Press Release: Frontline Transit Workers Demand Vaccine Relief and Coordination As Baker Task Force Appears To Stall Satellite Sites

Vaccine distribution site in Quincy was expected to vaccinate thousands of MBTA employees — but workers say Governor dropped the ball

BOSTON, MA– Frontline transit workers across the nation have been disproportionately afflicted with and killed by COVID-19. Now, essential transit workers in Massachusetts say Governor Charlie Baker is jeopardizing their lives and public health by letting red tape and a lack of planning delay the administration of coronavirus vaccines to local bus and train operators.

“He dropped the ball again,” said Jim Evers, President of Carmen’s Local 589. “The facts that the MBTA has the infrastructure set up to vaccinate its workforce, and that the Governor appears to be holding them back, raise serious questions once again about his mismanagement of the vaccine rollout. Frontline transit workers are exposed to hundreds, if not thousands, of people per day, so to overlook the need to vaccinate and for the Governor to let red tape stand in the way is inexcusable.”

Specifically, Baker has drawn the ire of essential transit workers and rider advocates because they say the Governor has failed to prioritize the Quincy vaccination site that was supposed to have launched in mid-February for MBTA frontline workers — not giving it the green light to open despite the safety that the vaccination site would have provided to workers, to riders, and to overall public health. 

“We walked through the Quincy site and got the tour, and we were promised they’d have a coordinated rollout and plan where frontline transit personnel would be vaccinated in an orderly, coordinated fashion that helps ensure scheduling continuity and safety for the benefit of the riders,” said Evers. “We are praising MBTA management for having the infrastructure in place, but it seems the Governor just isn’t paying attention so now we’re among the last frontline workers to get vaccinated. It’s a dangerous oversight by Baker, especially as schools reopen.”

The MBTA vaccination site was prepared at the location of a former Lowe’s store near the T’s Quincy Adams Station. Workers were given a tour of the site and hoped that by having the MBTA provide vaccines to its workforce, transit workers would be vaccinated along with other essential workers, potentially ahead of their current Phase 2 Group 3 designation. Transit operators felt riders would be better served through the centralized distribution because the vaccinations could be scheduled in a way that helped ensure minimal disruptions for riders. MBTA officials said the facility would have a target capacity of 200 doses per day. However, as the vaccination site lies dormant, the frontline public transit workers have been left searching for answers — and scrambling to secure vaccines along with other non-frontline workers. Workers are calling on Baker to immediately authorize the MBTA’s established site to move forward and begin vaccinating.

“We applaud the efforts of MBTA management to set the stage for a rational, centralized, and coordinated rollout of vaccine administration to a workforce that is interacting with the public every day and in increasing numbers as things open back up,” said Evers, whose union represents thousands of MBTA bus drivers and train operators. “Unfortunately, Governor Baker continues to pretend public transit workers are not on the frontlines, which makes no sense when you consider the public health ramifications and the proximity we have in closed spaces to riders day in and day out. As the Governor pushes schools to reopen, there will be thousands of students crowding back onto public transportation. If transit operators are not prioritized by the Governor, people are going to get sick and die unnecessarily.”

MBTA employees are essential frontline workers who provide critical transit services to the region, transporting other essential workers such as health care professionals and first responders. Nearly 3,600 employees had pre-registered for vaccinations as of February 4. As one of the larger transit agencies in North America, the MBTA has thankfully only seen one confirmed COVID-related fatality of an active employee. The union firmly believes that this is the direct result of the MBTA’s aggressive push to work with labor and create and impose an in-house free testing program for all employees. Because of this testing program, the MBTA has been able to conduct contact tracing after outbreaks on the job and contain the spread. The T has proven itself more than capable of running an in-house COVID-19 related operation. 

“The consequences of his lack of planning with regard to vaccinating public transit workers are grave,” said Mike Vartabedian, Assistant Directing Business Representative of the International Association of Machinists District 15, who also chairs the Coalition of Unions at the MBTA. “The need to greenlight the distribution of vaccines to MBTA workers through the established Quincy location is urgent. The fact this location is dormant because of red tape is truly maddening. We feel most members of the riding public would assume that the Governor is prioritizing frontline transit operators, but the opposite is true. Riders deserve to know the truth — and that is the Governor isn’t making their lives or safety much of a priority either.”

“Baker likes to say that busses and trains that are less crowded than before are empty, even when they’re not,” said Evers. “It’s a dehumanizing way to talk about public transit riders who may rely on that final route to get home from work or school or a medical appointment. His lack of connection and compassion for those that operate or ride public transit is fully on display now that he’s let the Quincy vaccine site fester and stall out. We need him to start paying attention. Hundreds of thousands of riders and thousands of essential transit operators are not a detail Charlie Baker can afford to forget about.”

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The Boston Carmen’s Union, Local 589 is the voice of over 6,000 MBTA Union transit professionals and is a member of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), which is the largest labor organization representing over 180,000 transit professionals in the United States and Canada. These transit professionals include bus, van, subway, and light rail operators, clerks, baggage handlers, and maintenance employees in urban transit, over-the-road, and school bus industries, as well as emergency medical service personnel, ambulance operators, clerical personnel, and municipal workers.

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