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Secret nook, with TV and videos, found at rail yard

Extended breaks by workers cited

By Noah Bierman
Globe Staff / December 15, 2009

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The new manager on the late shift at the Somerville facility immediately noticed something awry. Many of his workers seemed to be taking long dinner breaks when they were supposed to be fixing trains for the region’s commuter rail system.

An investigation led to a strange discovery hidden in a storage room: a makeshift entertainment center, including three televisions, two DVD players, one VHS player, surround-sound speakers, a video game system, and DVDs, some of them pornographic, a transportation official said yesterday.

The equipment, slyly camouflaged within the commuter rail’s massive Somerville maintenance facility, even had an illegal cable television connection that came through a 1,000-foot cable, said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is not yet concluded.

“This was very much concealed among maintenance parts and equipment,’’ said the official. “Nobody was watching at the time [it was found], but all that property was confiscated.’’

No employees have come forward to claim the property since it was found Dec. 8. But six who were absent during a roll call on the evening it was discovered have been suspended as part of the investigation, including one employee who is accused of spending long breaks on the night shift at a bar he is believed to own on the North Shore. It is not clear whether the employee was drinking at the bar while on duty.

“Clearly, being off property and at a bar for several hours, regardless of what you’re doing, is inappropriate’’ while on duty, the transportation official said.

Attempts to reach union officials representing the suspended workers were unsuccessful yesterday.

The employees do not work for the MBTA. They work for a private consortium, the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad, which runs the T’s commuter rail service under a contract with the public agency. The employees work as mechanics at the Boston Engine Terminal, a 375,000-square-foot facility in Somerville used for locomotive and coach maintenance.

“As the result of an ongoing investigation, Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad has suspended six employees, indefinitely, for apparent violations of workplace rules and regulations,’’ the company said in a statement. “Pending final outcome of the investigation, these employees will face full disciplinary action, including termination. MBCR maintains a zero tolerance policy toward any inappropriate behavior in the workplace.’’

The investigation began after the new manager took over the facility about six weeks ago and noticed that employees on the 4 p.m. to midnight shift were taking breaks of 1 1/2 to 2 hours at a time, instead of the customary 30 to 45 minutes, according to the official.

While searching for missing employees last week, managers severed two padlocks on the electrical cabinet to find the entertainment center. Two of 14 DVDs hidden in the cabinet were pornographic, the official said. The others were mainstream movies, including “Rambo.’’ Pornography is prohibited under the company’s harassment and discrimination policies, the official said.

The company also prohibits employees from bringing in equipment likely to distract them from their jobs. The facility has a break room, but the entertainment center was located far away from it, the official said.

The suspended employees, who have not been named, are on unpaid leave, but will be paid retroactively for lost time if cleared. They have not been accused of using the entertainment center. Five have been accused of taking long breaks; the sixth was accused specifically of spending time at the bar, the official said.

The company plans to donate the equipment and destroy the videos, the official said.

Noah Bierman can be reached at nbierman@globe.com.

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