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Demonstrators blast Baker on MBTA cuts

MBTA trains have derailed 50 times over the last five years

Kenneal Patterson
Demonstrators blast Baker on MBTA cuts
MBTA maintenance workers demonstrate. Kenneal Patterson photo

MBTA trains have derailed 50 times over the last five years. In that same amount of time, Gov. Charlie Baker has laid off 20% of the maintenance workers who are charged with keeping the trains on track, transit equity advocates say.

The activists gathered outside the State Transportation Building on Monday to promote the “Safe Transit Now” campaign, an initiative designed to repair the MBTA. Brian Doherty, a member of the Building & Construction Trades Council of the Metropolitan District (MetroBTC), urged the Baker administration to make the T affordable, reliable and safe.

“The MBTA is quickly becoming the most dangerous transit system in the country,” said Doherty, referencing recent reports that found Boston to be “among the nation’s worst” for derailments.

“Since [Baker] took office, the MBTA has one of the worst safety records in the nation,” said Doherty. “And now we know why. Governor Baker has slashed the workforce that maintains the tracks, maintains the stations and maintains the trains.”

The crowd of workers and riders cried out in disapproval as MBTA maintenance worker Deb Gilcoine posed a difficult question: “I’m asking you now: Would you let your children get on a train that you knew was not being properly maintained?”

Baker is not receptive to the stream of complaints from workers and advocacy groups, said Doherty.

“We’ve raised our concerns with Gov. Baker for months and he’s not listening,” he said. “He’s not listening to the front line maintenance workers who know the system, who know these jobs inside and out and who are telling us there are not enough people to get this work done safely.”

Doherty added that Baker won’t even listen to transit experts, who warn Boston officials about the derailment record’s abnormality.

The campaign also supports a cheaper fare system, as many low-income families rely on the T every day. 2019 data from the MBTA’s Fiscal Management Control Board found that there were 1.18 million MBTA trips taken on the average weekday, and over half were on the subway.

Andrea Nyameke, a member of the statewide advocacy group Neighbor to Neighbor, uses the commuter rail every day. She said that her neighbors depend daily on a reliable transit system.

“Many of our neighbors depend on public transportation to get to work, go to the doctors, go grocery shopping, see their families and so much more,” she said. “Transportation justice means affordable, reliable, safe and clean public transportation. But Gov. Baker is doing the opposite: defunding and privatizing the MBTA system.”

Maintenance worker Lendy Ware said that Baker fails to see how much Boston communities depend on the MBTA. “Right now the system is unreliable,” he said. “We’re walking through stations that are unsafe, every day. The stations are in disrepair. This is a mess.”

Ware expressed pride for his work, but he said it’s getting tougher and tougher, and Baker continues slashing jobs.

“I’m speaking out on behalf of my coworkers and my neighbors,” he said. “We are all coming together to tell Gov. Baker, ‘Enough is enough.’”

Chris Wiggins, another maintenance worker, agreed. “There needs to be serious changes in maintenance,” he said. “We need more workers and we need to demand more safety now.”

Darlene Lombos, executive secretary-treasurer of the Greater Boston Labor Council, said that Baker has been trying to privatize the MBTA since the 1990s, when he was Secretary of Health and Human Services. She said that his plan is to “carve out” the T and sell it piece by piece to profiteers. She added that Baker has contracted work with private consultants and companies, who “care more about making profits than keeping our communities safe.”

Corporate greed, she said, is compromising our safety and livelihood.

“Privatization is and always has been a blatant attack on workers, our communities, our unions that hold us together,” she said.  “And even more importantly, it’s an attack on the very core of our democracy.”

Fixing the MBTA will stem from group efforts and community feedback, said Lombos. Baker’s current plan, however, puts “profit over people.”

Steve Tolman, president of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, said that the state needs to “invest in the best,” by hiring more workers and reversing the 20% cut. Thompson said that the transit system is an “embarrassment to all of us.” He called the derailment record a travesty.

“The MBTA safety crisis under Gov. Baker’s administration is getting worse,” he said, rallying the crowd with battle cries. “This fight begins today, and we won’t stop until the tracks are running and the trains are running — on time and safely.”