The Residences at Ashlar Park Quincy T. Sullivan Mechanical

Plumbing is a fitting career for him


Growing up as the youngest of five brothers, Tim Sullivan could often be found tinkering with cars and other projects along with his siblings and his father. Even as a youngster, he says that he loved working with his hands. But it wasn’t until he began visiting the yard at P.V. Sullivan as a child that he started to learn about plumbing.

He would sometimes pull fittings for the plumbing, heating, and HVAC supply shop that was started by his uncle, Paul Sullivan, in 1968. The company grew to become one of the largest industry wholesalers in New England. Tim’s father, Dan, later joined his brother as a partner at P.V. Sullivan. While in high school, Tim worked weekends at the supply house stocking fittings, piping, and other items.

In college, he studied business, although Tim says that he didn’t know what he wanted to do with the degree. During summer breaks, he continued to work at P.V. Sullivan. Still unsure of his career path after graduating, his father suggested that he investigate the other side of the industry and consider becoming a plumber.

He was able to get an apprenticeship with Local 12 and worked for Crane Plumbing and Heating. The first project Tim worked on for the contractor was at Boston Children’s Hospital. He says that he enjoyed the trade from the start and worked on other hospital jobs in the Longwood Medical Area as well as prisons such as the Norfolk County Correctional Center in Dedham. After getting his journeyman license, Tim worked for a few years with GBPCA contractor E.M. Duggan on projects such as the John J. Moakley U.S. Courthouse in Boston.

But his entrepreneurial spirit, which helped to fuel his pursuit of a business degree, made him restless.

“I wasn’t satisfied going to work for somebody else every day,” Tim says. “I always wanted to do more and made a decision to start my own plumbing company.”

Opened in 2001, T. Sullivan Mechanical began in Hanover as a one-person shop. Focusing at first on residential work and service, Tim built the business, diversifying into new construction for multi-residential projects and dabbling in hospital, healthcare, and lab work. He also did a lot of work at malls such as Legacy Place in Dedham and Patriot Place at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.

At first, T. Sullivan Mechanical was an open shop. But about three years after he started the business, Tim signed with Local 12.

“The skill level of Local 12 members is completely different from non-union plumbers,” he says, adding that the quality of the work his shop can offer as well as the time it takes to complete projects improved dramatically once he affiliated with the union. Additionally, Tim says that having access to Local 12’s pool of members makes it easy for him to staff up and downsize as needed based on the projects he secures.

Unions have long been an important part of his life. Before he joined P.V. Sullivan, Tim’s father was a member of Bricklayers Local 3. His oldest brother belongs to Pipefitters Local 537 in Boston. While a couple of his other brothers as well as family members work at P.V. Sullivan, Tim is the only one working in the trade as a plumber.

Over the past decade, T. Sullivan Mechanical has returned to its roots and has been working on a number of multi-residential projects, most of which are mid-rise, wood frame properties.

“We go where the market is, and for the last few years, that’s been apartment and condo complexes,” Tim says.

For example, the contractor is currently working on Ahslar Park, a five-building property in Quincy that will include 465 apartments and an underground garage with 590 parking spaces. Built on the site of the former Quincy Medical Center, one of the hospital’s original buildings is being renovated into a community center with a fitness studio, club room, pool, meeting spaces, a bistro, and other amenities. With a total construction cost of $128.7 million and spanning over 440,000 square feet, the job will take about 40 Local 12 plumbers and apprentices to complete.

“Residential is something we like to do,” Tim says. “It’s what we are good at.”

But, he adds, he still bids on other work such as a warehouse in Plympton for Sysco, the largest food distributor in New England, and a tenant fit out for restaurants and storefronts in the Seaport District.

“It’s important for us to remain nimble so we can get work and remain busy,” says Tim.

The new prefabrication shop at P.J. Dionne Company in Woburn, MA

Dionne expands into new location

Over the course of its 31-year history, the mantra for GBPCA member, P.J. Dionne Company, Inc., has been slow, but focused and steady growth. The shop recently relocated from Wilmington into a new, larger building in Woburn that includes a dedicated space for 3-D coordination and prefabrication as well as room for future expansion.

“I never wanted to take on more than we could support,” says Paul Dionne, the company’s founder and president, explaining his careful, calculated business approach. At the same time, he recognized that the industry was evolving and that his shop needed to change with the times. “I knew that if we didn’t get on board with prefab, we were going to miss a segment of the market. We’d be limited, and we wouldn’t be able to compete.”

A third-generation plumber, Dionne graduated from Local 12’s apprentice program and got his license in 1987. He worked for GBPCA contractor, J.C. Cannistraro, but was laid off amid the recession that plagued the early 1990s. He decided to open his own business in 1991.

As with many contractors, Dionne started small as a one-person shop. Early on, however, he turned to his family for assistance. His sister, Karen McCarthy, who serves as senior financial manager, has been running the office almost from the start. Soon after, his brother, Mike Dionne, joined the team as chief estimator. His father, Paul, who is also a Local 12 member, assisted in the office as well but has since retired.

