Jeremy Ryan Executive director Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association

The GBPCA bids farewell to Jeremy Ryan

In February, Jeremy Ryan stepped away from his position as the executive director of the Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association. He had served in the role since mid-2017, taking over from Hugh Kelleher.

“Jeremy brought a lot of new, fresh ideas to the organization,” says Joe Valante, president of Valante Mechanical and one of the GBPCA presidents who served alongside Ryan. “We had a great working relationship. That was important when COVID hit, because we worked closely together and with Local 12 to figure out how we would move forward during the challenging period.”

Ryan cites the upturn of involvement as one of his most significant accomplishments. “Member engagement is way up. To me, that’s the main thing,” he says. “When contractors are engaged, the organization is stronger.”

Among the changes he initiated, Ryan booked different venues where the GBPCA scheduled its meetings. By targeting a variety of locales, he was able to appeal to members where they were and significantly boost attendance, according to Valante. That, in turn, helped increase participation of the organization’s contractors.

In addition to navigating the pandemic, one of the most difficult and disruptive crises of modern times, Ryan helped the organization’s members respond to the natural gas disaster in the Merrimack Valley and assist in the recovery efforts for the affected communities. He also represented the contractors in four successful collective bargaining sessions with Local 12.

The scholarship fund has grown considerably during Ryan’s tenure and the GBPCA has been able to give more and larger scholarship awards to recipients. That’s been partly due to the general increase in participation among members. The events that generate funds for the program, such as the golf tournament, regularly sell out and have been raising more money.

The success can also be attributed to Dan Bent, executive vice president of American Plumbing and Heating, and another GBPCA president who worked together with Ryan. “Dan has been passionate about the scholarship program,” Ryan says. “He put a lot of energy in it, and the contractors rallied behind him. They take a lot of pride in the program.” In addition to increasing the annual scholarships, the organization has been able to establish an endowment to help sustain the program.

Other GBPCA highlights that took place with Ryan as executive director include hiring and training the organization’s first director of public affairs, getting more involved with community organizations, moving the office to Braintree, increasing the size of networking events, and becoming a chapter of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (see related article in this issue).

“Jeremy has blazed a new path for the GBPCA,” says Andrew DeAngelo, director of public affairs. He will take over from Ryan as the organization’s new executive director. “A great testament to what he’s done over the past few years is the shape in which he is leaving the association. It is solid thanks to his strong leadership,” adds DeAngelo.

He says that the two Industry Nights the organizations presented in 2018 at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum and in 2021 at the Encore Boston Harbor are indicative of the role Ryan has played at the GBPCA. “They were massive venues, and the turnout was huge. Everyone was excited to attend,” says DeAngelo. “They are the embodiment of what Jeremy has done here.”

Tim Fandel, business manager of Local 12, notes that Ryan has been a great partner advancing the work of the two organizations, keeping the lines of communication open, and strengthening the labor and management bonds. “We are going to miss Jeremy and wish him well in his future endeavors,” he adds.

“I think the contractors and Local 12 have a special and unique relationship,” Ryan says. “It’s why the plumbing industry in Boston really sets itself apart.”

Andrew DeAngelo takes over as GBPCA director

Andrew DeAngelo takes over as GBPCA director

With Jeremy Ryan’s departure, Andrew DeAngelo took over as executive director of the Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association in February. Because he had been serving as the organization’s director of public affairs for about three years, the transition has been seamless.

“He has been working hand in hand with Jeremy and understands the issues,” says Joe Valante, president of Valante Mechanical and a past GBPCA president. “Andrew is going to do a great job.”

DeAngelo was the first person to hold the newly created director of public affairs position at the organization. He describes the post as a combination of public relations and lobbying. DeAngelo has been focusing on several regulatory initiatives and legislative issues such as medical gas and drain cleaning bills as well as paid family medical leave. He has also been representing the industry on climate policy legislation.

