Safety stand down Boston building trades

Building trades stand down for recovery

Normally, The Hub on Causeway, a 1.9 million-square-foot mixed-use project that is being built adjacent to the TD Garden in Boston, is a hubbub of activity. But on a recent, crisp, fall day, the job site was eerily quiet. That’s because the project’s hundreds of building trades workers were participating in a safety stand down. The program tackled issues of addiction head on and offered resources, support, and messages of hope.

On a makeshift stage erected at the site, a series of speakers addressed the crowd of Local 12 plumbers and members of other trade unions. They discussed ways that the opioid crisis, alcoholism, and other forms of substance abuse have made it difficult—and sometimes life threatening—for people across all walks of life, including those in the construction industry. Some of the speakers candidly shared their own stories of addiction, and emphasized that they were able to find help thanks to the support of the union community and the benefits their unions provide. They encouraged others in need to seek similar help.

“Addiction leaves a wake of destruction and despair,” says Brian Doherty, secretary treasurer and general agent of the Building and Construction Trades Council of the Metropolitan District, one of the forces behind the stand down. “We are going to do everything we can to combat it.” Additional partners helping to organize and support the event are the Building Trades Employers Association, Local 12, and other building trades unions.

“The takeaway message is that if you need help, it’s available,” Doherty added. “We’re here to support you every step of the way.”

In their effort to combat addiction, the unionized building trades banded together and decided to present a series of stand downs, which started a couple of years ago. Job sites in the Seaport, Harvard University, and elsewhere have also hosted events. They enable unions to proactively reach out to their members where they are. GBPCA contractors and other subcontractors, general contractors, and project owners support the stand downs by allowing the events to take place while workers are on the job.

Among the speakers at The Hub event was Paul Greeley, director of the Carpenters Employee Assistance Program. He talked about the many resources available to those in need and promised that there would be “no stigma” for people to “get the help you need and deserve.”

Doherty echoes that sentiment and adds that the outreach campaign isn’t about being punitive. “It’s supportive and compassionate. We want folks to get back on their feet and get back to work.”

Help is available not only for union members, but for their family and loved ones, the presenters noted. They also said that members should reach out to coworkers that are struggling with addiction and advocate getting them help.

Some might resist help. “I’m a rough, tough construction worker. I can handle this myself,” says Tim Fandel, Local 12 business agent, about the attitude that some union members might have when faced with addiction. The reality, he says, is that people can’t go it alone and need assistance. Thankfully, the building trades unions have many resources in place. Local 12, for example, hosts a weekly sobriety meeting at its union hall.

Jay Fraser IBEW Local 103 at Boston safety stand down
Jay Frasier, IBEW Local 103 business agent, speaks at the stand down.

“Nobody grows up wanting to be a drug addict,” said Jay Frasier, IBEW Local 103 business agent, at the stand down. He revealed the substance abuse demons that he wrestled years earlier and said that he was grateful to his union friends for helping to face them. “We protect each other,” Frasier added. “We’re family. We’ve got each other’s backs.”

Local 12 Boston Training Center annex shop

New annex opens at training center

To support its growing apprentice program, Local 12 reclaimed a building on its property and converted it into a classroom and shop. The expansion, which opened in September, allows the local’s training center to accommodate more apprentices. At 3,000 square feet, the annex’s shop is considerably larger than the existing ones in the main building. It gives instructors and apprentices a sizeable, flexible space in which to teach and develop skills.

Using a modular system, the shop features a variety of workstations that are mounted on wheels and can easily be moved as needed into or out of the space or rearranged depending on the topic being covered and the number of apprentices in the class. There is also a large electronic whiteboard that the instructors can use.

Local 12 Boston Training center annex shop workstation
Modular workstations in the new shop allow for lots of flexibility.

The classroom, which also includes a whiteboard, allows instructors to present lessons in a traditional educational setting. “Then we can walk students next door into the shop and put what they’ve learned in the classroom into practice,” says Rick Carter, the Training Center’s director.

Carter says that in addition to the apprentice classes, the annex will be used for journeymen service classes at night. Because of the shop’s flexibility and size, “everyone will have plenty of elbow room to build projects,” he adds. “It’s important that everybody gets on the tools and gets the attention they deserve. With the new and existing spaces, we could have three different shop classes running simultaneously if need be.”

After touring the annex, Patrick O‘Toole, VP at GBPCA contractor American Plumbing & Heating and a member of Local 12’s Apprentice Committee, said that he was impressed with the size and scope of the space. “The shop’s modules will enable apprentices to get hands-on training in various aspects of the trade such as piping, finish installation, and rigging,” he notes. “We want to be sure that our students continue to get the best training available.”