In the 1990s, the company focused largely on tenant fit outs, public construction, and service work. As the projects got bigger and the company began diversifying, the crew of Local 12 plumbers and office staff grew as well. Among the industries the Dionne Company added to its capabilities are healthcare, higher education, and hospitality. The shop has also been doing a lot of work in the burgeoning life sciences field.

In the early 2000s, Dionne says that he started talking about incorporating prefab and exploring the concept. In 2016, the company began investing in coordination and fabrication and brought on a manager with extensive experience to develop and manage the prefab process. As the shop ramped up and began taking on more and bigger projects, it began bursting at the seams of its 12,000-square-foot facility in Wilmington. That precipitated the search for a larger property.

The company’s new site in Woburn is 25,000 square feet, or more than twice as big. Of that, the prefab shop inhabits about 6,000 square feet. According to Dionne, it was important to include all departments, including fabrication, coordination, and the office, under one roof. “We want that connection,” he says. “It’s important for people to be able to physically interact with one another.”

As for taking the financial leap for the expansion, Dionne says he did not consider it a risk. “I saw much more upside than not making the move.”

Case in point: By adding the increased capacity for coordination and prefab, the company has been able to take on jobs such as Seqirus, a lab under construction in Waltham. It would not have been able to meet the large project’s aggressive schedule without the ability to fabricate. Likewise, fabrication allowed the Dionne Company to be competitive for an MIT dormitory project on which it successfully bid and completed.

“Even on jobs that are traditionally built in the field, we always find ways that we can build parts of them in our fab shop,” Dionne notes.

What does his father make of all the prefabrication? “He can’t believe it,” says Dionne, adding that the concept was new, and a few contractors mostly dabbled in it back in his dad’s heyday. “He looks at all the computers in the office now and just shakes his head.”

Dionne says that he is renting out an additional 20,000 square feet in the Woburn building to a tenant but can expand into some or all the space down the road. Not that he is in a rush.

“We want to become as efficient as possible before we take the next step,” says the company president. “There will be future opportunities for growth, but we want to do the best we can with what we now have before we take on any additional challenges.”

Blue Bear plumbing service truck in Boston

A reluctant plumber finds huge success with service

Spotlight on Blue Bear Plumbing

“I had no intention of becoming a plumber,” says Chris Murphy, PCA member and owner of Local 12 signatory shop, Blue Bear Plumbing. At the age of 33, however, he has grown his four-year-old business, which focuses on residential service, into a local dynamo. Now he is planning to diversify and expand into multiple markets.

Starting at age seven, his father, Local 12 member Sean Murphy, would drag Chris out of bed on Saturday mornings and have him shine fittings or whatever else needed to be done. He wasn’t crazy about helping his dad on the weekend side jobs, but he had no choice in the matter.

“I wanted to stay home and watch cartoons,” Murphy says with a laugh.

Instead of following in his father’s footsteps, Murphy’s goal was to head off to college. In his junior year of high school, he penned an essay to submit with his college applications.

“It was about being a man and how you have to learn to work with your hands and fix things,” Murphy says. He heeded his own advice.

Chris Murphy

Something clicked in his senior year. Murphy decided he didn’t want to commit a lot of money to fund his college education. Instead, he was driven to make money and to support himself.

“I wanted to be my own person and drive my own destiny,” Murphy adds. And he decided to chart his own path by working with his hands.

Changing the trajectory of his life

He already had a taste of the money he could make in the trade. In addition to holding down a job at a produce market, he worked alongside his father and his uncle (who is also a plumber as well as a pipefitter in Local 537), helping them on nights and weekends with their side business. The trio did small residential jobs, such as kitchen and bathroom repairs and installations. Murphy told his dad that he wanted to forego college and get into the trade. He also told him he wanted to join Local 12.

His father hadn’t always been a member of the union. When he did join, his family’s life got “exponentially better,” Murphy says. “At the time I didn’t realize it, but as I got older, I knew how good Local 12 had been for us.”

He got some valuable experience working for small shops and, at age 19, entered Local 12’s apprenticeship program. He began working for signatory contractor, J.C. Higgins.

“Getting into Local 12 changes your perspective and the trajectory of your life,” notes Murphy.

The foreman at his first union project, a 30-story high rise, was his father. Noting that his dad could be demanding, Murphy says he had to work just as hard as everyone else on the crew. He later did hospital and lab work, among other projects, while finishing his apprenticeship with J.C. Higgins.

Murphy then moved to PCA member, Cannistraro, focusing on service work and small projects. He spent most of his time at Mass General Hospital where, at age 28, he led a young crew as its foreman. They got commendations from the esteemed medical center, doing work such as swapping over medical gas systems in intensive care units. Murphy says he enjoyed the hospital work, and especially enjoyed building relationships and developing the skills to run jobs.

“It’s all about personality and professionalism,” he says. “People can buy a plumbing product, but they can’t buy people.”

Always motivated to make money, Murphy continued to do side work. Along with a buddy, he did residential bathroom remodels and other projects, gaining business experience along the way. Eventually, he decided to go out on his own full time and truly drive his own destiny.

