After nearly two years of struggle and uncertainty, members of IAM Local 264 have succeeded in the fight against privatizing their jobs at the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA or T).
“A huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders, as I’m sure off everyone’s shoulders,” said Local 264 bus mechanic Megan Yaqoubi. “We don’t have to start over. It’s just a huge relief.”
Thanks to an extensive effort by the local’s leadership, solidarity with other unions, community activism and key political support, the 12-year MBTA employee has a new contract protecting her job and nearly 450 of her fellow T Brothers and Sisters. But the journey was by no means easy.
“This was a tremendous team effort and I don’t use the term ‘team’ lightly,” said IAM District 15 Assistant Directing Business Representative and former T mechanic Mike Vartabedian. “This started with Local 264 members and their families standing together from the beginning.”
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker moved to privatize MBTA bus maintenance garages in Lynn, Quincy and Boston after pledging not to do so during his campaign. For-profit companies were then allowed to sneak into T garages late at night, long after workers had gone home, to survey the properties they would be bidding on.
In a good-faith move, the union came up with a restructuring plan to save the state $29 million while still keeping the jobs public. Management was not responsive to the IAM and announced that it would move forward with plans to contract out the work.
“They started to really put the screws to us in pushing the privatization agenda,” said Local 264 bus mechanic Nathanel DuBois. “If this job went away, I would have to get a non-union lower-paying job. Our son is 6 months old now. My wife was pregnant with him when all this was going on.”
It was a stinging slap in the face to the hundreds of diesel mechanics and other skilled workers who have the best record in the country for miles between bus breakdowns. The ranking is even more impressive considering state politicians have repeatedly failed to reinvest in maintenance infrastructure for Boston-area bus garages.
“It would have been hard. I’d have to look at what the private company was offering us. Most likely, it would be a lot less pay,” said Yaqoubi. “I’d be working more hours to make up the difference. I’d see my son even less than I do now. He wouldn’t be doing swim class and soccer or whatever else he hopes to be doing.”
The threat of job losses, as well as public safety concerns, prompted the creation of Invest Now MA (Massachusetts), a coalition dedicated to ensuring continued investments in the state’s public transit. Invest Now is comprised of T riders, workers, community groups, businesses, non-profit groups and elected leaders in the state and in Washington, DC. Among the union’s supporters were Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano, U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III and U.S. Sen. Ed Markey.
“They [the mechanics] welcome being compared to New York, Chicago and Los Angeles,” said Markey at a rally in August 2017.
“They do the best job that machinists can do in providing public transportation for its citizens and they are willing to go to the table to negotiate. But the MBTA has said they will not negotiate.”
These hard-working men and women, who offered a proven and unmatched safety record, were not going to give up. The lives and careers they built were not going to end up in the hands of private bidders who didn’t know them or their jobs.
A media campaign focused on the value these skilled union workers bring to Boston. Eye-catching billboards were posted. Social media, television and radio spots were aired. With a nearly 100-year relationship with Boston’s public transit, the union put real workers’ faces and voices front and center. Their livelihoods would not be “bid away.”
“They were in every media area and opportunity that existed,” said IAM Eastern Territory Special Representative Craig Hughes. “We even had an ad in the short-lived Red Sox playoff stretch.”
As a result, public support grew stronger. It became clear that management was misleading citizens and riders of the T about its privatization plans.
“We had great turnouts at the rallies,” said Local 264 mechanic Joel Fairhurst. “All of our members, plus other unions that were backing us had great turnouts, too.
“Having a union is very important. But having the right leadership is even more important. Without our great leadership, I don’t think it would have happened.”
“We believed in our strategy and the strength of our members and local leadership,” said IAM Local 264 President Jim Mastandrea. “From the great Local 264, to District 15 and all the way to the International, we had the support system we needed to fight and win.”
Negotiators hashed out a new four-year contract that not only protects current bus maintenance jobs it also guarantees to maintain the current fleet of 955 buses on which IAM mechanics will work. If the MBTA pursues the option to contract out any new expansion garages, they will hire from the pool of highly-skilled union members. Any new garages will have to comply with the same maintenance and safety standards as the current garages.
“It’s about our jobs. We had to put things aside to save them,” said Yaqoubi. “We definitely are family.”
Leadership and resources of the IAM International, Local 264, its members and their families all pulled together.
“You have your regular family, your home family, then you have your work family. Eventually those two come together,” said DuBois. “They become your Brother and Sister. It’s as simple as that.”
There’s a longstanding connection between job, family and the union in this working-class community.
“My father worked at the T for 23 years and I never wanted for anything,” said Fairhurst. “My parents provided me with everything I needed, and this job allows me to do the same for my children and my family. My brother actually works in the same garage as me, and my sister-in-law. So I would have no hesitations if my daughters wanted to follow in my footsteps. To allow them to do that, I’d be proud.”
The significance of this story transcends IAM Local 264, the city of Boston and its citizens. Attempts to justify the privatization of public sector jobs are becoming all too common across the country. Theirs is a perfect example of what can be achieved with the solidarity of working people, their union and their community against seemingly insurmountable odds.
“From the community groups, riders and all those that would have been hurt by this privatizing effort, the message was perfectly clear,” said Mastandrea. “Public transportation is not for sale.”
“For 406 mechanics to go up against the state and the governor and to win,” said Fairhurst. “It was huge.”
VIDEO: This is What Solidarity Looks Like
When the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) looked to privatize the bus maintenance group who has the nation’s best record for miles between breakdowns, there’s no way they could have imagined the response they would get. Thanks to support from MBTA riders, politicians, other unions and the entire community, IAM Local 264 was able to thwart the privatization efforts and secure the jobs of the nearly 450 members and their families. Watch the video and hear from the people who lived through the two-year battle for their jobs.