In 2001, when he was 18 years old, Steve Ferro joined Local 12. The industry and the economy at large were booming. He immediately began working for GBPCA contractor E.M. Duggan as an apprentice and remained there until he got his journeyman license in 2006 and beyond. Still in his 20s, he became a foreman and was running jobs for the shop.
“Honestly, I thought I’d be with Duggan for the rest of my career,” Ferro says. Fate had other ideas, however.
The boom times ended, projects became scarcer, and in 2009 he was let go. Collecting unemployment got old quickly. Not one to sit idle, Ferro took action.
“I’m a licensed plumber,” he says. “When I was a kid, I was told it’s a license to work.” So Ferro got to work—by opening his own shop. He hired a small crew and started doing basic residential plumbing. The entrepreneur moved on to small restaurant jobs such as B. Good in Swampscott and Kelly’s Roast Beef in his hometown of Revere.
Through diligent work, S. Ferro Plumbing and Heating developed a great reputation. The shop generated good word-of-mouth and positive reviews. In 2012, it was named as a preferred contractor on Angie’s List. Referrals increased and opportunities for larger jobs started coming Ferro’s way. He knew the business needed to grow.
“I had the knowledge. I had the drive. I had the skills,” Ferro says. “But I didn’t have the plumbers.” That’s when he started thinking about returning to Local 12, but this time as a contractor.
“It’s a trend we’ve been seeing,” says Frank Amato, recruitment specialist for Local 12. “It’s very difficult for smaller contractors to find qualified plumbers today. But we have them. When shops sign on with Local 12, they have access to a huge pool of trained mechanics and can quickly staff up for virtually any project.”
That’s one reason why shops like S. Ferro Plumbing and Heating are joining the union. Another reason: A few years ago, the local established a new residential division and negotiated a lower rate for the specialized work. That enables contractors to work with Local 12 plumbers on residential projects such as the new construction of mid-rise, wood-frame apartment buildings.
Now, Ferro is able to handle jobs such as a 30-unit apartment building in Brighton and a 40unit condominium complex in Jamaica Plain. Affiliating with Local 12 has also allowed him to work on 100% union jobs such as installing gas piping for boilers at Harvard University and fitting out a Chick-fil-A restaurant in downtown Boston. General contractors and developers appreciate how quickly, efficiently, and precisely Ferro is able to tackle projects because of his Local 12 connection.
While he welcomes the new work, Ferro hasn’t abandoned his smaller residential customers. “We’ll still fix Mrs. Smith’s sink,” he says. “We are very diverse. It’s good for the plumbers who are working for me, because they get to do everything.”
Ferro would like to become even more diverse and move into larger commercial work as well. With Local 12’s support, the goal is achievable.
There are other advantages to being a signatory contractor with the union. For example, his employees are earning a decent wage and getting good benefits. Ferro used to offer his own benefits program, but found the administrative work to maintain it confusing and time consuming. Now, Local 12 maintains the benefits package.
“I’m developing a great team with Local 12’s help,” Ferro says. “The plumbers who work with me are happy. I’m happy. The future looks bright.”