Frogs, penguins, and bears

At first, Murphy was looking at franchise opportunities and discovered one that was called “bluefrog Plumbing + Drain.” He thought the name was silly, but after doing some research he learned that business names that include colors and objects are easy to remember and are good marketing hooks. Murphy abandoned the franchise route but stuck with the marketing ideas as he kicked around ideas for his own shop.

He came up with two potential names, “Purple Penguin” and “Blue Bear,” and let his kids choose the winner.

“They chose Blue Bear,” Murphy says. “And we were off to the races.”

Launched in early 2018, Blue Bear was, initially, a one-person shop that Murphy operated out of his garage in Marshfield, Massachusetts. With four children, he was nervous about being able to support his family. That winter was especially cold, however, and Murphy was kept busy helping homeowners with frozen pipes and other plumbing issues.

Two months after he started his business, Murphy brought on John Oliva. The “right hand man,” as he describes Oliva, has been with the company ever since. The shop started winning contracts and began working on some sizeable jobs, including new construction of multi-residential projects. But from the start, Blue Bear focused mostly on residential service.

As his shop got busier, Murphy bought a second van. Realizing he needed additional help and health insurance for himself and his employees, he met with Harry Brett, who was Local 12’s business manager at the time. Blue Bear subsequently became a signatory contractor. In October of 2018, Murphy got an office space and brought on help to keep the books and answer the phone.

It took off like a rocket

Blue Bear continued to grow and added residential HVAC to its capabilities. By 2020, the shop had 26 employees, 20 of which were plumbers. Murphy needed more room and moved into a 5,000-square-foot shop. Then the pandemic hit.

“I thought that was the end of my business,” he says. “I figured I had a pretty good run.”

The phones stopped ringing. Murphy cut his workforce down to 14 employees and watched in horror as money started disappearing from his business account.

“ I want everyone to know that residential service is a feasible business model for a union shop.”

Instead of throwing in the towel, however, Murphy did something counterintuitive: He took the remaining $15,000 from his cash reserves and put it all into marketing. He bought a lot of Google ads along with Facebook ads and videos as well as other online media.

“With residential service,” Murphy explains, “marketing is a huge part of the business.” The ads let the community know that Blue Bear was open and ready to help people when they needed it. The result? “It took off like a rocket,” he says.

According to Murphy, Blue Bear earned $2.2 million in revenue in 2019. Despite the dropoff when everything shut down in the early days of the pandemic, the company closed out 2020 with $6.8 million in revenue. Instead of the business closing, it was once again off to the races–much bigger races.

Empowered by his newfound success, Murphy is moving to a new location in Norwell with three times the space. He is also rebranding and diversifying his business. Blue Bear Plumbing will be known as Blue Bear Home Services and offer plumbing, HVAC, and drain cleaning. Later this year, Murphy plans to roll out a second brand, C. Murphy Plumbing and Mechanical, which will focus on new construction. It will also be a Local 12 signatory shop and will seek tenant fit out projects and other commercial work. Between the two entities, Murphy anticipates topping $15 million in revenue in 2022.

He attributes the success of his company to the team he has assembled and says that the key has been to surround himself with top-notch talent. While he hopes to grow the commercial business, Murphy remains bullish on the work that has brought him so much fortune.

“Historically, Local 12 hasn’t focused much on residential service,” he says. “I want everyone to know that it is a feasible business model for a union shop. In four years, we established market share and recurring revenue.”

To prove his point, Murphy has ambitious expansion plans. He recently opened a second shop in the Buzzards Bay area to increase his geographical market. But that’s only the beginning.

“We want to open seven more Blue Bear locations by 2025,” he says. Once, again, Murphy’s business will be off to the races.

Diamond Mechanical, signatory contractor with Plumbers Local 12 Boston

Diamond shines bright with plumbing division

Like his father and his grandfather before him, Brian Gerrior, Jr. would have been happy working in the field as a union pipefitter for his entire career. But fate intervened, and he ended up opening his own HVAC and refrigeration shop, Diamond Mechanical, four years ago. Last year, he expanded his growing company and added a plumbing division.

Gerrior’s grandfather emigrated from Nova Scotia and worked on the fish piers in Boston cleaning and preparing the catch. When the fish company needed somebody to work on its refrigeration units, his grandfather stepped in and was able to learn the trade on the job. 

“It was a big transition for him,” Gerrior says. “He came out of Canada with nothing.”

His grandfather later joined the union. Gerrior’s father and uncle followed in their dad’s footsteps. Brian Gerrior, Sr. put in 39 years in the field and also taught at Pipefitters Local Union 537’s training center.

Gerrior, Jr. started working in the trade at age 19. For 11 years, the third-generation pipefitter mostly helped manage the mechanical systems on site at Boston Medical Center for Emcor Services. Work-related injuries sidelined him, however, and he transitioned to outside sales for a union company. That gave Gerrior a new perspective on the industry as well as the skills to consider opening his own shop.

