The MBTA board will vote Thursday on whether to outsource the T's cash collection and counting operation. An affirmative vote would be the first major move by Gov. Charlie Baker's administration to privatize a T function traditionally done by union-affiliated state employees.

The union that represents the so-called "money room" workers and many other MBTA employees, Boston Carmen's Union Local 589, were taken by surprise that the MBTA board would vote on the proposal today.

"A private company is going to come in and underbid a contract and then they're going to go back," James O'Brien, the president of the Carmen's union told reporters Wednesday. "That's what happens They're there to make a profit on the backs of the taxpayers."
The union's members have been fighting the efforts of MBTA management to privatize portions of the T's service, such as cash collection, maintenance, part warehousing and some bus operations. The labor group argues that the T's management has forced the privatization plan for the money room without clearly showing that it will save the agency money, since money room workers would be transferred to driving buses at their current salaries.

"This move is not only going to save money for the T and improve performance, but it will also put back on the road, back behind the wheel, many skilled and experienced bus drivers, which we badly need," Shortsleeve said.

The Legislature last year gave Baker and the MBTA a three-year break from an anti-privatization law to allow the T to outsource services with the approval of the state auditor. The T's Fiscal and Management Control Board, appointed by Baker, makes the call whether or not to use private companies to provide services for the T.

"We are committed to doing what needs to be done to put the MBTA on a path to fiscal sustainability and leveraging and utilizing the flexible contracting rights we got from the legislature is a really important part of that and we're going to continue to move forward with that," Shortsleeve said Wednesday.

Other MBTA functions currently done by union workers on the state payroll could come under scrutiny by the board and MBTA management, which are trying to solve a nearly $100 million annual operating budget deficit for the transit agency.

An outside review of the "money room" operation found that the T's in-house operation has twice as many employees on staff as comparable private companies doing the same work. The review also found security issues with cash collection at the Charlestown facility and inefficiencies in the workforce.

The cash room operation employs 78 union workers and costs the MBTA around $10 million annually, according to the T. O'Brien disputes the number of workers, saying there are closer to 45 money room employees. O'Brien said the lack of clarity in the number undermines the cost-savings on salaries and benefits over time.

O'Brien said the T's process for bidding out the work and having the board approve the contract at their Thursday meeting was not transparent as Shortsleeve has claimed.

"It's like this has already been voted on," O'Brien said. "Not voted on—this has already been decided by the way he makes it sound. Like this is going through tomorrow with no problem at all. That's not transparency and transparency is what the public and the taxpayers deserve."

The T has approved private contracts for smaller services, like the MBTA Transit Police dispatch system. Many of the T's larger functions, like station cleaning and operation of the Commuter Rail, are already privately run.

Labor officials have pointed to criticism of other private MBTA services as examples for why the board should be cautious with further outsourcing. 

The board heard testimony from janitors after approving a move that limited the amount of money the T pays it's contractors for cleaning services. Cleaners complained of long hours and being forced to clean more areas than is possible in the allotted time, leaving, they say, T stations dirtier than before the contract changes.

The board's chairman, Joseph Aiello, said he was "disturbed" by the janitors' accounts and asked T staff to prepare for potentially rebidding the cleaning contract, according to the State House News Service.

"Change is never easy," Shortsleeve said, adding that he knew resistance from unions would be strong.

"But the status quo just isn't working," he said. "The money room for example has been a well identified problem at the MBTA for decades and we will continue to do what needs to be done to put that MBTA on a path to fiscal sustainability."