Safe T Workers

November 18, 2014

For Cecilio Rodriguez, a veteran MBTA janitor, a proposed 30% staffing cut meant 30% more trash to pick up, 30% more vomit to clean, and a 30% increase in having to deal with dirty, used needles. It also meant having to say goodbye to 30% of her co-workers.
When two companies that contracted with the MBTA to clean its stations announced it would be cutting almost a third of its staff, SEIU Local 32BJ, District 615 knew its remaining workers would face a massive increase in on-the-job hazards.
“When we got the call from 32BJ asking if we could help examine how this increased workload would affect workers, we told them we would be eager to aid one of our union members in their fight to protect their health and safety,” said Labor & Environment Coordinator Tolle Graham.
Knowing that it’s workers who know best what is dangerous on the job, MassCOSH set out to conduct 20 in‐depth interviews with janitors about the daily hazards they encounter. Through these interviews, Graham heard reports of workers getting stabbed by dirty needles without proper training on how to handle of them, exposures to chemicals that contain hazardous ingredients that lead to serious health problems, and workers often left undersupplied with tools to clean blood, vomit, and urine.
“They don’t give us liquid for mopping,” said one worker to Graham. “I mop with water only. For the past two weeks there hasn’t been hand soap for the bathrooms.”
“We found these inadequacies not only put workers at risk but also the general public,” said Graham. “Hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of infection. One of the key public health roles that MBTA cleaning workers provide is to regularly inspect bathrooms to ensure adequate supplies and to clean up potentially infectious contamination. Any decrease in the frequency of inspection and cleaning increases the likelihood that contamination may remain and may spread to others.”
When MassCOSH made its findings public, the media immediately picked up on the connection between overworked staff and the potential decline of the public’s health and safety on the T, causing great concern for those who use the system as their primary means of transportation. For the MBTA, the report, resulting media attention, and worker protests became too much to ignore. On August 25th, the organization announced it would not be cutting any jobs as planned.
“MassCOSH’s insightful review of health and safety conditions at the T has played a significant role in the campaign to stop an MBTA plan that would have put one-third of T janitors out of work on Labor Day and compromise the cleanliness of our T stations and health of the workers," said Roxana Rivera, director of 32BJ SEIU District 615.
The workers’ jobs are safe for now, but MassCOSH will continue to aid SEIU Local 32BJ, District 615 as long as the MBTA and its contractors continue to attempt to cut costs at the expense of worker health and safety.