GBPCA and Local 12 step up to help the community

– Organizations donate $80,000 during pandemic

As the COVID-19 outbreak began causing havoc and disrupting the economy, Joe Valante, president of Valante Mechanical, was struck by the suffering it was causing. When he learned that many people suddenly didn’t have the money to buy groceries and saw that food banks were having great difficulty keeping up with demand, he thought that the plumbing industry should try and help out. As president of the Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association (GBPCA), he sounded the call to his colleagues in the contractors’ organization as well as to their partners at Local 12.

They came through. Big time. Together, the two groups donated a total of $80,000 with half supporting the Greater Boston Food Bank and half going to the Boston Resiliency Fund.

“We owe our livelihood to Boston and the surrounding cities and towns,” Valante explains. “I think it’s only right to help the communities at a great time of need.” His plea resonated with his fellow contractors as the GBPCA’s board decided to double the contributions that were originally proposed.
The organization was able to provide the needed support “thanks to many years of responsible, conservative spending and forward thinking,” added Jeremy Ryan, GBPCA’s executive director.

Likewise, Local 12 officials responded to the call with equal enthusiasm by matching the donations. “We may not realize how challenging it can be for people to get necessities like food during difficult times,” says Tim Fandel, the local’s business manager. In addition to the making the monetary contributions, the union helped in other ways. For example, a group of Local 12 members distributed groceries at a food bank set up at the Boston Housing Authority. “We have a long history of supporting the community,” notes Fandel.

“We are very grateful for the incredible generosity of the Greater Boston PCA and the Plumbers and Gasfitters Local Union 12,” says Alisha Collins, the Greater Boston Food Bank’s director of corporate and community engagement.
The organization helps address food insecurity in the region, which has been compounded by the pandemic’s effect on the economy. Since March, the food bank has experienced the three largest distribution months in its 40-year history. “This donation will translate into 120,000 meals going to those who need it most and help to ensure that our operations can continue uninterrupted as we respond to historic levels of demand in our community,” Collins adds.

The Boston Resiliency Fund was established by Mayor Martin Walsh to provide food for children and seniors, technology for students engaged in remote learning, and support to first responders and healthcare workers in the city.

“The outpouring of support and generosity that we’ve seen from our partner organizations has been tremendous,” says Walsh. “I want to thank the Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association and the Plumbers and Gasfitters Local Union 12 for their generous contribution, which will go a long way during this difficult time.”

In March, when there was a dire need for personal protective equipment (PPE) among frontline health care workers, the Boston area’s Building and Construction Trades Council organized a drive to collect respirators and other material. It encouraged industry workers and contractors to donate surplus equipment, including N95 masks, which is used at construction sites.

Spearheaded by Jim Vaughan, Local 12 business agent, the union donated boxes of N95 masks. Along with donations from other trades, the Boston Public Health Commission distributed the PPE to first responders and health care providers.

100-year-old Local 12 member beats COVID-19

“He’s a fighter,” says Chip McIntosh, explaining how his father, 100-year-old Arthur “Mac” McIntosh, was able to battle coronavirus and win. But the retired plumber, who has been a Local 12 member for 65 years, didn’t go it alone. He also had the help and support of his family.

In mid-March, Chip, who lives with and helps care for Arthur in their Quincy home, contracted the virus and relocated to a hotel to quarantine himself. His sister, Marifrances McIntosh, moved in to take over the care of their father. A couple of weeks later, Arthur developed a fever, fatigue, and other telltale symptoms of coronavirus. Marifrances also fell ill with COVID-19.

“We decided that we would give [Arthur] really good nursing care at home rather than send him to the hospital,” says Chip, who is a nurse practitioner. Marifrances and her two sisters are also nurses. They reasoned that their father wouldn’t have been able to have visitors in a hospital, and that the isolation would be difficult for him. Arthur also wouldn’t have had the loving care that his family was able to offer.

Chip, who had recovered enough to resume caring for Arthur, returned home. It took some effort to get his father moving, drinking, and eating, but he persisted.

“He’s famous for saying, ‘I’m not hungry. Leave me alone,’ ” Chip says about his dad. “Then I’d get him up, bring him to the kitchen, put a big serving of meat loaf in front of him, and he’d eat the whole thing.”

Once Arthur was able to handle the routine, his family would get him outside daily to walk with his walker. Slowly, but surely, they nursed him back to health.

By the middle of May, Arthur was able to celebrate his 101st birthday, which was captured by WBZ TV and broadcast on the news. Practicing social distancing, about 30 cars drove by his home to join in the festivities. Also on his birthday, both Arthur and Chip got test results indicating that they no longer had COVID-19. That enabled them to gather with other family members to mark the occasion as well. “That was a great birthday present,” Chip says.

