MBTA urged to reconsider scheduled cuts to station janitors

Workers who clean MBTA stations are urging the T to reconsider a cost-saving plan that calls for reducing the number of subcontracted janitors by nearly one-third and cutting about one quarter of the total hours they spend cleaning.

The janitors say the proposed cuts coupled with the public transit system’s newly-implemented late-night weekend service will lead to dirtier stations and overtaxed cleaning staff.

“If implemented, this is going to be a mess for the MBTA,” said Eugenio H. Villasante, a spokesman for 32BJ Service Employees International Union District 615, the union that represents the T’s contracted cleaners. “There’s already a lot of work for the workers who are cleaning. They’re already overworked.”

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But T officials said that riders should not expect to see stations become dirtier.

The T has deals with two contractors, ABM Industries Inc. and S.J. Services Inc., to clean its stations, and those companies “have pledged that they can provide equal or better service at reduced staffing levels,” MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo said.

And, the transit agency “reserves the right to require that contractors make changes to their staffing schedules or cleaning plans if the MBTA, in its sole discretion, determines that such changes are necessary to achieve performance standards at no additional cost to the T.”

The two cleaning companies began new contracts last fall. Both contracts – three-year deals with two one-year options – allow the cleaning companies to reduce staffing after the first anniversary of the agreements.

The T said the contracts, which cost the agency a combined $61.8 million, would allow it to save an estimated $15.1 million over five years, assuming the two option years are exercised.

But, Villasante said the deals also mean that at least 90 of the 315 contracted janitors are expected to lose their jobs after Sept. 1.

“This will not only affect nearly 100 people who will lose their jobs, but the many customers who use the stations every day,” he said.

He said about 40 janitors and their supporters plan to protest the scheduled cuts at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s board meeting Wednesday afternoon in Boston.

Villasante said there is particular concern that the new late-night service – which was announced about six months after state transportation officials agreed to the new cleaning contracts – will leave stations in unsanitary conditions.

“In an environment in which workers are routinely called upon to clean not only soil and trash, but urine, vomit and feces, this has significant quality and public health ramifications,” he said.

But, the T’s spokesman said the agency does not share the worry that late-night service will negatively impact station cleanliness.

“The contractors’ crews are working overnight now, and they will continue to do so,” said Pesaturo. “Just as they are during the day, cleaners will be in stations during the hours of extended subway service. The MBTA will closely monitor the cleaners’ work to ensure that contractual obligations are being met. If corrective measures need to be taken, the MBTA will order such action.”

He also said the T conducts regular quality inspections to monitor the contractors’ performance. The agency can penalize the companies for poor results and can force them to develop a “corrective action plan.” The T can also terminate either a portion of each contract, or the whole thing, he said.