State board okays MBTA raises, pension disclosure

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CHELSEA, Mass. (SHNS) – The public will have access to MBTA pension payment data under an agreement between the state and the Boston Carmen’s Union that was approved Wednesday.

The MBTA’s biggest union will also receive a 10 percent raise over five years, ending in 2017, at an estimated cost of $93.9 million.

Lawmakers have passed bills seeking to pry open the MBTA retirement documents, bringing them in line with pension disclosures throughout other areas of state government. Pension appropriations represent one of the largest areas of fixed spending in the annual state budget.

Lawyers for the retirement fund have maintained that the fund is private, and said the Supreme Judicial Court has supported that, foreclosing opportunities for state law to enforce openness.

The vote Wednesday at a Massachusetts Transportation Board meeting in Chelsea City Hall was the final step toward the new disclosure phase for the pension fund, said MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott, who said the union has already ratified the language.

“I’m very pleased with the negotiation on the pension transparency,” Transportation Board member Alan MacDonald said before the vote to approve the new language.

MassDOT Director of Labor Relations Kimberly Brooks Poirier said the agreement includes other measures aimed at preventing pension “spiking.” Under the agreement, back-pay will be recorded under the year it was owed rather than the year it was paid, Poirier said.

Sen. William Brownsberger, a Belmont Democrat who has worked on efforts to increase transparency of the MBTA’s pensions, said after a Public Service Committee meeting in February that state officials would need to “work with” officials at the pension fund.

James O’Brien, the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 589, also known as the Boston Carmen’s Union, said pension officials pledged to be transparent at that meeting.

“We committed to them that we were going to be more transparent,” O’Brien told the News Service. He said, “We’re for transparency. There’s really nothing to hide over there.”

Poirier said the agreement would require the pension fund to disclose its payments to the MBTA, which would steer them to the state’s Open Checkbook website.

“The authority is committed to disclose this information to the public,” Poirier said. MBTA Chief Financial Officer Jonathan Davis said aside from the annual reports, the pension fund has never disclosed information about its payments to his knowledge.

The secrecy around the MBTA pensions has been a subject of interest in itself, and stands in contrast to the state’s publication of pension information about individual retirees who worked in other areas of government. Open Checkbook is a searchable database with salary, pension and contractor information.

Local 589 represents more than 3,000 MBTA workers, which is more than half the T’s workforce, according to Poirier. Poirier said the $93.9 million cost of the contract is within the MBTA’s budget, and said this July the employees moved into the Group Insurance Commission – a cost-saving measure.

The contract covers five years, from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2018.

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