He took the leap, and at age 32, started Diamond as a one-person operation. Gerrior worked in the field most of the day and did all of the estimating, billing, and other administrative and sales work at night in his office–a spare bedroom in his house. Finding success, he brought on a pipefitter about six months into the business. Gerrior next hired an employee to work in the office and built a space above his garage to accommodate the expanded team. Work continued to roll in. Diamond is now 19-persons strong and operates out of office space in Weymouth. 

The plumbing division wasn’t so much by design as by circumstance. “It was customer need,” Gerrior says. “We rarely do bid and spec work for plumbing.” 

Instead, Diamond’s existing HVAC clients would ask him if he could handle plumbing projects. At first, Gerrior partnered with another union plumbing contractor. But when the demand for plumbing work grew to the point that it could be sustainable, he added the plumbing division. Diamond now employs five Local 12 plumbers.

As an example of a client driving demand for plumbing services, Gerrior points to the Newton Marriott. When the hotel reached full capacity, it wasn’t able to generate enough domestic hot water or pressure for guests on its upper floors. One of Diamond’s biggest HVAC customers, the Marriott came to Gerrior seeking help with the water problem. After diagnosing the issue, the shop did some re-piping and added redundancy. “That was years ago,” Gerrior says. “The hotel hasn’t had any guests complaining about the lack of hot water since.”

There was never any question in his mind that Diamond would be a union shop. “I joked that it if my business wasn’t union, I’d never be able to sit with my family for Thanksgiving dinner,” says Gerrior. Coming through the union, he says he knows how important the benefits are to the guys in the field. Now as a contractor, Gerrior appreciates having the labor pool available to staff up as necessary.

Diamond’s growth and success over a relatively short amount of time has been all the more impressive given that it has been operating amid the pandemic for nearly half of its existence. “When COVID hit, my business strategy and timing couldn’t have been any worse,” Gerrior says. He focused on colleges, hotels, and hospitals, all of which were among the hardest hit by the pandemic.

In response, Gerrior branched out and targeted nursing homes, public school systems, and other markets. He has also started working with cannabis grow facilities and adds that the emerging industry looks promising as a source for work.

Despite the disruption caused by COVID, between positive word-of-mouth and Gerrior’s marketing efforts, Diamond has continued to grow. In fact, he added the plumbing division as well as a building automation division in September 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic.

While service has been Diamond’s specialty, Gerrior has been adding construction projects recently, such as handling the domestic hot water for the Liberty Hotel in Boston. He hopes to generate more construction work and continue to expand the business. To that end, he is looking for additional space and wants to purchase a building to serve as the company’s new headquarters–its fourth in four years. Planning for the future, Gerrior says that the office would include a prefabrication shop. “I’m hoping the next move will be good for at least ten years.”

Ricardo Souza EFR Mechanical plubing contractor

Ricardo Souza reinvented himself as a plumbing contractor

Spotlight on EFR Mechanical

In his native Brazil, Ricardo Souza was proficient with boom microphones and video cameras. Construction tools, however? Not so much.

“I didn’t even know how to hold a hammer before I got here,” Souza says. Which is pretty extraordinary, considering that he is now the owner of EFR Mechanical, a growing plumbing and heating contractor. As you might expect, Souza’s success story is one filled with determination and singular focus. “You have to work hard in this life,” he says, sharing the drive that motivates him.

But Souza didn’t go it completely alone. His story also demonstrates how Local 12 can help enterprising plumbers realize their dreams of opening their own shops.

When he was a young teenager, Souza started working as an office boy for an advertising agency. He later held lights during video production shoots, then learned how to operate a camera, and eventually became proficient at editing the commercials and political videos that the agency developed.

After getting married, he decided to venture out on his own and open his own video production company. In order to finance the company, a friend suggested Souza go to the U.S., work for one year, and save the money he would make. 16 years later, he is still here.

“Everybody looks for the American dream,” Souza says, referring to the misconception that the country’s streets are paved with gold, and easy money is readily available. “It’s not as simple as everybody thinks.”

Landing in Boston because he has a friend who lives in the city, Souza did what many locals do: He went to a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts. While there, a plumber happened to come in looking for a laborer to help with a job and offered Souza the work. So began his plumbing career.

That plumber, Rick MacKinnon, admired Souza’s work ethic and took him under his wing. Souza began apprenticing with MacKinnon while working at (where else?) Dunkin’ Donuts at night to earn extra dollars. He also began fixing computers on the side in whatever free time he could find.

With the money he was earning, Souza maintained the dream of opening his own television production company and even bought a video camera thinking that he might start his business in Boston. But a funny thing happened.

“I found I really enjoyed plumbing,” Souza says. “I also realized I could make a good living at it.”

So he ditched the extra jobs and focused on plumbing. Souza worked most of the day with MacKinnon. Ever the entrepreneur and hard worker, he also bought a truck and tools and did service work on the side.

The people at his non-union shop didn’t speak well about the union, repeating many of the common myths that paint a false picture about organized labor and often prevent workers from making decisions that are in their own best interest. Since Souza didn’t know anything about unions, he took the misrepresentations at face value and continued working for the open shop.

