BOSTON- As she tightened her jacket to ward off the 5f (-15c) degree cold, commuter Tammy Jackson was shocked to see the crowd of over 200 overflowing from the entrance to the Andrew MBTA subway station. The cause for the crowding quickly became apparent - several Red Line trains had used the morning commute to go on strike and demand better living conditions.
Rhoda Kavner, a 1500 model Pullman-Standard rail vehicle, sat just outside the station, within view of the commuters. "I know it's tough for those commuters, I know it's a pain, and I know they're cold, but maybe now they can imagine how we feel." Rhoda staged her strike for a little under half an hour, before returning to work.
On the job since 1969, Rhoda says enough is enough. Forced to spend most of her day - upwards of fifteen hours- ferrying commuters back and forth between Boston and Cambridge is a thankless job, and Rhoda along with two other trains have decided that now is the time to bring awareness to their cause.
"Those commuters are hollering mad that they're being forced to stand around in the cold, but me and my coworkers are forced to sleep every night outdoors - and we don't get sweaters and scarves." Last night, the temperatures reached zero degrees, with a windchill under -10f.
Red Line rail vehicles were hired in groups during the late 60's, early 70's and early 90's, but conditions haven't changed since the system began operation over a hundred years ago. Tips, which were briefly welcomed at the end of the Dukakis governorship were quickly banned by Governor Weld.
Harold Silver, who began his career in 1970, also took part in the strike today, near Porter Station. "We don't get breaks, we don't get lunch, and we rarely complain. We open our doors when asked and we provide the smoothest ride this side of Worcester - we ain't asking for nothing more than a warm place to sleep at night."
Bill Lovejoy, a commuter stranded at Broadway did not care to hear about the strike. As he stood with a Dunking Donuts cup in hand, he anxiously looked as his watch. "I'm going to be late, and I have kids to feed, if those union trains don't like their job, than they should quit. I'm sick and tired of paying for their benefits and retirement packages and they're never on time."
Peter Won, a spokesperson for the Red Line, noted that the retirement plan consisted of being dropped into the ocean to retire as a reef, a perk that was one of few for the vehicles who spend their entire life servicing the public. He conceded that the strike was an inconvenience, but it was held during a time most commuters would understand the harsh winter conditions that the units must put up with.
When asked if the Red Line trains planned further strikes, Rhoda deferred the question. "We'll see if anything changes this week, if not, we may have to continue further strategic action."
Some appear to be listening. Governor Patrick today announced plans to raise statewide taxes to help improve transportation, and he made a nod to morning strike. He said the people left out in the frigid weather today due to a
shutdown of the Red Line “totally get” the need for more
transportation spending. The administration did not specify if the taxes would pay for blankets and space heaters for Rhoda and her peers.
Picture and news details from Universal Hub and the Boston Globe