Arthur served as an Army sergeant in Europe during World War II. When he returned after the war, he reunited with his girlfriend, Agnes, and married her. Arthur went to work for P.F Russo Plumbing and Heating Company and pursued a career as a plumber. His father-in-law, Patrick F. Russo, owned the Hyde Park shop. While attending the Franklin Institute in Boston, Arthur learned to read blueprints and developed other industry skills.

He joined Local 12 in the 1950s and worked for Crane Plumbing, eventually serving as an outside super. Among the jobs Arthur worked on was the Prudential Center. He also worked as an outside super for J.C. Higgins. He retired in 1986.

According to Chip, Arthur has “always been a fighter and a problem solver. He’d never give up until the job was done.” That kind of focus and attitude are good skills to have for a plumber. And for someone fighting coronavirus at the age of 100.

Tim Fandel at Local 12 Boston

Tim Fandel takes the reins at Local 12

When the United Association appointed Harry Brett, Local 12’s business manager, to the position of special representative for the New England region, that left a leadership void at the union. In early 2020, the membership elected Tim Fandel to head Local 12. For the new business manager, the role was many years–and generations–in the making.

Plumbing and Local 12 are something of a tradition in the Fandel family. Tim’s dad, Hank, now retired, worked as a Local 12 plumber and taught the trade at a vocational school. Tim’s uncle and Hank’s brother, Jack, was also a plumber and served as the director of the local’s training center. Tim’s grandfather and Hank’s father, William J. Fandel II, was a plumber and was one of the first Local 12 members to draw a pension when it became available in the mid-1950s. Tim’s great-grandfather, William J. Fandel, began the tradition. He emigrated to the U.S. from Germany in the late 1880s and found work as a plumber. Tim’s brothers, Hank Jr. and Sean, and his cousin, Danny Weeder, are also Local 12 members.

Fandel has childhood memories of his father and uncle putting on their sport coats to attend union meetings. (That was back in the day when people would get dressed up for such occasions.) “At first, I didn’t know what the heck they did at union meetings,” he says. “As I got older, however, I slowly understood more about Local 12 and unions and the impact they had on me and our family. They were lessons to be learned.”

Despite his family’s ties to the industry, Fandel says that he didn’t think about plumbing or other construction trades while he was in high school. He did, however, consider a career as a chef and was accepted to Johnson & Wales, the culinary school in Rhode Island. Fandel instead opted to get a job (although he still loves cooking for his family and friends), and in 1982 went to work for Streeter Plumbing and Heating. He also went to school nights to get his plumbing license. His dad was the instructor. It was also his father who gave Tim the phone number of Irving Streeter and handed his son old tools that had been used by generations of Fandels.

Although he had no hands-on experience, Fandel quickly acclimated and enjoyed the work. Streeter Plumbing, based in Winthrop, did mostly residential projects including service, new construction, and kitchen and bath remodeling. It allowed Fandel to develop a broad base of skills.

He became a Local 12 member in 1983. As was the convention back then, Fandel was indentured to one shop, Maurer Sforza Plumbing and Pipefitting in Needham, for the duration of his four-year apprenticeship. His first project, which lasted three years, was a large research and development facility at Harvard University. Joe Croce, who now leads Local 12’s retirees, was the job’s foreman. After he got his journeyman’s license in 1987 and his master’s license a year later, Fandel stayed with Maurer Sforza. He later went to work for larger shops including J.F. Shine Mechanical and American Plumbing and Heating.

Soon after he joined Local 12, Fandel got involved in the organization’s politics. “It’s what the plumbers in my family did,” he explains. “There is a sense of giving back to the union and to the industry. There are probably few positions in the local that I haven’t held.” The experience gave him a broad-based understanding of the union. It also allowed him to develop ties with many of the local’s leaders, who encouraged him to run for office. In 2006, he tossed his hat into the ring and was elected as a business agent, a position he held for 14 years.

During many of those years, he worked alongside Brett, who was also a business agent before he was elected as Local 12’s business manager in 2013. “He’s been my partner every step of the way,” Brett says, referring to his successor and friend. “Tim has a wonderful way of dealing with people. He’s not afraid to act. He’s the right guy and the members know it.”

Coming into the role of business manager, Fandel inherited a good working relationship with the plumbing contractors that employ Local 12 members. He considers himself lucky and credits Brett for nurturing the relationship. Fandel thinks it is critical for both parties that they work together amicably, and knows that it’s not always the case for labor groups and the companies that hire them. “It’s one of the great strengths for both the local and the contractors,” Fandel says.

