I AM THE PRESIDENT and business manager of OPEIU Local 453, a union representing over 400 middle-level administrative and professional employees in every department at the MBTA. When I watched the investigative report on Channel 5 last week about Mark D’Angelo, director of labor relations at the MBTA, I was shocked, saddened, and outraged on many levels. While it is always sad to watch a career public servant embarrassed on local television, the investigative report really only touches on what I believe is an endemic problem in the choices made by the current management structure at the MBTA.
D’Angelo was appointed to run the MBTA Labor Relations Department by Gov. Charlie Baker’s hand-picked management team at the MBTA. He was brought over from his position at the state’s Human Resources Department and hired at the rate of $240,000 a year, twice the salary of the previous director, an experienced labor attorney, a regular full-time employee, and a woman.
Moreover, and mysteriously, D’Angelo was brought in as an independent private contract employee rather than a regular hire. It is clear from the investigative report that, as a private contractor, D’Angelo was generally free from the normal constraints imposed on regular full-time employees and free from the type of supervision and accountability that applies to regular full-time employees.
Regrettably, and in my opinion to the detriment of the efficient operation of the MBTA, the current MBTA management team has greatly increased the practice of hiring independent contractors throughout the transit authority. Apparently, the current MBTA management team believes that privately contracted employees are more valuable than fulltime union employees, whose working conditions are governed by the MBTA’s Rules of Conduct and our collective bargaining agreements. Private contract employees are held to different standards, if they are held accountable at all, which allows for confusing double standards that are neither good for managing personnel or for the morale of the average worker at the authority.
The unions knew D’Angelo had a reputation for being a hard negotiator, but the Labor Relations Department soon turned into a tool for obstruction. Our collective bargaining agreement negotiations have dragged on for over two years. Usual grievances, and justifiable complaints that used to be solved quickly, are now lost in a black hole of bureaucracy.
D’Angelo never attended any of our negotiations and I am told by other unions that he did not attend their negotiations either. It was clear during our negotiations that the representatives sent to represent the MBTA did not have the authority to make any binding agreements and that all decisions had to be made by the often-absent D’Angelo.
Our union has been investigating and objecting to the MBTA’s growing use of contract employees for years. Over a year ago, we submitted a simple and straightforward public records request geared at obtaining a clear picture of the extent and cost of the MBTA’s practice of utilizing private contractors and consultants in place of regular, full-time employees. Our uion has serious concerns that the use of private contractors and consultants has resulted in inefficiency, cost overruns, and poor public service, This expansion of the use of such private contractors and consultants exploded after the MBTA was given a three year waiver from the obligations of the Taxpayer Protection Act (Pacheco Law), a law designed to protect the taxpayer from frivolous government spending of tax dollars. Our union believes that private temporary workers, contractors, and consultants should be subject to the same transparency requirements as public workers at the MBTA.
What was the MBTA’s response to this simple request for transparency and accountability? They refused to supply the requested records, they ignored the directive of the state’s supervisor of public records to supply the records to us, and they continue to ignore and obfuscate the directions of the attorney general’s office to comply with our public records request. For what cost and for what reason is the MBTA continuing to fight this request?
While not readily apparent to the general public, ever since “Snowmageddon” in 2015, the governor and the administration at the MBTA have done everything in their power to diminish the labor rights and benefits of the hard working and accountable full-time MBTA employee. What has that strategy accomplished? Is there really any one of the 1.35 million riders of the MBTA who thinks the service provided by the MBTA is better than five years ago?
On the occasion of this sad expose of a highly paid privately contracted executive taking advantage of his employment contract, I suggest we take a different approach. Let’s really try to make changes at the MBTA and start by having a Labor Relations Department that is willing to start a new era of true collaborative negotiating and not just rely on costly outside counsel at every turn. The MBTA management can initiate the process by hiring a fulltime labor relations director that is held to the same standards as our union members.
Timothy W. Lasker is the president and business manager of OPEIU Local 453, which represents more than 400 middle-level administrative and professional MBTA employees.