“Then I made friends with someone who was in Boston Laborers Union Local 223,” says Souza. The friend talked about the health insurance he was getting, the retirement plan the union offered, and other benefits. “I thought I was doing okay, but I didn’t realize what I didn’t have,” Souza added, noting that he always struggled trying to pay for health insurance.

Upon learning about the benefits, Souza’s wife, Fabiane, encouraged him to look into Plumbers Local 12. His mentor, MacKinnon, had joined Local 12 by that time and also encouraged him. The day he got his license, Souza contacted the union and never looked back.

“In addition to the benefits, the money I started making was way better than at my non-union job,” he says. Souza began working for GBPCA contractors CMP Plumbing and Heating and American Plumbing and Heating. Among the projects he worked on for American was a building for MIT in Kendall Square. About a year after he joined Local 12, Souza got his Master Plumber license and began thinking about opening his own shop.

Tim Fandel, Local 12’s business manager, assured Souza that the union would support him if he started a shop. That gave Souza the courage to take the leap and form EFR Mechanical. He started the business in April 2020, just as the pandemic began wreaking havoc, as a one-person shop.

EFR Mechanical trucks

At first, Souza relied on Plumbers 911, Local 12’s marketing service that connects union shops with homeowners and small businesses seeking plumbing services. The referrals kept him busy with service work. He says that after completing the work, the customers would often turn into clients and call him back for additional projects. Word of mouth also led to additional work, as his clients referred EFR.

About a year after he started his shop, Souza now has three plumbers working for him. But he’s only just begun growing the business. He has been bidding construction projects and will be starting work on two apartment buildings in Boston. One is a 210-unit building that will begin in September, and the other is an 88-unit building slated for October.

“When I need help for these bigger jobs, I know I’ll be able to get the manpower from the hall,” Souza says. That kind of backing empowers him to think even bigger. Looking to the future, Souza says he envisions having “at least 100 people work here.”

Fandel is a big cheerleader for EFR and Souza. “He is so motivated,” the Local 12 leader says. “I know he will be successful.”

With a little help, it turns out Souza is living the American dream after all.

Stop & Shop concept store

They’ve got the market on supermarkets

– Spotlight on A.H. Burns Company and John Marani III

“Look at any Whole Foods, Star Market, Stop & Shop, or any supermarket in the area. Chances are we did the plumbing,” says John Marani III, owner of GBPCA contractor A.H. Burns Company in Rockland. “It’s our specialty. Everyone knows we do supermarkets.”

The business started back in 1958 when Al Burns began operating out of his basement in Quincy. Joining him at the two-person shop was Marani’s father, also named John. The two had worked together at another plumbing company. When Burns suffered a heart attack, the elder Marani took over the business. “Al was like a father to him,” Marani says, explaining why his dad kept the A.H. Burns name. To this day, people refer to Marani as “Burnsy.”

As a child, Marani wasn’t particularly interested in plumbing. Unlike his father, he says he wasn’t mechanically inclined and had to work hard to hone his skills. Instead, he excelled in school and consistently made the honor roll. Nonetheless, as the only son of a plumber who started to work in the trade when he was 13 years old, plumbing was his destiny. “I never really felt like I had any choice,” Marani notes. “I’ve often said I was born with a pipe wrench in my hand.”

His career began while in middle school

Marani took over A.H. Burns from his father, also named John.

Like his dad, Marani also began working in the trade at age 13. During summer breaks, he put in full days fetching tools, sorting fittings, and helping out at his father’s shop with other tasks. After high school, Marani got his associates degree in civil engineering (the closest major to plumbing engineering that was available, he says) at Wentworth Institute. Graduating in 1980, he then went to work full time at A.H. Burns. 

As a first-year apprentice, Marani says that he made $4.35 an hour. Joe Valante, now president of GBPCA contractor Valante Mechanical, was in the same Local 12 training program class as Marani.

In the early 1980s, A.H. Burns was small and only employed a few plumbers. The shop ran new construction work on buildings such as banks, restaurants, and small office buildings. It also handled remodeling jobs as well as service work, both of which was nearly all for commercial customers.

Its biggest client was Stop & Shop, which also operated Bradlee’s department stores, Medi Mart drug stores, and Perkins Tobacco Shops. Marani says that A.H. Burns handled all of the service work for all of the chain’s locations throughout Greater Boston. That kept him plenty busy. Marani remembers doing quick remodeling turnarounds for the grocery stores on weekends. They would close at 6 p.m. on Saturday and reopen 1 p.m. on Sunday. In the intervening 18 hours, including the wee hours of the morning, the A.H. Burns crew would replace all of the produce and deli cases, and do all of the other plumbing work.

The shop has had its ups and downs

When his father retired in 1992, Marani took over ownership of the business. “If I knew then what I didn’t know, I probably would have run screaming from the building,” he says with a laugh. Marani adds that his personality is well suited to running a company. He says that he is not a worrier by nature. Which is good, because the shop has experienced some challenging periods.

A.H. Burns was humming along the first couple of years under Marani’s leadership. But everything crashed in 1994. With its fortunes closely aligned with Stop & Shop, the contractor took a huge hit after Bradlees filed for bankruptcy, effectively taking 50% of the chain’s work away. Then the company began converting its grocery stores to Super Stop & Shops and bidding out the work to general contractors. A.H. Burns still handled the maintenance for the stores, but the work dwindled to the point that Marani was down to one employee.