His work has also taken him into the community where he has worked with many organizations. DeAngelo has been serving as chairman of the plumbing advisory committee at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School in Roxbury and has also been serving on the plumbing advisory board of Somerville High School’s Center for Career and Technical Education. He has also been working closely with the pre-apprenticeship program, Building Pathways.

Prior to coming to the GBPCA, DeAngelo was a project coordinator for Building Pathways, which provides a gateway for low-income area residents into the construction trades. During his time there, he helped manage the program and established relationships with the training directors, business agents, and business managers of the area’s building trades, including Local 12. Earlier in his career, DeAngelo held other positions which brought him into contact with the region’s construction industry and gave him valuable experience.

Born and raised in Dorchester, DeAngelo grew up in a union household. His father is a retired electrician and member of IBEW Local 103.

“Andrew has a deep breadth of knowledge about our industry. He is highly intuitive and understands the market and the contractor base,” says Tim Fandel, business manager of Local 12. “He will be a great partner to continue some of the initiatives we have been working on to grow market share.”

“What Andrew has been able to do in the public affairs position is a testament to his knowledge of the construction industry in Boston as well as his ability to interact with people,” adds Ryan. “He is a great ambassador for the plumbing industry.”

In addition to the public affairs work he has been doing, DeAngelo has been involved with other GBPCA projects. For example, he started a mechanical aptitude prep course for candidates applying to Local 12’s apprenticeship program. He has also been working closely with Ryan on any number of the organization’s issues. The two describe their relationship as having been less of a boss and employee and more of a partnership.

“We have worked very well together,” says DeAngelo. “We are like-minded and have complemented each other well.”

DeAngelo says that he plans to pick up where Ryan left off and continue the momentum that the departing executive director has brought to the organization. “I want to maintain his vision moving forward, because I think Jeremy set a great tone and course,” he adds. “I also want to continue his spirit of innovation and advancing the industry.”

“Andrew is going to bring the GBPCA to higher heights,” Ryan says about his successor.

GBPCA is now a chapter of MCAA

This past January the Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association became an affiliate chapter of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America. The national organization represents and serves contractors working in the plumbing, piping, mechanical service, heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration industries.

Based in Maryland, MCAA offers educational materials, training programs, conferences, conventions, trade shows, and other resources to help contractors attain managerial and technical expertise. It publishes materials such as safety manuals, reports, bulletins, documentation sheets, and guides as well as videos to keep companies and their employees informed about industry developments and trends. The association also advocates on behalf of industry-related issues in Congress.

MCAA membership will provide many benefits for the GBPCA. “Our contractors will have access to all kinds of resources,” says Andrew DeAngelo, GBPCA’s executive director. “They’ll be able to glean a lot.” He also notes that MCAA works closely with the United Association, the parent organization of Local 12. “They are essentially a counterpart to the UA.”

GBPCA donates $35,000 to area charities

For the second consecutive year, the Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association made a sizeable donation to support several non-profit organizations throughout the region. It gave a total of $35,000 to seven charities in late 2021.

“The PCA has always given back,” says Andrew DeAngelo, executive director. “But we’ve made a concerted effort over the past two years to make donations to organizations that help members of the community who have been struggling during the pandemic.”

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, the association targeted some of its donation funds to organizations focused on feeding people, providing shelter, and offering health care. including Father Bill’s MainSpring. The charity has been helping people in Southern Massachusetts for the last three decades. Father Bill’s

mission is to end and prevent homelessness with programs that provide emergency and permanent housing and help people obtain skills, jobs, housing, and services.

Community Servings, located in Jamaica Plain, was founded in 1990 to provide home-delivered meals to individuals living with HIV/AIDS in Dorchester and Roxbury. Since then, the organization has evolved to a regional program serving nutritionally tailored meals and providing nutrition education to thousands of people per year across the state.

