Q/A with Jimmy O’Brien, President of the Boston Carmen’s Union

carmens-union-local-589In December 2016, the Carmen’s Union Local 589 and the MBTA came to agreement on an unprecedented contract that protects the jobs of the 4,100 Carmen’s members, while identifying essential cost savings for the MBTA. The agreement came after months of public disagreements prompted by the MBTA’s plans to begin privatizing the work of the Carmen’s Union and fellow MBTA unions.  Both Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s State of the City and Governor Charlie Baker’s State of the Commonwealth applauded the Carmen’s Union Local 589 and the MBTA for coming together to reach an agreement.

A lot has been made of the recent deal struck between the Carmen’s Union and the MBTA. You still had two years left on its contract, why did you open it to negotiations?

The MBTA needed to identify cost savings, and we wanted to be a part of the solution. With raised fares, riders had done their part and we knew it was our responsibility to do our part, too. We proposed an initial cost savings plan in June 2016, and after months of conversation that led to formal negotiations, we were able to reach an agreement that provides the MBTA with cost savings it needs, while protecting the work of our members– which was our highest priority.

We all know that the MBTA is in need of investment. The buses, subway trains, trolleys, and tracks are in need of repair and replacement but the MBTA can’t make the necessary investments without also identifying cost savings. For us, it was vitally important that we protect the livelihoods of our 4,100 members. Our members take a tremendous amount of pride in their work. Our members go to work each day to help the T’s riders get where they need to go. The knowledge and expertise they bring to the MBTA is unparalleled. We knew that privatization, while devastating for our members, would be equally devastating to the operations of the MBTA.

What do MBTA riders need to know about Local 589?

The Boston Carmen’s Union represents the men and women who drive and maintain the MBTA buses, subway trains, trolleys, and tracks. We are committed to our work, and we come to work every day, committed to putting riders first.

Our workers share riders’ frustration and anger when the system breaks down. The winter of 2015 was terrible for all of us, we try our hardest to keep things moving every day, but we can’t cure infrastructure failures and the malfunctions of a 100-year-old system that suffers from a lack of investment.

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about our members. People should know that the average shift of a Carmen’s Union member is 10-12 hours a day, often while getting paid for 8 hours of work. Whether it is a weekday, weekend or holiday — there is always a member of the Carmen’s Union hard at work.

What’s next for the Carmen’s Union and the MBTA?

This was a great win for both sides, but the real winners are our riders. We hope that with this cost savings, we will see a concerted effort from MBTA leadership to invest in the tracks, the signals, and equipment. It’s what the system needs.

With this contract, we have shown that you can identify cost savings without privatization of jobs, and we hope that is something the MBTA will take into consideration going forward.

I don’t know what else is next, but I hope it isn’t a lot of snow.

About the Boston Carmen’s Union Local 589
Founded in 1912, the Boston Carmen’s Union Local 589 is the largest of 28 unions with members employed by the MBTA. Over 4,100 MBTA employees are members of the Carmen’s Union, including: Bus Divers, Train (Subway) and Trolley Operators, Maintenance of Way and Repairmen, Money Room Employees, and Automated Fare Collection (AFC) Technicians, Customer Service Agents (CSA), Dispatchers, and Clerks. Local 589 is part of the Amalgamated Transit Union, comprised of over 197,000 transit workers across the United States and Canada.