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MBTA Adopts ‘Historic’ New Labor Deal With Carmen’s Union

A crowd of people in yellow flourescent safety vests stands behind a podium where the Massachusetts Governor is speaking. To her left is a poster that outlines the new wages and benefits for newly-hired bus drivers under the terms of a new labor deal, with a $30 per hour wage in bold lettering at the top.

Governor Maura Healey speaks at the MBTA Cabot Yard to announce a new labor deal for the Boston Carmen’s Union Local 589, which represents many of the MBTA’s frontline transit workers, on August 2, 2023.

On Thursday morning, the MBTA Board of Directors authorized a new labor contract that's aimed at tackling the agency's persistent shortage of key workers with increased wages and improved benefits.

In addition to higher wages for entry-level employees, the proposed deal would also create longevity bonuses to help retain experienced workers, who have been leaving the agency at an unusually high rate over the past year.

"Today you see a demonstration that we have your back," Governor Healey told MBTA employees in a press conference announcing the deal at the MBTA's Cabot Yard maintenance facility Wednesday morning. "We'll be looking to improve working conditions as you improve the safe and effective operation of our public transportation system."

Carmen's Union Local 589 Vice President Billy Bernardino called it a "historic" labor agreement.

"It's going to be great for the working men and women at the MBTA," Bernardino told StreetsblogMASS.

As we've reported previously, the existing labor contract between the MBTA and the Boston Carmen's Union specifies unusually low wages and difficult work schedules for entry-level employees.

Those have been significant barriers to the T's efforts to hire for key roles like bus operators. Since the pandemic, the T has struggled to fill hundreds of vacant bus driver positions, which has forced cuts to bus service.

A bus driver recruitment poster. The poster is oriented vertically and features the MTBA logo in the upper left. The text reads: (in bold) Bus operators: Now Paying $30 per hour. In smaller text below: New Pay Rate for Bus Operators $30 an hour, full-time, overtime available, retirement plans/pension; Sign-On Bonus - $7,500, First $500 of bonus paid out on the first day of training; Paid Commercial Driver's License (CDL) training, $3,500-$5,200 (estimated value); Health Benefits: $28,000 (est. value), Dental Insurance, Health Insurance, Life Insurance, Long-Term Disability Insurance, Vision Insurance; Education Benefits: $10,000 tuition reimbursement; Apply online today and attend our recruitment event in September to be hired on the spot -
Increased wages and improved benefits under the T's new labor contract are designed to help attract new bus drivers.

The new contract specifies a new $30 per hour starting wage for bus drivers – about $8 more than the current wage for entry-level drivers.

"These pay scales now put us comparable to the industries that we are competing against," said MBTA General Manager Phillip Eng at Wednesday's press conference.

The proposed deal also allows more attractive work schedules for new drivers. Under previous contracts, new drivers were limited to a 30 hours of work each week for a three to six month probationary period, a rule that significantly limited their take-home pay. The new contract lets new drivers start working full-time immediately.

"I've been a bus operator for 19-plus years. And I know a few of my coworkers have been here a lot longer," said Alix Gaston, a shop steward at the Cabot bus garage. "Collectively, we haven't seen any contract close to this one."

A group of people wearing fluorescent yellow safety vests chats in a circle next to a parked MBTA bus.
Governor Healey chats with MBTA workers at the Cabot Yard maintenance facility after an announcing a new labor deal with the Boston Carmen's Union Local 589 on August 2, 2023.

Gaston credited Gov. Healey for supporting the deal and following through on a promise she made during her inauguration speech to hire 1,000 new workers for the T.

"It's refreshing to have someone in charge who stands behind their words," Gaston said.

On Thursday morning, the MBTA Board of Directors convened for a special meeting to authorize the new contract.

The new contract will take effect immediately, and its new wages and benefits will apply retroactively to July 1st (the start of the fiscal year).

This story was updated at 10 a.m. on August 3rd to report the outcome of Thursday morning's MBTA board vote.

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