He says that he scratched and clawed and was able to keep the company afloat during the difficult period. In 2000, Marani renegotiated with Stop & Shop and began doing new construction for the chain’s Super Stop & Shops, averaging three or four of them a year. By the mid-2000s, A.H. Burns had a crew of about 20 plumbers.

When The Great Recession reared its ugly head in the late 2000s, the company faced an especially challenging period. But Marani persevered, weathered the bad times, and eventually built the business back to achieve its greatest success.

2018 marked the biggest year ever for the contractor. In 2019, Marani says his revenue increased by a factor of more than two compared to 2018. 2020 was poised to be another banner year until the pandemic brought nearly everything to a halt. Business resumed fairly quickly, and Marani is confident that A.H. Burns will return to its pre-pandemic pace.

Fireking Baking Company’s production facility, an A.H. Burns job.

Recently, the shop handled the plumbing for wholesale baker Fireking’s new 200,000-square-foot production facility in Braintree. At $1.5 million, it is the largest job A.H. Burns has ever done. Other recent projects include the Herb Chambers BMW dealership in Medford, the sports book at Encore Hotel & Casino in Everett, the Star Market at The Hub on Causeway in Boston, an Amazon delivery center in Norwood, Stop & Shop’s headquarters in Quincy, and, of course, multiple Super Stop & Shop locations.

Like his father, Marani is an avid boater and has a cabin cruiser. The trips he takes include excursions to Martha’s Vineyard, Provincetown, and Salem, often timed to attend blues festivals or concerts featuring blues music, another one of his passions.

Marani plans to continue specializing in grocery stores. The reason he likes doing those kinds of projects? “There is lots of plumbing in supermarkets.”

Atlantic Wharf is one of JMA’s signature projects.

He quietly builds signature projects and great relationships–SPOTLIGHT ON JOHN MORIARTY & ASSOCIATES

In a culture that is largely obsessed with self-promotion, the construction industry generally remains unassuming. But even among construction management firms, John Moriarty & Associates (JMA) is especially humble. 

Although it is responsible for building some of the biggest, most complex, and most noteworthy projects in the region and beyond, people outside of the industry may not be familiar with the company.

John Moriarity of JMA Boston
John Moriarity

“You’ll never see giant JMA banners at job sites,” notes Joe Valante, president of GBPCA contractor Valante Mechanical. His father first did work for JMA about 20 years ago and developed a great working relationship with its namesake founder and president, John Moriarty. To this day, many of Valante Mechanical’s largest projects are with JMA, and Joe has carried on the relationship with Moriarty. “His work speaks for itself. He prefers to be behind the scenes,” Valante adds.

But behind the scenes, Moriarty has made an indelible mark with marquee buildings such as 111 Huntington at the Prudential Center, the world headquarters of Novartis in Cambridge, and the 1.2-million-square-foot Atlantic Wharf high rise along Boston’s waterfront. And he’s done it by being fair, by focusing on quality, and by developing relationships based on goodwill and mutual trust.

He diverged from his original path

Although he always enjoyed working with his hands and even built a few kitchens to make some extra dollars while he was getting his undergraduate degree, there was never any grand plan for Moriarty to go into the construction business. Instead, he had set his sights on becoming a lawyer.

Another way that Moriarty helped pay his way through college was by becoming a union laborer and working during school breaks. The experience opened his eyes and introduced him to the building trades. Deciding he wanted to take a break from his education, Moriarty deferred applying to law school and went to work for Turner Construction instead.

“It was supposed to be for one year,” Moriarty says about his commitment to the large Boston company. “But I fell in love with the business.”

He started as a field engineer trainee. Putting together intricate deals, working alongside everyone from major bank presidents to union apprentices, and seeing projects go from ideas to architectural plans to humming construction sites to actual buildings all fascinated Moriarty. He quickly recognized and appreciated the importance that developing and maintaining relationships played in every aspect of the industry.

What was supposed to last one year turned into a 12-year tenure with Turner. Moriarty says that it was a great training ground, but he was itching to get out on his own. In 1985 he started JMA with “not a dime.” Luckily, he says, Boston Properties took a chance and hired his new firm to construct a major project. “Then we were off to the races.”

Partnership with labor and subcontractors

JMA quickly began establishing itself in the region. Among its more interesting and complex projects was a laboratory building for Millennium Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge. GBPCA contractor American Plumbing and Heating worked on the project for JMA. That led to buildings for other biomedical and pharmaceutical clients such as Takeda Pharmaceutical Company in Cambridge and Alkermes in Waltham.

“As the work became more complicated, it became obvious to me that I was the beneficiary of this fabulous workforce,” Moriarty says about the subcontractors and the union building trades workers they employ. “It’s really in partnership with them. I realized I could have the best plumbers and other trades. They can do anything.”