The mission of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP) is to ensure unconditionally equitable and dignified access to the highest quality health care for all individuals and families experiencing homelessness in our community. The tireless work done by BHCHP is

needed now more than ever in the most vulnerable neighborhoods in Boston.

Founded in 1906 by a group of immigrant boys from the densely populated West End neighborhood of Boston, the West End House has served the youth of the city ever since. Services offered by the West End House include a full-body fitness program, nutrition education, arts mastery, and career readiness. The West End House also prepares young people for high school graduation and college completion.

Around the holidays, the PCA gave a second round of donations to three additional groups. Starting in 1989, Boston’s Christmas in the City has been presenting non-denominational holiday events for children and families experiencing homelessness and poverty. Because of the pandemic, the organization brought toys and other “comfort and joy” to people living in local congregate shelters and to many other families in need of assistance in lieu of an event.

Located in Roxbury, Rosie’s Place was founded in 1974 as the first women’s shelter in the U.S. Today, it is a multi-service community center that offers a food pantry, ESOL classes, legal assistance, wellness care, one-on-one support, housing and job search services, and community outreach as well as emergency shelter and meals.

Another holiday donation recipient was The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Roxbury. Its programs include sports and recreation, creative arts, an aquatic facility, culinary training, and social services.

“When the struggles of those less fortunate are amplified, our members thought it appropriate to give to organizations that help people in need,” says John Marani, president of the GBPCA.

Bargaining in good faith

Earlier this year, members of the Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association and Plumbers Local 12 sat across from one another and ironed out the details of a four-year contract. The document they developed specifies the terms and conditions by which contractors employ the Local’s plumbers and includes issues such as wages, benefits, and safety practices. The process for the meetings, which included representatives of both management and labor that negotiated on behalf of their groups, is known as collective bargaining, and the result of the negotiations is a collective bargaining agreement.

The collective bargaining process is at the very heart of what unions are all about. It is one of the key attributes that distinguishes Local 12 members and the union’s affiliated contractors from their counterparts at non-union plumbing shops and the plumbers who work for them. The employee-employer relationship is fundamentally different.

According to both sides, the negotiations reflected the positive relationship that the PCA and Local 12 leadership have enjoyed for many years. Unlike the stereotype of labor and management being inherently suspicious of one another and, in some cases, at each other’s throats, the two organizations operate more out of a common belief that in partnership they can help each other succeed. It’s a collaborative rather than an adversarial relationship.

“The best deal is one that benefits both sides,” says John Marani, president of the PCA and lead negotiator for management at the collective bargaining meetings. “That’s the attitude we went in with, and that characterizes where we landed.”

Tim Fandel, Local 12’s business manager and the chief negotiator for labor, expresses a similar view. “Our shared goals are woven together,” he says. “There is an underlying incentive for us to reach an equitable agreement.”

That doesn’t mean it is always sunshine and rainbows. The two leaders acknowledge that the sides have their differences and separate objectives as well. While they might not agree on everything, however, they say that they are always respectful of one another. And when they reach an impasse, they resort to a time-honored negotiation strategy: compromise.

As an example, Local 12 came to the table asking that Martin Luther King Jr. Day be recognized as a formal holiday. After some discussion, MLK Day was added to the holiday calendar in the collective bargaining agreement. Including the paid holiday imposed a financial impact on the contractors, a point that Fandel acknowledges.

Jeremy Ryan, the contractor association’s executive director, noted that he believes the plumbers are the first trade in Boston to make MLK Day a full holiday. “I think that speaks to the leadership of the PCA and Local 12. It’s a great thing for our industry.”

The contractors proposed increasing the number of miles for which they must compensate plumbers commuting to job sites from 50 to 75. “It was a reasonable ask,” says Fandel, demonstrating another instance of compromise at the negotiations. Among other items included in the agreement were some language changes. For example, to reflect changing attitudes and encourage diversity, “journeyman” will be updated to the gender-neutral term, “journeyperson.”

