The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is on track for a $25 million deficit for the 2013 fiscal year, despite receiving a financial bailout in 2012, implementing fare hikes and increasing taxes, due to an arbitration award for a MBTA employees union, according to various news reports last week.
Michael Verseckes, spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, said the award would cost the MBTA between $62 million and $88 million.
“The wage award will increase salaries by 10.4 percent over the term of the contract, an increase which exceeds the more modest wage pattern that had been established by the majority of other MBTA unions,” he said. “As a result, the top base rate for a bus operator would be approximately $70,000, not including overtime pay.”
Sarah Kerr Garraty arbitrated the award for Boston Carmen’s Union Local 589, the MBTA employees union that represents bus drivers, subway operators and maintenance workers. The award gives union members retroactive raises of $10,000 to $14,000 per worker.
Boston Carmen’s Union officials declined to comment.
The MBTA filed a complaint against the arbitrator’s decision on Sept. 26, stating Garraty did not consider the costs when coming to her decision.
“The basis of the T’s appeal is that the arbitrator did not give due consideration to the MBTA’s financial ability to meet these additional costs,” Verseckes said.
This is not the first time the MBTA has run into financial troubles. In 2012, the Mass. Legislature helped the MBTA close its deficit by approving a bailout.
Joe Pesaturo, spokesman for the MBTA, said to fund the award to Local 589, the MBTA may have to draw money from its deficiency fund. Additionally, fares, which were raised in 2012 by an average of 23 percent, would need to be raised again.
“In accordance with the Transportation Finance Law enacted this year, the MBTA plans to raise fares by a rate of 5 percent on July 1, 2014,” he said.
Despite the projected $25 million deficit, Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick announced on Dec. 3 that the MBTA will run a late-night transit service as part of a $20 million pilot program. To finance the program, Pesaturo said the MBTA would use private sponsors, revenue from fares collected from late-night customers and state funds.
Christine Rossell, professor of political science at Boston University, said she is opposed to the union’s award.
“In a recession, it’s really stupid to start paying civil servants more money than they already make,” she said. “They already make more money than the average worker. There will be no extended hours, which is the option that is being considered right now. I think MBTA employees are paid a good salary. We live in a greedy world.”
Rossell said she disagrees with the idea of bailing out the MBTA because staff layoffs would be a more feasible option to balance the budget.
“You ought to just start firing people and paying them less,” she said. “There are important things that government could do — subsidized childcare from birth, preschool. Honestly, how skilled do you have to be to run an MBTA train? Somebody has got to start representing the public.”
Several residents said they had mixed feelings about the $25 million deficit.
Matt Augustine, 33, of Boston, said the MBTA made the right decision to appeal the award.
“From a business standpoint, it [MBTA] has to make money to keep going,” he said. “They are $25 million short, they have to fight it in any way they can. I believe it’s the right decision.”
Sherry Green, 25, of Dorchester, said she supports union members for their hard work.
“It is not so much as they are trying to save customers’ money, but I feel like they are trying to save money for themselves and have bigger paychecks and stuff to take home,” she said. “These people work on the holidays, they work late at night, they drive in dangerous weather sometimes to serve the community … [they] should get paid more.”
Karen Eaton, 47, of Brighton, said she saw both sides to the argument.
“I don’t want the prices to go up, but that’s the only negative thing I can think of,” she said. “It would be hard to make ends meet if the prices go up again. [But] the union represents individual working families and I want everyone to have enough to live on.”
The Suffolk Superior Court will hear arguments on Dec. 16.