Joseph O’Leary, senior estimator for GBPCA contractor TG Gallagher, also serves on the Apprentice Committee and says that the he was pleased to see hybrid HVAC systems in the new shop. “Our members now have the ability to be qualified and licensed in the installation of energy-efficient heat pumps and associated systems,” says O’Leary. “This will expand our expertise.”

Local 12 Boston Training Center Expansion classroom
The annex expansion also includes a new classroom.

With the additional space afforded by the new shop, Local 12 developed a water heater lab in one of the training center’s original shops. It includes Bradford White units on which students can train. The manufacturer partnered with Local 12 to provide the water heaters. “We’ve grown our service work a lot,” says Harry Brett, Local 12’s business manager. “Now we will be able to do service training.”

With over 350 apprentices enrolled in the training center, the program has grown more than 60% over the last twelve years. “We needed to expand the program,” Carter says, noting that the center hired an additional instructor (see story elsewhere in this issue about Mike Lydon) as well as built the new classroom and shop.

Construction throughout the region remains strong. As a result, small- to mid-sized shops have been growing, and large contractors have been getting bigger. Also, new contractors have been signing on with Local 12.

“We are the feeder system for the local,” Carter adds. “And there is high demand for apprentices.”

Governor Baker at Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association event

Governor Joins PCA at New Office Open House

The Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association hosted an open house in honor of its new office located in Braintree. Governor Charlie Baker was the guest of honor for the event.

The Governor expressed his support for the work that has been and continues to be done by Plumbers Union Local 12 and the plumbing contractors to keep the Commonwealth safe and clean. Baker spoke with admiration regarding the tireless work of plumbers following the aftermath of the Merrimack Valley gas disaster and the ongoing work being done to ensure that Massachusetts continues to uphold the highest standards in the industry.

The evening was a chance for experts across the plumbing industry to meet and engage in productive dialogue with the top executive in the state. Among the important issues addressed during the evening were the Paid Family Medical Leave Act. The PCA also used the occasion to share info about the state’s plumbing code with the Governor.

Plumbing on the 12s GBPCA podcast

GBPCA produces a podcast for the plumbing industry

There is one thing that everyone has while sitting in traffic: time, and a lot of it. As plumbing professionals endure more and more traffic, the GBPCA recognized an opportunity to fill the void with something productive. Since podcasts have become an increasingly popular form of media, especially for drivers stuck behind the wheel, the organization decided to produce its own show.

“We think it’s a great way to reach those who would be interested in filling their commute time with insightful business studies, engaging interviews, and news from around the industry,” says Jeremy Ryan, GBPCA’s executive director.

Called “Plumbing on the 12’s,” the podcast puts a fresh spin on the daily traffic report. Ryan co-hosts the show with the organization’s director of public affairs, Andrew DeAngelo. It covers topics such as business studies, substance abuse recovery and wellness, and new technologies. Ryan says that he will be inviting prominent figures in the plumbing and building trades industry to stop by as guests and give their perspectives on a variety of topics. The podcast’s first episode covers cost transparency and its potential use to drive business.

Information about the podcast, including direct links to the episodes, is available on the organization’s GreaterBostonPCA.com Web site. You could also subscribe by searching on iTunes for “Plumbing on the 12s.”

UA members at Tradeswomen Build Nations 2019

Local 12 members attend Tradeswomen Build Nations conference

North American Building Trades Unions (NABTU) presented its ninth annual Tradeswomen Build Nations conference in October, and seven Local 12 members, led by training center instructor Kim Garside, participated in the three-day conference. The largest gathering of union tradeswomen in the world, the event presented speakers and workshops that covered topics such as apprenticeship, recruitment, mentoring other women, mental and physical health, safety, getting involved in union leadership, balancing family and work, and financial planning.

“It’s like a pep rally for women in the trades,” is how Local 12 apprentice Kerri Reppucci described the event. “It was great for me to see so many women in the industry.”

Mirroring the rapid rise of women joining the ranks of Local 12 as well as construction trades in the region and across North America, the Tradeswomen Build Nations conference has been growing dramatically. Garside says that in the three years the she has been going to the event, it has nearly doubled in attendance from year to year. The 2019 conference had close to 4,000 women representing all of the union trades, including electrical workers, carpenters, and bricklayers, along with plumbers and gasfitters. The United Association (UA), Local 12’s parent organization, had 400 members alone from the U.S. and Canada.

Among the workshops Reppucci attended was one about preventing and addressing sexual harassment and another about understanding and protecting retirement benefits.

“It can be intimidating as a women to get into the trades,” the third-year apprentice says, adding that the information she was able to learn at the event was helpful. Reppucci notes that the camaraderie and solidarity she experienced at the conference was equally empowering.

Garside especially enjoyed a presentation about how local unions can build and nurture women’s committees. The instructor has chaired a Local 12 group comprised of women members for a few years and says that she was able to bring back some great ideas for the group.

