Eight of the 10 MBTA employees suspended for sleeping or failing to pay proper attention during work hours over the past year and a half were ultimately fired by the agency, records show.
The terminated employees included five bus drivers, a train operator, bus inspector and electrical worker, who were “recommended for discharge” after serving suspensions that lasted either 40 or 70 days.
Two bus drivers were allowed to return to work, with additional safety training, after serving either a three- or 10-day suspension. An 11th employee, also listed as a bus driver, was issued an infraction notice, but was not suspended, records show.
The data was provided to the Herald after a public records request for “MBTA employees found failing to comply with the attention to duty rule and/or sleeping during work hours,” from Jan. 1, 2022 to July 23, 2023.
“The image that frontline employees present to our customers is a critical element in maintaining the public’s trust,” an MBTA spokesperson said. “It is of the utmost importance that MBTA employees project an image of alertness, professionalism, and engagement in their work at all times.”
The spokesperson added that it is “absolutely forbidden for any MBTA employee to be sleeping or giving the appearance of sleeping while on duty or paid breaks.”
This includes “deadheading,” or moving trains or buses from one location to another without taking on passengers, when present at layover points or in non-revenue MBTA vehicles, “or any other situation when employees are in public view,” the T spokesperson said.
“Employees that give the impression of sleeping or lack of attentiveness on duty seriously erodes the public’s confidence in the Authority and damages the image of all MBTA employees,” the spokesperson said.
The release of records came just weeks after the Herald reported on an employee who was suspended after a video surfaced, indicating that he was sleeping regularly in his car during work hours.
It also follows a November 2022 Herald report on prior data that showed 17 employees were suspended for sleeping or failing to pay proper attention, from 2020 to 2022. Fourteen of those employees, the majority of whom were bus and train operators, were ultimately fired, records show.
Following the most recent set of data, MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo reiterated what he told the Herald last year — “that if an employee is disciplined for violating the attention to duty rule, it doesn’t necessarily mean it involved sleeping.”
“It means they were not giving their duties the full attention required to perform their jobs safely and effectively,” Pesaturo said.
What he declined to do, however, when pressed by the Herald, is shed light on what types of violations might fall under the attention to duty rule, and which ones may lead to longer suspensions or termination.
The agency also declined to confirm whether “prohibited behaviors” listed in a copy of a 2016 MBTA employee handbook, posted online as part of a public records request made by the Pioneer Institute, fall under the attention to duty rule.
That handbook states employees are prohibited from “gambling, fighting, or participating in any illegal, immoral or unauthorized activity” while on duty.
It also states employees are banned from sleeping or assuming an attitude of sleep, playing cards or other games, reading other than company instructions, and unauthorized use of electronic devices.
Charlie Chieppo, a transportation watcher with Pioneer Institute, said it’s been “common knowledge” for a long time that some employees have “no-show jobs” at the T, where they’re sleeping on the job or not showing up.
This allows employees to work other full-time jobs, and get paid at their other jobs while accruing pension time at the T. Vast amounts of overtime, difficult work schedules, and training may also contribute to the problem, Chieppo said.
As of Tuesday, nine MBTA employees had already exceeded $100,000 in overtime, with another seven logging more than $90,000, in 2023, according to the state Comptroller’s office.
“The issue that cuts across all these various categories is that it’s a place where historically people have felt like they’re not being watched very carefully and can get away with things,” Chieppo said.
“You combine that with a decades-long desire not to cross the Carmen’s Union, and not to do anything that’s going to make trouble with them, and this is what you get,” he added.
Pesaturo said, “Ensuring work rules is an important part of the MBTA’s concerted efforts to provide safe and reliable service to hundreds of thousands of daily riders.”