Matt Messinger Local 12 recruitment specialist

The job comes naturally to new Local 12 recruiter

“As soon as I joined Local 12, I knew it was the right move for me,” says Matt Massinger. In fact, he thought so highly of the union and all that it brought him, he quickly became an evangelist for Local 12, touting its benefits to non-union plumbers whenever he could. Without prompting, Messinger kept up his ad hoc outreach campaign, driven by a simple wish: “I just wanted more people to experience what I was experiencing.”

Since coming on board last November as Local 12’s recruitment specialist, he now gets to spread the word on a daily basis.

There was no grand plan to become a plumber, Messinger says. He played junior hockey, thinking that it might be a stepping-stone to college and tried a few semesters at Massasoit Community College. Deciding school wasn’t for him, Messinger’s grandfather, an electrician, sat him down and told him that if he was not going to go to college, he should consider becoming either an electrician or a plumber.

“I told him that I’d rather not get electrocuted,” Messinger recalls. “I think I’ll be a plumber.”

He began his career on the non-union side, logging nine years with open shops. While Messinger loved plumbing from the start, his non-union experience sharply contrasted with what he discovered after joining Local 12 in 2015. He ticks off the many ways that things improved for him after becoming a member, including better wages, vastly superior health care, a commitment to on-the-job safety, and a pension and other retirement benefits that take all of the worry out of being able to retire with comfort and dignity.

“Most non-union plumbers can’t say that they don’t worry about retirement,” Messinger says. “Many have to work well beyond retirement age. I don’t think I’d be too good swinging wrenches at 80.”

Messinger also points to the brother- and sisterhood aspect of the union, and says the great camaraderie he now enjoys just isn’t there on the non-union side.

After joining Local 12, Messinger went to work for GBCA contractor American Plumbing and Heating on the Vistaprint headquarters building in Waltham. He remained with American and mostly worked on projects in the Seaport including 101 Northern Ave., 399 Congress Street, and Amazon’s latest expansion at 1 Boston Wharf, the last job site he worked at before taking the recruitment position.

As an organizer, Messinger says he often shares his personal journey from non-union worker to union member. “I tell prospective members that I wouldn’t have half of what I have if it wasn’t for the local.” Having that kind of work history and perspective helped make Messinger a strong candidate for the recruitment job, according to Tim Fandel, Local 12’s business manager.

“I wanted somebody that non-union workers could relate to. They can see themselves in somebody like Matt and identify with him. He can speak with authority,” Fandel says.

Messigner works alongside Frank Amato, Local 12’s director of business development and recruitment. In addition to recruiting members, the two bring the local’s message to contractors in the hope of signing them on. Messinger says that he often has to dispel misconceptions about unions when he is in the field. But once he gets past the mistaken beliefs, Local 12 practically sells itself. The shops will be more successful, he tells them, and their employees will be happier, more productive, and more respectful of the business.

Saying that the recruitment position is a dream job, Messinger notes that new members will often come back to thank him for giving them the opportunity. “They’re always all smiles,” he says. “I see that, and I think this is the best job I could ask for.”

“My life changed entirely when I joined Local 12,” Messinger contends. “I wanted to pass it on. Now, it’s my job to do that.”

MA State Senator Patrick O’Connor at Local 12

This senator puts people above party

A Republican senator who supports unions? Sounds crazy, no? But Massachusetts State Senator Patrick O’Connor threads that needle with aplomb.

The defining events that helped shape the pragmatic, authentic politician and his convention-defying worldview include growing up in a union household. His mother, Terry, is a NICU nurse who belongs to the Massachusetts Nursing Association, and his father, Mike, is a Local 12 plumber.

“My parents instilled the value of hard work at a very early age. They also made sure I looked out for others,” O’Connor says. He believes that their union affiliations set an example and reinforced the lessons they taught him. “One thing unions bring to the table is a fundamental understanding that it is our responsibility to take care of our own. That’s something I take with me every day to Beacon Hill.”

MA State Senator Patrick O'Connor and his father, Michael

MA State Senator Patrick O’Connor (R) and his father, Michael.

O’Connor remembers that his father would get up very early to go to work and would sometimes be on call, working late into the night. Nonetheless, he says, it was evident that his dad loved being a plumber. O’Connor would occasionally help his father with projects around the house and enjoyed accompanying him to work. He considered becoming a plumber himself or pursuing another trade. But public service beckoned and was more of a calling.

Politics, O’Connor says, has always been a major topic in his family. His late grandmother, Virginia O’Connor, worked as a secretary for legendary U.S. Speaker of the House Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill when he was a Massachusetts state representative. That gave her a front-row seat to the government’s inner workings and plenty of fodder for family discussions. His grandmother’s keen interest in politics got O’Connor intrigued in the topic.

At age 21, he entered the fray and was elected to Weymouth’s town council. He rose to serve as its president. In 2016, O’Connor won the Plymouth and Norfolk State Senate seat and was reelected this past November.

As a Republican, some of his positions hew to party lines. For example, O’Connor often votes to rein in what he considers excessive spending and taxation. Then again, he supports renewable energy and legislation benefiting low-income and marginalized families, issues that are typically associated more with Democrats.

“My policy positions are all over the map,” admits O’Connor, who describes himself as a moderate, centrist Republican with a very independent voice. His core belief, he says, is to make government work better for people. “We need people from both parties who are willing to come together, work hard, and provide solutions.”

MA State Senator Patrick O'Connor with Local 12 business agents

MA State Senator Patrick O’Connor with Local 12 business agents, Jim Vaughan (L) and Barry Keady (R).

Perhaps nowhere does the Republican diverge more from his colleagues than on labor issues. He has seen first-hand the difference that unions have made for his parents. “I’ve experienced it, and I believe in it. That helped me form an opinion early on that regardless of all other policy positions, I was always going to be staunchly pro-union,” O’Connor adds.

His stance sometimes elicits ribbing from the state’s Republican caucus. But, he believes, his advocacy for labor has also opened eyes among many legislators.

On the other hand, O’Connor’s labor voting record has earned praise from the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. He was the only Republican to be endorsed in the last election by the state organization. In response to the endorsement, O’Connor said he “was proud–floored actually. It’s an affirmation of the work we’ve been doing. That put the exclamation point on our campaign.”

He says that Massachusetts has one of the strongest–if not the strongest–labor movements and construction markets in the country. O’Connor isn’t about to rest on any laurels, however. “There is still a lot more work to do to make labor even stronger,” he says.

Given the influence of Tip O’Neill, an outspoken liberal Democrat, how is it that O’Connor chose to become a Republican? It was the 2000 presidential campaign of self-described maverick, Senator John McCain, which attracted him and sent him down the GOP path. O’Connor believes that many of the ideals that he admired in McCain remain intact in the state’s Republican party. He contends, however, that the national GOP has strayed from those beliefs.

Echoing a sentiment that is the hallmark of President Biden, O’Connor says that that there is often too much divisiveness among Republicans and Democrats and calls for more unity. “Generally speaking, we are all Massachusetts residents, all Americans, all human beings. We need to treat each other better.”