Over the past two months, Pioneer Institute has focused substantial resources on analyzing the MBTA’s operations, finances, pension system and governance (leadership and accountability). A key piece of our work has included comparisons of the Authority to other American transit systems. We have provided comparisons to all systems, but have focused on like or peer systems. We have also progressed from system-wide (all-mode) analyses to in-depth, mode-specific research.
Using transit agency peers as defined by Integrated National Transit Database Analysis System (INTDAS), Pioneer debunked the myth that the MBTA is underfunded. We’ve shown that the T expanded faster than any other system since 1991, the earliest year for which information is available in the National Transit Database, that commuter rail ridership declined over the last decade and produced a host of other research to inform the public on all things MBTA. We even offered a solution to fix the T.
Review of New Carmen’s Union contract
Because of the T’s runaway cost structure, one aspect of the Authority’s operations that interests us is its labor expenses. The best way to begin to get a handle on labor costs is to analyze the MBTA board-approved contract with the Carmen, the largest of the T’s 28 unions. So, back in September 2014, we submitted a public records request for a copy of the contract. We were informed that the contract was not yet available as a public document. Instead, the T provided us with a contract summary, which is not at all helpful in carrying out research to determine how various aspects of the Authority’s cost structure impacted the system’s financial condition.
While the summary describes the wage increase that amounts to a 10 percent pay hike by 2017 (close to $93 million not including the impact on retirement benefits), the summary also notes a Health and Welfare Trust Fund to supplement T workers’ health benefits. Without the full contract, we are unable to delve into the details to determine how much of the savings from a provision in a 2009 transportation reform law that moved T workers to the state’s Group Insurance Contract will be wiped away as the T pays into the health fund.
So that was a while ago, you might say. You’re right and that’s why a couple of weeks ago — six months after the board approved the agreement — we again asked for the contract. We were told it is still not a public document because it isn’t finalized. The workers are being paid at the new rates and the T is budgeting for the Health and Welfare Fund, but they are still squaring away the details?
The state funds over half of the MBTA’s operations but the public cannot access this very critical document that covers more than half of the T’s workforce.
Come on now. It’s high time the contract sees the light of day.
Mary Z. Connaughton is the Director of Government Transparency at Pioneer Institute