Normally, The Hub on Causeway, a 1.9 million-square-foot mixed-use project that is being built adjacent to the TD Garden in Boston, is a hubbub of activity. But on a recent, crisp, fall day, the job site was eerily quiet. That’s because the project’s hundreds of building trades workers were participating in a safety stand down. The program tackled issues of addiction head on and offered resources, support, and messages of hope.
On a makeshift stage erected at the site, a series of speakers addressed the crowd of Local 12 plumbers and members of other trade unions. They discussed ways that the opioid crisis, alcoholism, and other forms of substance abuse have made it difficult—and sometimes life threatening—for people across all walks of life, including those in the construction industry. Some of the speakers candidly shared their own stories of addiction, and emphasized that they were able to find help thanks to the support of the union community and the benefits their unions provide. They encouraged others in need to seek similar help.
“Addiction leaves a wake of destruction and despair,” says Brian Doherty, secretary treasurer and general agent of the Building and Construction Trades Council of the Metropolitan District, one of the forces behind the stand down. “We are going to do everything we can to combat it.” Additional partners helping to organize and support the event are the Building Trades Employers Association, Local 12, and other building trades unions.
“The takeaway message is that if you need help, it’s available,” Doherty added. “We’re here to support you every step of the way.”
In their effort to combat addiction, the unionized building trades banded together and decided to present a series of stand downs, which started a couple of years ago. Job sites in the Seaport, Harvard University, and elsewhere have also hosted events. They enable unions to proactively reach out to their members where they are. GBPCA contractors and other subcontractors, general contractors, and project owners support the stand downs by allowing the events to take place while workers are on the job.
Among the speakers at The Hub event was Paul Greeley, director of the Carpenters Employee Assistance Program. He talked about the many resources available to those in need and promised that there would be “no stigma” for people to “get the help you need and deserve.”
Doherty echoes that sentiment and adds that the outreach campaign isn’t about being punitive. “It’s supportive and compassionate. We want folks to get back on their feet and get back to work.”
Help is available not only for union members, but for their family and loved ones, the presenters noted. They also said that members should reach out to coworkers that are struggling with addiction and advocate getting them help.
Some might resist help. “I’m a rough, tough construction worker. I can handle this myself,” says Tim Fandel, Local 12 business agent, about the attitude that some union members might have when faced with addiction. The reality, he says, is that people can’t go it alone and need assistance. Thankfully, the building trades unions have many resources in place. Local 12, for example, hosts a weekly sobriety meeting at its union hall.
“Nobody grows up wanting to be a drug addict,” said Jay Frasier, IBEW Local 103 business agent, at the stand down. He revealed the substance abuse demons that he wrestled years earlier and said that he was grateful to his union friends for helping to face them. “We protect each other,” Frasier added. “We’re family. We’ve got each other’s backs.”