BOSTON >> MBTA janitors and their supporters protested planned layoffs Thursday, occupying the lobby and hallway outside Gov. Charlie Baker's office and filling the State House with the sound of chanting and singing on an otherwise quiet August day.
"Everybody's for running a system efficiently, but we don't believe letting the MBTA stations be trashed is anything related to efficiency," said Eugenio Villasante, a spokesman for the union representing the roughly 300 T janitors, SEIU 32BJ. He said, "Who in Boston thinks the T stations are super clean? Most riders would say we need more and not less cleaners."
Propped up by an influx of state budget dollars, the transit agency has been struggling to close a more than $100 million structural deficit this year, while also whittling down a backlog of needed repairs pegged to cost more than $7 billion.
Baker was outside the office Thursday traveling in the western part of the state where he celebrated a milestone toward the completion of a Springfield facility where 284 new subway cars for the Red and Orange lines will be assembled.
Villasante said contractual changes set to go into effect will result in 76 jobs being eliminated, and another roughly 16 to 20 workers would be rehired part-time, upending the lives of employees making $18 per hour.
Marlene Lopez, a 35-year-old who moved from El Salvador 12 years ago and now raises a 7-year-old son on her own in Chelsea, told reporters she works on the Red Line in Cambridge picking up trash, cleaning vomit and washing bathrooms. As Villasante translated from her native Spanish, Lopez said fewer workers means the facilities will become dirtier.
Cleaning services at the T are privatized with S.J. Services and ABM splitting the work. Under the companies' relatively new performance-based contracts that did away with minimum staffing levels, they were allowed to start reducing staff in September 2014, but the T opted to stall those layoffs at an undetermined cost at the time.
MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo told the News Service two-year extension options for the cleaning contracts agreed to by Acting General Manager Brian Shortsleeve last week will save the T a total of $8.1 million over the next two years.
Pesaturo said under the contract extension the vendors will determine staffing and the T will hold them "to the highest standards." He said the transit agency had paid $16.6 million more than what the contract required during the first three years - a decision made by the prior administration. Baker took office in 2015.
One vendor said in a letter provided by the union to an employee being laid off that a staffing reduction was unavoidable under the new contract.
"We are contractually obligated to implement a change in staffing that will result in the lay-off of multiple team members," S.J. Services wrote to the employee.
As the days have ticked down to the Sept. 1 start of the new contracts, the union has vocally protested the plight of its workers.
On Wednesday, protestors wearing cockroach costumes and union t-shirts interrupted an event outside the State House where Baker was ceremonially signing animal protection legislation.
At the bill signing, the group handed out fliers headlined, "The T needs janitors not pink slips," before marching away chanting, "We'll be back."