Business owners, workers prepare for Orange Line closure

Business owners, workers prepare for Orange Line closure

Security guard Ryan Ackerley, 42, rides the Orange Line from Oak Grove to Downtown Crossing five nights a week to work at the Plymouth Rock Building near South Station. He has endured shuttles in the past and figures his commute will take an extra two hours round trip.

“My business, I won’t be a bit late,” he said. “Someone is waiting for me so they can go home.”

Ackerley, who was once stuck on the job for 32 hours when the T shut down during a snowstorm, is part of the bargaining committee negotiating a contract for 2,800 32BJ SEIU security guards in the Boston area. These days, he takes the Orange Line to the union’s downtown office to push for better pay and benefits on behalf of his co-workers, who he notes are making longer commutes as they are pushed further from the city due to rising housing costs.

“We are the ones who have to endure the disruption. We are the ones who have to show up every day,” he said. “You just grin and bear it, whatever. You don’t have any options.”

At Boston public affairs firm Benchmark Strategies near City Hall, workers who normally rely on the Orange Line will be able to telecommute or pay for taxi or Uber expenses during the shutdown. The company is also considering additional bike storage and shower access.

“If people are worried about how they’re going to get to work in the morning, they’re not going to do their best work,” said Benchmark President Patrick Bench.

But many workers will deal with the shutdown on their own.

Jiezhen Li, a 52-year-old domestic helper who takes the Orange Line from Assembly Row in Somerville to serve elderly customers in Chinatown, fears her commute will be less predictable when she has to take the bus. Li doesn’t speak English, and neither does her husband, who once spent three hours in circles because he didn’t understand the message to get off the train and take a shuttle.

“If something happens and I have to change the route, it would be very nerve-wracking for me,” she said through a translator.

In Malden, many residents commute to Boston on the Orange Line, said Kevin Duffy, the city’s business development officer, and local business owners rely on the T to get their employees to Malden. Without the convenience of the “natural resource” that is the Orange Line, he said, “You’re really in favor of transition. . . . What will you tell your boss? ‘I will be late?’ Or what do you tell your kids? “Leaving the house before you’re even out of bed?”

Malden is trying to bring people back to its downtown with festivals, pub crawls and a games area that includes escape rooms, quests and mini golf with lasers and projections. Many participants come to the Orange Line, Duffy noted: “These people don’t stop in their Cadillacs.”

Three ‘murder mystery’ pub crawls are planned during the shutdown period, with the first stop being Idle Hands Craft Ales. The lack of T service is problematic, said owner Chris Tkach, noting that the brewery’s Sept. 10 Oktoberfest celebration is its biggest event of the year. “We encourage people to use public transport because alcohol is involved and we don’t want people to drive,” he said.

Tkach expected the after-work crowd to return as more people return to their offices, but worries that the T shutdown could slow that down again.

Nearby, Piantedosi Baking Co. is just getting back to “somewhat normal” in its bread production for restaurants and supermarkets, said co-owner Joe Piantedosi, whose Italian immigrant grandfather started the business in 1916. Like many companies, the plant has struggled to find workers, but his proximity to the orange line is an advantage. At least it was.

Piantedosi supports making the T safer, but is concerned about his workers — including immigrants from 26 countries, many of them women — who must navigate new routes for the 24-hour operation, especially at night. And if they arrive late, it can affect production. “It’s something we really didn’t need,” he said.

Betsy Garcia Rivera, who just started a job in the distribution department, may have to pay to take an Uber home when the Orange Line stops. Her shift ends at 2pm and she has to be home with her three daughters in Chelsea before her husband leaves for work at 3. Taking transport from Maldon to Haymarket and then catching a bus back to Chelsea or taking three the bus all the way would take too long, she said.

“I’m really worried,” she said.

Northeastern University cafeteria worker Xiaolan Zhou, 48, estimates her current one-hour commute from Malden could double. If she is scheduled for a 7 a.m. Sunday shift, when service is less frequent, it will be difficult to make it on time, she said.

If he is late for work, he gets less pay. If she comes home late in the evening, she sleeps less.

On the other end of the Orange Line, in Jamaica Plain, Canary Square owner Michael Moxley also worries about his employees’ ability to get to work. The restaurant is out of work with nearly 20 workers, forcing him to limit hours and close on Mondays, and without the ability to “dangle the carrot” of taking the Orange Line to work from across the city, he said, hiring new people will be more more difficult.

He also worries that existing employees will show up late or quit rather than go through the trouble of taking a shuttle just as business is starting to pick up again.

“It’s been a really long 2 1/2 years,” Moxley said. “One blow after another.”

The Globe staff’s Catherine Carlock contributed to this report.


Katie Johnston can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.

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