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.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
“I thought my summers were terrible when I was a little kid,” says Hilliard Baker, Jr. “Because I had to go to work.”
His school vacations were largely spent toiling alongside his father, Hilliard Baker, Sr., on jobs for his dad’s shop, HB Plumbing and Heating. When he was eight years old, Baker remembers that he and his brothers went with their father to a school under construction in Pembroke. The family arrived in a Winnebago camper that his dad parked on the job site.
“That’s where we slept until the job was finished,” Baker says with a grin. He recalls working into the night under lights powered by his dad’s generator. That’s the way the hungry, old-school plumber rolled, he adds. While the young Baker’s summers may not have been as carefree as he would have liked, he learned a lot about hard work and perseverance from the example his dad set.
“It was great father-son bonding time,” remembers Baker. Maybe his summers weren’t so bad after all.
The elder Baker retired and closed his plumbing shop in 1993, the same year that Baker, Jr. started college at Alabama State. While he was pursuing his studies, Baker’s dad signed his son up for a plumbing apprentice course without telling him.
That meant Baker didn’t get much of a break during college either. Over the summer and between semesters, he would come home to the Boston area and continue his apprentice work and studies.
After college, Baker worked at a few different jobs until returning to plumbing about seven years ago. While working for a non-union shop, he learned about Local 12 and became a member. He finished his apprentice training at the union’s center.
Two years ago, Baker got his master plumber’s license. On the same day, he called Local 12’s business manager, Harry Brett, and told him that he planned to start his own business.
“I promised Harry that I’d become a Local 12 shop,” Baker says. “The union has done a lot for me, and I want to be loyal to them.”
When it came time to come up with a name for his company, there was only one choice: HB Plumbing and Heating.
“I restarted the business because of my dad,” Baker explains with tears welling up in his eyes. Baker, Sr. is now 91 years old and in poor health. “It meant a lot to him. This is for my pops. I want to make him proud. It is still his company in spirit as far as I’m concerned.”
The resurrected HB Plumbing has worked on a couple of laundromats. The shop was also part of Local 12’s crew that responded to the natural gas disaster in the Merrimack Valley. But most of the shop’s work has focused on residential construction projects, such as Olmsted Green in Dorchester.
A mixed-income rental development, the project is bringing 100 two- and three-bedroom townhouses to the community. HB Plumbing is working on 11 of Olmsted Green’s buildings. Baker also has a crew working on the redevelopment of the Whittier Street apartment complex in Roxbury.
HB Plumbing is able to do the jobs as a union shop because Local 12 recently established a 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 construction of mid-rise, wood-frame apartment buildings.
The affiliation has been a plus for Baker. “When owners and general contractors hear that I’m with Local 12, they know that I’ll have the manpower to take on the job,” he says. It’s not just a question of the quantity of available workers, but also the quality. “We’re always ahead of schedule,” Baker notes. “The Local 12 mechanics are great.”
As for the future, Baker says that he’d like to explore other areas of the industry, including larger commercial work as well as industrial plumbing at sites such as power plants. Local 12’s Brett says the sky is the limit for the enterprising contractor. “Hilliard is doing everything the right way. I can’t say enough about him.”
Baker would like to grow his company—not only for himself and his family, but also for the community.
“It means a lot to me to give people opportunities,” he says, adding that he would like to steer students from voc-tech programs into Local 12. He especially hopes to help inner city kids and people of color along the path.
“They may have great talent,” Baker says. “But they need an opportunity.” After all, not every child can get on-the-job training while spending the summer in a Winnebago with his pops.
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.”