workers whole following a protracted negotiation, and must be negotiated through the collective bargaining process. If this legislation is passed in its current form, it does not take a lot of imagination to envision a situation in which management will delay negotiations to their best ability, enter into arbitration, reject an arbitrator’s decision, and repeat the process – leaving workers with no possibility of a retroactive award to account for intentional delays in bargaining. To take away this established part of the bargaining process gives management the opportunity to save on the overall value of a contract by refusing to bargain in good faith.
H.3347 also provides the MBTA with an exemption from the Taxpayer Protection Act, otherwise known as the Pacheco Law, which ensures that taxpayer money is not wasted on private companies that profit off of public services by slashing workers’ wages and benefits, running up administrative costs, and cutting service – hurting both workers and the general public. There is a reason this law was passed in 1993 and it is as necessary today as it was on the day it was passed. It bears noting that the Taxpayer Protection Act has not stopped many of the services at the MBTA from being outsourced. Look no further than the commuter rail, which represents one of the largest private contracts in the nation. The law hasn’t prevented privatization; it has simply done what its name implies — protect taxpayers from bad deals while allowing privatization to move forward when it is proven to be in the public interest.
One must simply look at other cities that have privatized portions of their public transit service to see why the Taxpayer Protection Act is desperately needed. The Government Accountability Office surveyed 463 transit agencies around the country and found that the biggest factor in cost savings from privatization is through lower wages and benefits for employees. We don’t need a race to the bottom at the MBTA. We should be investing in our public transit system rather than squeezing the workers who make it run.
And I would be remiss if I did not mention the blatant disregard for workers that contributed to the bloated absenteeism statistics that went into the MBTA panel’s report. Rather than give an accurate picture of what is happening at the T, the panel attempted to create the biggest number and biggest headline possible in a “gotcha” attempt to make workers look like the real problem. It didn’t take long for Commonwealth Magazine to dig into the numbers and show that the real number of unscheduled absences is less than half of what the report cited.
We can’t have an honest discussion about how to improve our public transportation system if the first inclination is always to blame workers and attack their right to collectively bargain for quality wages and benefits. A real discussion about improving the MBTA should focus on increased investment to improve aging equipment and infrastructure, and a recognition of the hard work of the workers at the MBTA – particularly during this year’s historic winter.