When the United Association appointed Harry Brett, Local 12’s business manager, to the position of special representative for the New England region, that left a leadership void at the union. In early 2020, the membership elected Tim Fandel to head Local 12. For the new business manager, the role was many years–and generations–in the making.
Plumbing and Local 12 are something of a tradition in the Fandel family. Tim’s dad, Hank, now retired, worked as a Local 12 plumber and taught the trade at a vocational school. Tim’s uncle and Hank’s brother, Jack, was also a plumber and served as the director of the local’s training center. Tim’s grandfather and Hank’s father, William J. Fandel II, was a plumber and was one of the first Local 12 members to draw a pension when it became available in the mid-1950s. Tim’s great-grandfather, William J. Fandel, began the tradition. He emigrated to the U.S. from Germany in the late 1880s and found work as a plumber. Tim’s brothers, Hank Jr. and Sean, and his cousin, Danny Weeder, are also Local 12 members.
Fandel has childhood memories of his father and uncle putting on their sport coats to attend union meetings. (That was back in the day when people would get dressed up for such occasions.) “At first, I didn’t know what the heck they did at union meetings,” he says. “As I got older, however, I slowly understood more about Local 12 and unions and the impact they had on me and our family. They were lessons to be learned.”
Despite his family’s ties to the industry, Fandel says that he didn’t think about plumbing or other construction trades while he was in high school. He did, however, consider a career as a chef and was accepted to Johnson & Wales, the culinary school in Rhode Island. Fandel instead opted to get a job (although he still loves cooking for his family and friends), and in 1982 went to work for Streeter Plumbing and Heating. He also went to school nights to get his plumbing license. His dad was the instructor. It was also his father who gave Tim the phone number of Irving Streeter and handed his son old tools that had been used by generations of Fandels.
Although he had no hands-on experience, Fandel quickly acclimated and enjoyed the work. Streeter Plumbing, based in Winthrop, did mostly residential projects including service, new construction, and kitchen and bath remodeling. It allowed Fandel to develop a broad base of skills.
He became a Local 12 member in 1983. As was the convention back then, Fandel was indentured to one shop, Maurer Sforza Plumbing and Pipefitting in Needham, for the duration of his four-year apprenticeship. His first project, which lasted three years, was a large research and development facility at Harvard University. Joe Croce, who now leads Local 12’s retirees, was the job’s foreman. After he got his journeyman’s license in 1987 and his master’s license a year later, Fandel stayed with Maurer Sforza. He later went to work for larger shops including J.F. Shine Mechanical and American Plumbing and Heating.
Soon after he joined Local 12, Fandel got involved in the organization’s politics. “It’s what the plumbers in my family did,” he explains. “There is a sense of giving back to the union and to the industry. There are probably few positions in the local that I haven’t held.” The experience gave him a broad-based understanding of the union. It also allowed him to develop ties with many of the local’s leaders, who encouraged him to run for office. In 2006, he tossed his hat into the ring and was elected as a business agent, a position he held for 14 years.
During many of those years, he worked alongside Brett, who was also a business agent before he was elected as Local 12’s business manager in 2013. “He’s been my partner every step of the way,” Brett says, referring to his successor and friend. “Tim has a wonderful way of dealing with people. He’s not afraid to act. He’s the right guy and the members know it.”
Coming into the role of business manager, Fandel inherited a good working relationship with the plumbing contractors that employ Local 12 members. He considers himself lucky and credits Brett for nurturing the relationship. Fandel thinks it is critical for both parties that they work together amicably, and knows that it’s not always the case for labor groups and the companies that hire them. “It’s one of the great strengths for both the local and the contractors,” Fandel says.
“We take pride in our ability to collaborate on issues with shared goals and shared perspectives. We sometimes agree to disagree–without being disagreeable. We’ve always been able to resolve issues through communication, respect, and an understanding of our shared history. The fruits of out positive relationship are easy to see. We do things as partners. Unfortunately, some people find that unusual,” notes Fandel, referring to the stereotypes often associated with unions and management. “It should be the rule, not the exception.”
Jeremy Ryan, the executive director of the Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association, supports Fandel’s outlook and looks forward to working collaboratively with the business manager. “Tim is a voice of reason and has a calming influence. His mentality of always trying to find common ground makes him invaluable,” he says. “I see our industry moving forward and growing boundlessly under Tim’s leadership.”
Although the construction industry has enjoyed a long period of growth and prosperity, Fandel says that he remains bullish about the future and points to economic engines such as the healthcare, education, and research and development markets that make the Boston region uniquely positioned to weather potential downturns. In addition, he calls out some especially large projects, such as Cambridge Crossing, Harvard University’s development in Allston, the Bulfinch Crossing complex in Government Center, and the Suffolk Downs redevelopment that all have long buildout plans and will keep Local 12 members working for decades.
“I remain cautiously optimistic,” Fandel says. “But I think we need to be diligent and vigilant about plotting our own course. To that end, he hopes that the signatory contractors with which the local works will refocus on public work projects such as major high schools and other government-funded development. Fandel believes there is a lot of opportunity to expand in that sector, and that public work tends to continue regardless of prevailing economic winds.
As for the residential division that Brett launched, the new business manager sees nothing but growth there. There are many transit-oriented projects being built near MBTA stations, especially in areas outside Boston. He would like to chase more of that work and wants to increase the number of signatory plumbing contractors that do residential construction.
“We all know construction is cyclical,” notes Fandel. “But I see residential construction, residential service, and service for commercial and other markets as being right in our wheelhouse. This kind of work can insulate us to a degree should the economy falter.”
“Tim will do a great job,” Brett attests. “I think he will help Local 12 continue to grow and expand.”