MBTA OFFICIALS SAID on Monday the number of on-the-job injuries among transportation operators soared during the first three months of the year as the transit authority tried to reduce the level of absenteeism among employees.
Janice Brochu, chief of human resources for the MBTA, told the Fiscal and Management Control Board that the number of transportation operators reported on-the-job injuries in the first three months of the year increased by 180 percent compared to the same quarter a year ago. She said she had not yet broken down the data to figure out where, when, and how the increased injuries were occurring.
Brochu said absences taken under the Family and Medical Leave Act were down 1 percent in the same quarter-to-quarter comparison, but those on paid sick leave increased 43 percent, unexcused absences rose 19 percent, and those excused from work without pay increased 35 percent. One area that did decrease was in accommodations made for workers under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which dropped by 33 percent.
Brochu said she had no information or insight about whether the increase in absences in some areas was a response to the agency’s efforts to tighten certification for family leave absences. “It’s just fact reporting,” T spokesman Joe Pesaturo said after the meeting.
According to the report presented to the fiscal control board, the average absentee rate across the T was 7.9 percent, with non-union executives at the low end of the scale at 3.5 percent. Full-time bus drivers, who make up the largest group of T employees with 1,356 workers, had the highest rate of unscheduled absences at 11.4 percent in the first quarter.
Brochu said the percentage of workers out on approved family and medical leave has dropped from 32 percent in 2015 to 16 percent in 2017 as the agency tightened up its certification process and increased the rate of denials of requests. Overall, the number of employees certified to be absent through the family leave act dropped from 27 percent in September 2015, to 16 percent last month. The Carmen’s Union, the T’s largest union, had the highest rate of workers out on family and medical leave. The percentage fell from 45 percent in September 2015, to 24 percent at the end of March.
Board member Brian Lang asked Brochu what would be considered an acceptable rate for approved absences under the law. “I think 15-16 percent average, about 1,500 [employees], should be the norm,” she said.
Brochu also highlighted the agency’s crackdown on abuse of sick time. She said in the first quarter of this year, 27 employees were terminated for attendance violations, three more than in all of 2016. She also pointed out that there are 210 employees currently in a five-step disciplinary program, including more than one-third in the top three phases serving three- to 70-day suspensions for violating the MBTA attendance policy.