Both labor and management take the “collective” in collective bargaining to heart. Marani says that it was vitally important to him that the negotiators representing management spoke with one voice for the contractors. To that end, he and Ryan sought and welcomed input from all signatory shops, received a lot of good feedback, and was able to advocate on behalf of contractors of all sizes for a variety of issues.

To make the necessary concessions and move the process forward, both Marani and Fandel say that they tried to consider each other’s perspectives. They also tried to consider the state of the construction industry and project where it might be heading, which is never an exact science. The Boston area has been on a remarkable, long-term tear since 2009. But the industry historically endures both boom and bust cycles. The future may be vague, but the agreement that they hammered out provides continuity and certainty for both sides as they face whatever lies ahead.

During the negotiations, the two groups looked even farther into the future and discussed issues that may not be of concern for another 20 or 30 years. Fandel says that even though it’s difficult to know what the state of the industry will be then, it’s important to start thinking and talking about upcoming concerns for the collective bargaining agreement now.

In the end, both sides considered the bargaining process and the agreement to be successful. “You want the person you’re negotiating with to be of good word,” says Marani. “Tim proved that he was an honest and forthright guy. We tried to be the same way.”

Likewise, Fandel believes that the successful negotiations came down to mutual trust. “That’s why it works so well,” he says. “It’s a covenant between us.”

Tom O’Brien, Jeremy Ryan, John Marani at Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association Industry Appreciation Night 2021

GBPCA event celebrates industry

Typically, the Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association presents its Industry Appreciation Night every two years. The biennial event was supposed to take place last year, but as with so many things, the pandemic disrupted the schedule. If there was any apprehension that people might be hesitant to attend the large-scale celebration because of COVID, those concerns were roundly laid to rest when Industry Appreciation Night came roaring back this year. The PCA welcomed a huge crowd of more than 450 people to the Encore Boston Harbor in Everett on October 1.

“Everyone who was there raved about how wonderful the event was and what a good time they had,” says John Marani, president of the PCA and owner of A.H. Burns Company. He lauded Jeremy Ryan, the organization’s executive director, Andrew DeAngelo, its director of public affairs, and the member contractors who serve on the PCA’s committees for their hard work organizing Industry Appreciation Night. “It was really a home run,” he added.

The event is an opportunity for the PCA’s contractors, the Local 12 members with whom they work, and their partners in the community to celebrate the plumbing industry and the region’s dynamic construction and development sectors. It features guest speakers as well as the presentation of lifetime achievement awards, which this year honored Joe Valante, Sr., the founder of Valante Mechanical, and Vin Petroni, president and CEO of E.M. Duggan. Joe Valante, Jr., the president of Valante Mechanical, and Kevin Walsh, executive vice president of E.M. Duggan, gave warm and moving introductions of the honorees.

Joe Valante Jr., Joe Valante Sr. and Dick Valante of Valante Mechanical at Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association Industry Appreciation Night 2021
Joe Valante Jr., honoree Joe Valante Sr. and Dick Valante of Valante Mechanical at Industry Appreciation Night 2021.

The keynote speaker, Tom O’Brien, founding partner and managing director of HYM Investment Group, set the tone for the evening by highlighting some of the key reasons he believes Boston is such a successful market for commercial development and construction. These include the city’s terrific institutions, such as its colleges, hospitals, and non-profit organizations, and Boston’s strong residential character. “We need to continue to add housing,” O’Brien said. “We should do it on a union-built basis with Local 12.”

The developer also cited the city’s predictable process as a factor that contributes to its supportive environment. “Capital wants to be involved and successful here,” he said. “Projects are built on a schedule we all understand.” O’Brien then identified some of the signature projects that HYM is building in partnership with the PCA’s contractors, including the redevelopment of Suffolk Downs in Revere and East Boston, Bulfinch Crossing in downtown Boston, and a facility in Brookline that will be the first of many senior housing developments. “Working together, we’re going to continue to make this city work well and create opportunities for one another along with the people who work for us,” he added.