The workers are able to perform at such a high level because of the union, Moriarty contends. “We understand the Local 12 labor force. Most of the work we do requires their sophistication and the training they get. We’re never at a loss for qualified, competent labor even when we are busy as hell,” he says.

One of the reasons the building trades unions are able to maintain an exemplary labor force is because of their apprenticeship programs. According to Moriarty, unions and the subcontractors with which they work have a “miraculous relationship” with apprentices. “It’s an amazing thing,” he says in praise of the programs and the apprenticeship concept. “To this day it amazes me.”

Moriarty also understands it is more than just the training that distinguishes the organized building trades. “The reason it works is that the labor force has high paying jobs that come with excellent benefits, and the unions are extremely well run. The workers are highly motivated. It’s pretty terrific.”

Of course, it’s important for the unions and subcontractors to have general contractors like JMA developing projects and creating job opportunities. The system works because it is mutually beneficial for all parties. “We’ve always enjoyed a strong working relationship with John and JMA,” says Tim Fandel, Local 12’s business manager. “We are proud to work with him, and we are grateful for the work he and his company provides for our members.”

111 Huntington in the Prudential Center is another signature JMA project.

Cooperation and collaboration

Moriarty says that much has changed over the 47 years he has been in the industry, especially the incorporation of computers and digital processes. But the one thing that has remained constant is the need to nurture and sustain relationships. He says that people think that construction is a litigious business and that everyone is always fighting one another. While Moriarty allows that the business used to be more combative and that groups don’t always see eye to eye on everything, he’s proud of the fact that JMA has never gone to litigation in its 35-year history.

That’s probably largely due to his demeanor, attitude, and leadership. “His word is his bond,” attests Joe Clancy, president of American Plumbing and Heating, referring to Moriarty. “A handshake is all you need to know a deal has been made. That’s quite a rarity in today’s world.”

For his part, Moriarty says that project owners, contractors, subcontractors, and others involved in the construction of the kind of large-scale projects that is JMA’s specialty “should be enabling each other to be successful. Cooperation and collaboration is how you get the best possible result.”

JMA does not solicit multiple bids so it can award subcontracting jobs to the lowest bidders, according to Moriarty. Instead, he prefers to work with a handful of shops that have a proven quality history and in which he has confidence. Again, it’s about relationships.

“Besides being excellent subcontractors, I’d like to believe that we also think of each other as friends,” adds Moriarty.

In addition to its Boston-area headquarters in Winchester, the company has expanded to Connecticut, the DC area, and Florida. Among current JMA projects is One Congress, the stylish anchor building at Bulfinch Crossing in downtown Boston that will be the new headquarters for State Street Corp. Another signature project is Boston Landing along the Mass. Pike in Brighton, which includes New Balance’s headquarters and training facilities for the Celtics and the Bruins. Valante Mechanical has done much of the work on the multi-use campus.

Now 70, Moriarty says that he has had a good run and considers himself lucky. Not that he or his company are showing any signs of slowing down. After all, there are more signature buildings to be built and more relationships to be forged.

Harding and Smith plumbing contractor at the John J. Carroll Water Treatment Plant in Marlborough, Massachusetts

Harding and Smith keeps the water infrastructure flowing

“People may take for granted the luxury of water coming into their home and wastewater leaving their home,” says Mike Perrotta, estimator and project manager at GBPCA contractor Harding and Smith. “But there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes.”

He should know. Harding and Smith (H&S) is one of the Boston-area shops that specialize in process piping for the water and water treatment industry. While most plumbers tap into existing water and sewage systems to build projects, the Local 12 plumbers that work for H&S build and help maintain the water supply and wastewater plants that are at the heart of the systems. It is important, if often unheralded infrastructure work that is essential to the lifeblood and wellbeing of communities. It is also unique work that involves massive-scale piping and requires highly skilled plumbers.

Dating back to 1975, H&S initially focused on water and wastewater piping, including the makeover of the Deer Island Sewage Treatment Plant that serves Boston and 42 communities in Eastern Massachusetts. Perrotta says that he was an apprentice when the project started and remembers the prison that used to sit among the rolling hills on the island. Many GBPCA contractors worked on the huge job. H&S, Perrotta says, was instrumental in a lot of the project’s work.

“The scale of the Deer Island rebuild was massive,” says Perrotta, noting that some of the pipes were ten feet in diameter, and the plant’s outfall tunnel, which extends over nine miles, was 24 feet in diameter. “It was a major engineering feat.”

GBPCA plumbing contractor Harding and Smith at  Deer Island Treatment Plant
A Harding and Smith crew works late at night on a project at the Deer Island Treatment Plant.

So how does a crew approach projects that involve such huge piping? “A lot of it is upfront pre-planning,” according to Perrotta. Instead of cutting pipe in the field, H&S prefabricates it using computer-aided design to ensure that the pieces fit together properly. On site, the plumbers need to use special hoisting and heavy rigging procedures to handle the piping.

“It’s the hands-on work that is really important,” says Perrotta. There are heavy tools involved, as well as large flanges and bolts. Plumbers need to carefully calculate the piping’s center of gravity before moving it. “It’s a unique skill,” he says and adds that H&S does a lot of in-house training by pairing older, veteran plumbers with younger ones–in the industry’s longstanding tradition of apprentice training. “We have to get it right. Safety is the top priority,” says Perrotta.