Both of the women have seen the industry evolve firsthand. “It’s a different dynamic today,” says Garside, noting that women were few and far between when she began her career. “More support and resources are available for women today, which is a great thing.”

Reppucci, who began working as a CAD designer 12 years ago, recalls that she rarely saw women in the trades back then. “Now, it’s a different story,” she says. “Yes, it can be rough and taxing on your body. But women should not be afraid.”

The Tradeswomen Build Nations attendees had opportunities to break out and gather with other members of their trade. The UA presented a luncheon for its members. Garside says the organization has done a great job promoting the event and encouraging locals to send their members to the conference.

As evidenced by the growth and success of the conference, what was once a non-traditional career path for women is becoming more conventional. Does Reppucci have any advice for women considering getting into the industry? “Go for it!” she says. “If it’s for you, you’ll do really well.”

Local 12 on WBZ TV-4

Local 12 encourages women to join trade

“I’m so grateful for what [Local 12] has given me and the life it’s going to give me.”

That’s what apprentice, Olivia Levangie, told WBZ TV-4 reporter Chris McKinnon for a segment about the union’s efforts to recruit women. Also appearing in the piece is Barry Keady, Local 12 business agent, who says that this year’s apprentice class is about 20% women.

See the WBZ News segment.

Local 12 plumbers at the construction site of The Hub on Causeway

Expanding the Garden into Boston’s new Hub

There is a flurry of activity at TD Garden, and it’s not just the Stanley Cup playoffs and Backstreet Boys concerts.

There are towers and buildings being erected alongside and above the sports and entertainment arena on the site of the old Boston Garden as well as an expansion of the venue itself. Collectively known as The Hub on Causeway, the almost 1.9 million-square-foot mixed-use project that Delaware North is building with Boston Properties will include two office towers, a residential tower, a hotel, and a podium that will feature a new entertainment performance space, a Star Market, a 15-screen movie theater, and a number of restaurant and retail locations. Valued at $1.2 billion, the aptly named Hub is transforming Causeway Street into one of the city’s foremost destinations.

“Hub is going to change the neighborhood and help fill some of its needs,” Amy Latimer, TD Garden president, told the Boston Globe in a video interview. “It’s changing the vibe.” It will also change what Latimer refers to as the “street-to-seat” experience for fans coming to the arena.

 “You could live in an apartment here, and almost never have to leave,” says Carl Wall, foreman for American Plumbing and Heating. Between the grocery store, the shops, the offices where residents could work, the eateries, and all of the activities, tenants wouldn’t even need to go outside, he adds. Of course, if they did want to leave, the MBTA’s subway and commuter rail stations would just be an elevator ride away.

Read more

Fenway Center phase-one rendering

First phase of Fenway Center takes shape

In addition to Fenway Park, the Citgo sign, and other landmarks, motorists driving along the Mass Pike near Kenmore Square have a new sight to behold: the Fenway Center. Perched alongside the interstate, it’s pretty hard to miss the 15- and 9-story towers that began to go vertical in early 2019. But the buildings only represent the first phase of the proposed $600 million multi-use complex. If the developers can secure air rights and funding, a second phase would include an additional three buildings to be constructed on a deck that would span across the turnpike.

“It’s an enormous project that would transform the neighborhood,” says Barry Keady, Local 12 business agent. “We are potentially looking at six to eight years of work for our members.”

The two towers now under construction will include 312 apartments, including some affordable units. There will also be street-level retail shops and two below-grade garage floors with 200 parking spaces. The site used to occupy surface parking lots.

Read more

Building one of Boston’s largest, most upscale hotels

THE SWIFTLY EVOLVING SEAPORT DISTRICT WILL BECOME EVEN MORE BUSTLING WHEN THE OMNI BOSTON HOTEL AT THE SEAPORT OPENS IN 2021.

Now under construction, it will bring an additional 1,055 guest rooms to the neighborhood. The 21-story, 218-foottall project will be among the city’s five largest hotels. The Omni Seaport is budgeted at $550 million.

GBPCA contractor American Plumbing and Heating was selected early in the process for the design-assist project and has been working with general contractor John Moriarty & Associates and Cosentini Associates, the plumbing engineer. Design and preliminary work began in the fourth quarter of 2018, and American’s crew began underground installation in early 2019. During the summer, aboveground work began on the site.

Boasting 100,000 square feet of flexible meeting and event space across four levels, the Omni Seaport will feature the neighborhood’s largest ballroom. It will also offer 35,000 square feet of restaurant space, including the upscale French Brasserie. To support all of the dining and entertainment needs, the project will include 13 commercial kitchens.

“That’s quite unique for a hotel,” says Jim Bent, senior project executive for American. “Or any building for that matter.”