Len Mondfredo, Kevin Walsh Mayor of Everett, Carlo DeMaria Vin Petroni of EM Duggan at Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association Industry Appreciation Night 2021
Len Mondfredo and Kevin Walsh of EM Duggan, Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria, and honoree Vin Petroni of EM Duggan at Industry Appreciation Night 2021.

Other speakers included Marani, Ryan, Local 12 Business Manager Tim Fandel, and Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria. Holding the event at the Encore gave guests the opportunity to see and experience the magnificent hotel and casino, which opened in 2019, just months before the pandemic forced its temporary closure. The resort, which was entirely union-built, was one of the largest construction projects ever in the region.

John Marani III president of Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Assoc

John Marani elected president of GBPCA

At its annual meeting in May, the Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association swore in its new officers and executive board, including John Marani III as the organization’s president. He will serve a two-year term.

Marani, owner of GBPCA contractor A.H. Burns in Rockland, says that he has enjoyed representing the organization in other positions he has held and is looking forward to taking the helm.

“John has many years of experience in the industry and is a respected leader of GBPCA,” says Jeremy Ryan, the organization’s executive director. “He is also passionate about the industry and has some great ideas to help us move forward as the pandemic winds down. I know he will do a great job.”

Among the biggest things on his plate, Marani says that he will be participating in the negotiations of a new contract between the contractors and Local 12. When they sit down at the bargaining table in the fall, the labor and management groups will try to gauge where the industry and the larger economy will be heading post-pandemic.

It’s difficult to know for sure, of course, but Marani is bullish about the state of the region’s construction market. “I’m shocked at how well our area has recovered,” he says. “We were minimally affected by the pandemic.” Marani points to the amount of work that is permitted and the financing that is in place as indication of the industry’s resilience and strength. “I’m an optimist by nature. I want to believe it’ll be okay,” he adds.

Marani says that he has a great relationship with Tim Fandel, Local 12’s business manager, and is looking forward to expanding it in his position as GBPCA president. Their rapport is indicative of the way that the contractors work collaboratively with the union in general. “We have a model relationship,” says Marani. “We set an example for the rest of the country.”

The relationship, he believes, is one based on mutual respect and an acknowledgment that both groups can achieve great things when they work together. “Our contractors have had enormous success over the past ten years. But we didn’t make it happen alone,” Marani says. “It’s a joint effort. We need qualified plumbers.”

To that end, he notes that Local 12’s training program produces some of the most qualified workers in the U.S. And, Marani says, the union’s business agents are level-headed. “I’m proud to be associated with Local 12. My hope and my expectation is that our great relationship will continue.”

Marani succeeds Joe Valante, Jr. as GBPCA president. He presided over a difficult period as COVID-19 virtually shut down the region’s construction sites in early 2020 and caused much uncertainty and disruption for the industry. It also dealt a blow to vulnerable people in the community. In response, Valante helped spearhead efforts on behalf of GBPCA and Local 12 to donate about $100,000 to charitable causes.

“Through Joe’s empathetic, personable leadership, he was the right guy for the position during the pandemic crisis,” Ryan says. He also credits Valante for helping to hire Andrew DeAngelo as GBPCA’s director of public affairs, thereby increasing the organization’s outreach and making inroads with important initiatives.

Through the decades, GBPCA contractors A.H. Burns, Valante Mechanical, and E.H. Marchant Company have all been friendly competitors based in the Quincy area. All three union shops used to belong to the same Quincy local (which has since become part of Local 12). Larry Petrilli of E.H. Marchant, Joe Valante, Sr. of Valante Mechanical, and Marani’s father, John, all supported each other. The contractors borrowed each other’s tools and plumbers. “To me, it’s the way business should be,” Marani says. 