More recently, H&S has been using a lot of fiberglass-reinforced plastic for piping. Among the projects on which the shop is using the material is the MWRA’s Chelsea Creek Headworks pumping station. Perrotta explains that the shop builds the fiberglass out until it is the right thickness.

H&S does work on smaller-scale water projects for municipalities as well. It recently replaced the pump system for the water plant operated by the town of Ipswich, for example.

Because communities cannot function without water and wastewater systems, Perrotta says that a lot of the work H&S does is performed on a tight schedule. Often, its crews will work through the night with the goal of bringing everything back on line by the morning. It takes a lot of forethought and careful planning.

While water and wastewater plants remain one of the core specialties of the mechanical contractor, H&S has expanded its services and capabilities through the years. It also handles instrumentation and control systems, for example, and does work for the power and biotechnology industries among others. In most cases, however, the shop is still working with large-scale systems and pipe.

Other projects on which H&S has worked include drainage piping systems for Fore River Bridge in Quincy, standpipe work for the MBTA’s subway system, and a new pumping system for the Department of Transportation’s O’Neill Tunnel in Boston.

Glionna Plumbing Local 12 Massachusetts

Glionna Plumbing grows with Local 12

When people consider the plumbing contractors that work with Local 12, they often think of the larger shops working at job sites for high-rise towers and other signature projects under construction in and around Boston. For good reason. Members of the Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association, which employ Local 12 plumbers, build virtually every major new project in the city. But that’s only part of the story.

There are shops of all sizes, doing a wide variety of work, which are affiliated with Local 12. Shops such as Glionna Plumbing and Heating.

Mike Glionna started the business in 2010 with himself and one employee. Initially, he focused on residential service and light commercial work. Glionna hired two additional plumbers as he developed new clients, including property managers in downtown Boston. The Saugus-based shop also worked on new construction throughout the region, much of it based on the North Shore.

In 2014, Glionna wanted to expand and go after larger projects, especially prevailing-wage, public-bid work. To help grow the business, he brought in Anthony Pitrone to serve as the company’s director of operations. The two friends have known each other for 25 years, dating back to high school when they were classmates at Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational School in Wakefield. After graduating, they apprenticed together for a plumbing contractor. Pitrone worked his way up to foreman at the shop after Glionna left to start his own business.

As part of the company’s expansion, Glionna partnered with his aunt, Mary Jo Mathews. With a background in architectural engineering and experience in the construction industry, Mathews focuses on management issues and keeps the office humming.

Among the projects Glionna and Pitrone were able to land after joining forces was a 10,000-square-foot dialysis clinic in Danvers. That led to more new clinics in Fairhaven and Westborough. The shop also got a project renovating an old public school in Lynn that was converted into Aspire Developmental Services, a private, nonprofit healthcare and educational agency. After bidding public construction jobs, Glionna got its feet wet in the sector with projects for the Mashpee and North Reading housing authorities. The shop also got some bigger projects, including a 32-unit, mixed-use building in South Boston.

“We knew what the endgame was,” Pitrone says. “We always had the idea to go with the union.” He notes that his dad worked for the city of Revere doing maintenance, and Glionna’s father was an operating engineer. “We came from the union world in our families.”

In 2018, Glionna got to work alongside a number of Local 12-affiliated shops when he and a four-person crew helped the recovery efforts in the wake of the natural gas disaster that rocked Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover and disrupted service to about 8,500 Columbia Gas customers.

“Mike and his crew worked incredibly hard and put in a ton of systems in the Merrimack Valley,” says Pitrone. “He bought a box truck and basically lived in it up there for three months.”

At the end of 2018, as the initial recovery efforts were winding down, Glionna became a signatory contractor with Local 12. “We wanted to sign with the union, because we knew it would help us grow our business,” Pitrone explains. “If we had Local 12 behind us, we knew we could get the trained, high-quality plumbers we needed to do any kind of work. There’d be no limit.”

With the union’s backing, Glionna, which is now based in Middleton, has expanded to a 13-member crew and is bidding and securing a lot of new work. One of its public-bid projects is a three-story addition to the McCall Middle School in Winchester. The expansion includes four classrooms, three science labs, gang bathrooms, two locker rooms, and a roof drainage system. Projects under contract include a public safety building in Essex, fire stations in Dracut and Waltham, and Excel Academy, a charter school in East Boston.

Tim Fandel, Local 12’s business manager is thrilled to have Glionna in the fold. “We need to reengage in the public sector,” he says, citing his plans to focus more on municipal and state-funded projects. “We like to take a contractor like Glionna and help them position themselves for the next level of public work.”

Partnering with Local 12 has helped the shop in a number of ways. Pitrone says that the plumbers who work for them are getting great benefits and pay and their morale and happiness has never been better. Also, the training they are receiving through the local is helping them learn and hone skills and enabling the company to go after different types of jobs.

Pitrone says the future is bright and that Glionna Plumbing hopes to double in size over the next few years.