Noting that the building occupies virtually the entire footprint and that the site is “tighter than tight,” Bent adds that getting materials delivered is a logistical challenge. He says American uses a “just-in-time” approach to minimize warehousing and avoid tying up capital. Materials are only ordered when they can be run through the company’s large prefabrication shop and the finished systems and assemblies can be delivered to the job site (typically during off hours) to be installed.

“We need to make sure we have everything on the truck that we need for the floor on which we are working each day,” says Bent. In addition to the employees working on the project in the prefab shop, he estimates that there will be 30 Local 12 mechanics on site at the height of construction.

The Omni will include two 21story towers with an 11-story tower in the middle that will feature four “Cabana” levels. A three-story ground-floor podium will anchor the towers. Among the hotel‘s amenities will be a rooftop pool and a spa.

The significance of the project is not lost on the plumbers. “We know that the Omni will take its place as one of Boston’s preeminent hotels,” says Tony Megnia, American’s foreman for the job. “It’s an honor for us to be an intricate part of the construction of this new landmark in the Seaport District.”

According to Bent, the chic hotel will offer high-end finishes in the rooms and throughout the hotel, particularly in its 52 luxury suites. There will be copper faucets and trim in the showers, for example. One of the towers calls for brushed bronze finishes on the fixtures.

“We will be installing elegant soaking tubs and black lavatories,” notes Bent. “Omni is a respected brand with high standards.”

Located adjacent to the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, hotel guests will be able to directly access the facility via a tunnel below Summer Street. The walkway will also connect to an MBTA Silver Line station.

Merrimack Valley recovery: Phase II

WHEN A NATURAL GAS DISASTER CAUSED EXPLOSIONS and fires throughout Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover in September 2018, GBPCA contractors and Local 12 plumbers were among the first to mobilize for the recovery efforts. Some 1,200 mechanics fanned out across the communities and helped restore service to about 8,500 Columbia Gas customers.

At first, the recovery teams replaced all boilers, hot water heaters, and other appliances with new fixtures. With winter fast approaching, however, a decision was made to temporarily repair appliances and fixtures, when possible, rather than replace them. That allowed the plumbers to proceed more quickly and get every household and business back up and running with heat and hot water by February 1, 2019.

When the initial recovery was deemed complete, a contingent of Local 12 plumbers remained on site to troubleshoot and provide service as necessary. In early April, the second phase of the recovery began, and plumbers returned to replace the fixtures that they had initially repaired.

Why replace all of the appliances if they were functioning? “The excess gas could have adversely effected the fixtures,” explains Jim Vaughan, Local 12 business agent. “They could fail down the line.” Vaughan coordinated both phases of the Local’s recovery efforts in the Merrimack Valley.

The phase II team included four Local 12-affiliated contractors: William F. Lynch Co. of Worcester, Harry Grodsky Company of Billerica, Jeffrey Peabody Plumbing & Heating of Danvers, and Glionna Plumbing & Heating Services of Saugus. According to Vaughan, Glionna had been part of the recovery’s first phase when it was a non-union shop.

“They saw Local 12 in action,” he says, referring to the massive response of the union in the wake of the disaster. “That motivated them to join us.”

According to Mike Glionna, the shop’s owner, affiliating with Local 12 has opened up new opportunities. “Everybody knows it’s tough out there,” he says, referring to the scarcity of trained mechanics amid the region’s booming construction industry. “Now I have access to manpower for bigger and more diverse jobs.” Among the projects on which the contractor is working are three restaurants at Logan Airport.

“We are happy to have Glionna as a new signatory contractor,” Vaughan adds.

During the second phase of the Merrimack Valley recovery, the general contractor worked with the plumbers and arranged assessments of the customers requiring new appliances. The plumbing contractors then made arrangements to procure and install clothes dryers, water heaters, boilers, and other fixtures. Many of the replacements involved older gas boilers. Unlike the initial recovery phase during the winter, the plumbers could temporarily leave customers without heat in the late spring and summer without causing much discomfort. Hot water, however, remained a priority throughout the process.

The second phase ended in late July. With the recovery program over, Vaughan says that around 18,000 appliances were replaced in total. “Now that we can look back, the numbers are wild,” he notes.

There is another wild statistic to consider, according to the business agent: There were 92 plumbing inspectors on site during the recovery process.

“They are the unsung heroes in this,” says Vaughan. Considering the daunting task they faced, the chaos that they endured, and the urgent need that the emergency required, he adds, “I don’t think the inspectors got the credit they deserved.”

The crisis may be over, but that doesn’t mean the plumbers will completely disappear from Lawrence, Andover, and North Andover.

“We will still be on call,” Vaughan says. “We need to make sure everything works, especially during a cold snap.”