Now, the second-generation owners of the shops continue the tradition and work cordially with one another. For example, Marani often calls Mike Petrilli for advice. “Mike is very bright,” he says. “He has helped me a lot through the years.”

Petrilli, who has long been active with the GBPCA (and its predecessor, the PHCC of Greater Boston), encouraged Marani to get involved with the organization. With Marani’s election, the three contractors have each taken their turns leading the group. Petrilli served as president from 2009 to 2011.

Other GBPCA members elected to the executive board include Paul Dionne of PJ Dionne Company, vice president; Ken Reagan of Cannistraro, clerk-treasurer; and Jim Bent of American Plumbing & Heating, assistant clerk-treasurer.

As part of the annual meeting, the GBPCA awarded more than $50,000 in scholarships and awards. Recipients included 23 students who are the children of member contractors, their employees, and the Local 12 plumbers who work for them. For this year’s essay, scholarship applicants were asked to write about the many ways that COVID-19 made an impact on their lives. The organization also gave awards to five top Local 12 apprentices, one from each class.

Cambridge Crossing project rendering

Positive outlook as pandemic winds down

The pandemic has affected virtually everybody and everything–including the construction industry. About one year after the viral outbreak turned the world on its head, vaccination rates are rapidly rising, infection levels are decreasing, and the goal of herd immunity is looming in the not-so-distant future.

With the pandemic hopefully on its last legs, there has been much talk about the “new normal,” a concession that there will be lingering, perhaps permanent after-effects. So, what might the regional construction industry look like post-COVID?

Temperature checks, social distancing, and most of the other health and safety protocols that construction sites have adopted will go away. But, according to Local 12 Business Manager Tim Fandel, it’s likely that the sanitizing stations will remain long after the threat of the virus has passed.

Soon after the outbreak shuttered many building projects, Local 12 plumbers were among the first to return to install hand-washing sinks with hot water hookups. At some larger sites, they also installed temporary, functioning toilets to replace porta potties.

“They’re easy to install, it’s a simple change, and they improve health,” Fandel says about the sinks and toilets. “General contractors realize the value of having them, and workers really appreciate them.”

Fandel also believes that the nurses that have become embedded at larger construction sites may remain permanent fixtures. Fostered by the pandemic, they could be part of an overall greater commitment to safety and health. John Cannistraro, Jr., president of GBPCA contractor J.C. Cannistraro, agrees.

“Onsite safety has improved. It’s top of mind for everyone,” he says. 

Just as the pandemic has caused those in the construction industry to rethink health and safety measures, it has forced everyone, including owners, developers, general contractors, architects, and engineers, to step back, reevaluate everything they are doing, and perhaps consider different ways they might work together. Cannistraro thinks that people are now more open to new ideas.

“We’ve all experienced the horror of the pandemic,” he says. “Coming out of it, people are more willing to work as a team. There’s a sense that we’re all in this together.”

As an example, Cannistraro says that his company has been brought in during the pre-construction phase to help shape the architectural and structural design of a project. “It’s an opportunity to advance the industry by reemphasizing our professionalism and demonstrating that skilled labor has a role in reshaping the new economy,” he adds.

Owners and developers recalibrate

While those designing and building projects rethink how they will get the work done, the pandemic may have influenced what type of projects they will be constructing post-COVID. The demand for office buildings, for example, has cooled. With many office employees now working out of their homes, it’s likely that they will use a hybrid model and split their time between their home offices and their company offices when they do return to work.

The demand for luxury condos, another sector that has been fueling the red-hot construction market, has softened a bit as well. But many believe it may just be a momentary blip, as sales and interest have picked up recently. Regardless of the pandemic, the Boston area’s fundamentals remain sound. Higher education, healthcare, and research continue to drive the economy, and the housing supply is limited.

To that end, there is great demand for life science construction projects that is offsetting the reduced demand for new office buildings. And there is an insatiable demand for affordable housing. Fandel adds that bellwether projects in the pipeline, such as Cambridge Crossing, the tower at South Station, Suffolk Downs, and multiple projects in the Seaport, are moving forward and are indicative of the many opportunities that lie ahead. “I’m bullish on the industry and employment for our members,” he says.

Cannistraro is equally optimistic, noting that some of the recalibration in the types of projects getting greenlit may be due as much to the cyclical nature of the construction industry as to COVID. “We are busier than we’ve ever been as far as potential opportunities in a lot of different sectors.”

PCA makes additional donations to area charities

The pandemic has disrupted many things, including the Greater Boston PCA’s holiday party. Breaking a longstanding tradition, the organization was unable to present its annual gathering this past December. Instead, the PCA honored the spirit of the season by redirecting the funds it would have spent on the party and donating $25,000 to charity. Combined with gifts made earlier in the year by both the PCA and Local 12, the two organizations donated a total of $105,000 to worthy causes in 2020.

The PCA’s president, Joe Valante, says he got the idea to make the donations after seeing people lining up at food banks and realizing the tremendous need in the community. The pandemic that forced the organization to cancel its holiday party has also caused a lot of unemployment and made life difficult for many Boston-area families. 

“It struck a chord in my heart,” Valante says. “If we couldn’t get together and celebrate, I thought it would make sense for us to help people who are less fortunate.” 

Among the five charities chosen by the PCA for its holiday season donations was Community Servings. The Jamaica Plain-based organization provides meals to chronically and critically ill individuals and their families. It also provides food service job training for people who face barriers to full-time employment. Father Bill’s & MainSpring, another beneficiary, provides emergency and permanent housing to people in Southern Massachusetts who are struggling with homelessness. It also helps individuals and families in emergency housing with food and nutrition, job training, and other basic needs.

Since 1989, Boston’s Christmas in the City has been presenting non-denominational holiday events for children and families experiencing homelessness and poverty. Located in Roxbury, Rosie’s Place was founded in 1974 as the first women’s shelter in the U.S.

The final holiday donation recipient was The Salvation Army Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Roxbury. Its programs include an aquatic facility, culinary training, sports and recreation, creative arts, and social services. Opened in 2011, the center was one of the few major construction projects for union contractors during the recession following the 2008 crash. Its gesture of providing employment for working men and women during that difficult time will not soon be forgotten.

Last spring, the PCA, in conjunction with Local 12, made sizeable contributions to the Greater Boston Food Bank and the Boston Resiliency Fund. Established by Mayor Martin Walsh as the pandemic began exacting a toll on the city, the Resiliency Fund provides food for children and seniors, technology for students engaged in remote learning, and support to first responders and healthcare workers in the city.

Valante says that going forward, he hopes the PCA will continue to make donations to charitable organizations. “When we can, we should give back to the community that has been so good to us–especially when there is such great need,” he adds.

Local 12 Boston Plumbers member with mask

Industry adapts to the new normal

“This is a unique and challenging time,” says Jeremy Ryan, executive director of the Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association (GBPCA), referring to the conditions that the coronavirus pandemic has imposed on the construction industry. “Our contractors have had to put on new hats. Now they are not just construction and business experts, but also contagious disease and medical health specialists.”

Welcome to the new normal. Once GBPCA contractors and Local 12 plumbers processed and dealt with the initial shutdown of most projects on which they had been working and other immediate effects of the pandemic in mid-March, they then had to figure out how to cope with the longer-term fallout. Like everybody else, they are anxious for a vaccine or treatment to emerge so the virus is no longer a threat. Until then, it’s not exactly business as usual.

A building trades group convened to help prepare for the reopening of construction sites that had been closed in Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville (where the bulk of the region’s major projects are based). Among the participants were general contractors, plumbing and other subcontractor reps, and business agents. They met via conference calls, videoconferencing, and other remote means to talk about issues such as safety and hygiene protocols. Discussions centered on CDC and OSHA guidelines and recommendations.

Taking temperatures, staggering starts, and other modifications

Sites began reopening in May, and most have since resumed. So what do they look like? The details vary slightly from project to project, but they typically include a core group of updates and changes. Most of them mirror the kinds of safeguards that can be found at many places where people now gather. These include:

  • Screening procedure – People admitted onto construction sites have to confirm that they do not have a fever by having their temperatures taken. They also have to answer a series of self-identifying questions indicating that they are symptom-free and have not been exposed to anyone with the virus.
  • Staggered starts – Workers from different trades arrive at job sites at different assigned times in the morning so as not to overwhelm the screening process and to prevent large groups from having to congregate in one place.
  • Personal protective equipment – Everyone has to wear a facemask, which sometimes has to be an N95 mask, as well as work gloves. In some cases, face shields are also specified.
  • Social distancing – Where possible, workers are required to remain six feet apart from others. For high-rise jobs, only five people are allowed in service elevators, including the operators, and they are asked to face away from one another.

It may sound like a lot, but those on the ground say that workers at job sites have gotten into a routine and have been able to carry on with their work without too much interruption.

“It’s different, no doubt, but we can adapt,” Barry Keady, Local 12 business agent, says. He notes that when he started, workers at construction sites didn’t always wear hardhats or safety glasses. With regulations and guidelines now universal, nobody gives donning items like that a second thought. “The masks we have to wear are just another piece of PPE,” adds Keady. “It’s a matter of safety. With COVID-19, we have to be aware of the conditions and deal with them to the best of our training.”

One thing that is different is the size of crews. To accommodate social distancing, there are often limits on the number of workers that can be together on a floor or in a space at any one time. According to Paul Dionne, president of GBPCA contractor P.J. Dionne Company, project timelines are longer because there are less people doing the work. While almost 100% of the jobs that the contractor had been working on have resumed, Dionne says he has less people in the field.

There is also the extra cost of conducting business. Contractors say that they often have to pay a premium for items such as N95 masks and disinfectant wipes that are in high demand and short supply. There is also the time and energy they have to spend sourcing the items.

There is a new normal at Local 12’s training center as well. With physical classes cancelled, the instructors have shifted to remote learning. The apprentices and teachers have adapted, but the situation is not ideal, says Rick Carter, the center’s director.

“It’s been a challenge. It’s unconventional for us,” Carter says. Much of the curriculum is developed around practical, hands-on instruction presented in a shop setting. Lessons like that do not translate well when presented online.

With the fall session slated to resume in September, Carter is hopeful that at least some of the classes can be held in person. “We don’t want to do remote unless it’s absolutely necessary,” the director says. The training center will keep an eye on how state guidelines progress for getting back in the classroom. It is possible that the session may be a hybrid of in-person and remote classes.

What might the future hold?

The pandemic has not only presented immediate health and safety concerns. It has also wreaked havoc with the economy and may lead to lasting changes that could have an impact on the region’s construction industry. After many years of unprecedented growth and expansion, there could be a pullback on new projects–or not.

“Medium-term, I don’t expect much to change,” says Ed Strickland, president of William M. Collins Company. “All of our contractors have a pretty good backlog of work. Longer-term, the impact remains to be seen.”

Dionne is bullish on the future. “I’m an optimist. I see things bouncing back,” he says. There has been speculation that with so many people working remotely as a result of the pandemic, the practice may become more ingrained and the demand for office space may decrease. Dionne isn’t so sure. “I think people want to be in social environments. Yes, people can work from home. But I don’t think we’re wired to work there for the rest of our careers.” Office towers and mixed-use projects that include office space have been driving much of the construction boom in the Boston area.

Tim Fandel, Local 12’s business manager, is optimistic as well. “On the residential side, we see a significant lineup of projects and every indication that there will be more to come,” he says. “Talking with our contractors, they are bidding on plenty of new projects.”