“We take pride in our ability to collaborate on issues with shared goals and shared perspectives. We sometimes agree to disagree–without being disagreeable. We’ve always been able to resolve issues through communication, respect, and an understanding of our shared history. The fruits of out positive relationship are easy to see. We do things as partners. Unfortunately, some people find that unusual,” notes Fandel, referring to the stereotypes often associated with unions and management. “It should be the rule, not the exception.”

Jeremy Ryan, the executive director of the Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association, supports Fandel’s outlook and looks forward to working collaboratively with the business manager. “Tim is a voice of reason and has a calming influence. His mentality of always trying to find common ground makes him invaluable,” he says. “I see our industry moving forward and growing boundlessly under Tim’s leadership.”

Although the construction industry has enjoyed a long period of growth and prosperity, Fandel says that he remains bullish about the future and points to economic engines such as the healthcare, education, and research and development markets that make the Boston region uniquely positioned to weather potential downturns. In addition, he calls out some especially large projects, such as Cambridge Crossing, Harvard University’s development in Allston, the Bulfinch Crossing complex in Government Center, and the Suffolk Downs redevelopment that all have long buildout plans and will keep Local 12 members working for decades.

“I remain cautiously optimistic,” Fandel says. “But I think we need to be diligent and vigilant about plotting our own course. To that end, he hopes that the signatory contractors with which the local works will refocus on public work projects such as major high schools and other government-funded development. Fandel believes there is a lot of opportunity to expand in that sector, and that public work tends to continue regardless of prevailing economic winds.

As for the residential division that Brett launched, the new business manager sees nothing but growth there. There are many transit-oriented projects being built near MBTA stations, especially in areas outside Boston. He would like to chase more of that work and wants to increase the number of signatory plumbing contractors that do residential construction.

“We all know construction is cyclical,” notes Fandel. “But I see residential construction, residential service, and service for commercial and other markets as being right in our wheelhouse. This kind of work can insulate us to a degree should the economy falter.”

“Tim will do a great job,” Brett attests. “I think he will help Local 12 continue to grow and expand.”

And they’re off! Record-setting PLA to guide Suffok Downs redevelopment

Back in the 1930s and 1940s, Suffolk Downs was the place to be. Horseracing was wildly popular here (and throughout the country), and tens of thousands of visitors regularly jammed the racetrack’s stands. In the following decades, attendance dropped off, slowly at first and then more dramatically. By the time Suffolk Downs ran its final live race last June, the crowds had dwindled to a trickle.

But crowds of people will once again be flocking to the site.

When a deal to build the Boston-area casino at the forlorn racetrack fell apart, the HYM Investment Group swooped in with plan B: an enormous development project that will essentially create a new neighborhood from the ground up. How enormous? At 161 acres, the property is about the size of the North End. Plans call for 16 million square feet of development. That’s more than double the size of the Boston Seaport development, which, up to this point, has been hailed as the largest single real estate project in the city’s history. Suffolk Downs, therefore, will handily take the crown as Boston’s largest redevelopment project.

“We’re used to working on big projects. But, I can’t think of one that comes close to this,” says Tim Fandel, business manager for Local 12. Estimated to take about 15 years to fully build out, the Suffolk Downs project will create 14,000 construction jobs. “It will literally mean millions of hours for Local 12 members,” Fandel adds.

To launch the massive project, HYM, general contractor John Moriarty & Associates, and the area’s building trades unions worked together to develop a project labor agreement (PLA). The pact is the largest private sector PLA ever signed in the region.

A huge boost for Building Pathways

The Suffolk Downs redevelopment will be entirely union-built. The agreement spells out collective bargaining provisions for the building trades that will work at the site.

“The PLA guarantees living wages with benefits, support of apprenticeship programs–all the things that unions represent,” says Fandel. It is also a document that all parties will be able to use as a collaborative tool throughout the lifecycle of the project, an important consideration given the extensive duration of the buildout. “Because the project will span so many years, the PLA will allow for continuity and consistency, regardless of changes in leadership, changing economic conditions, contract negotiations, or other factors,” Fandel notes.

Straddling two communities, 60% of the Suffolk Downs site is located in East Boston with 40% of it based in Revere. Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh, Revere Mayor Brian Arrigo, and Boston City Councilor (representing East Boston) Lydia Edwards were supportive of all stakeholders and the project’s community process and strived to ensure that all voices were part of the discussion. In addition to involving the leaders, HYM has conducted extensive outreach to engage the community at large. The company has worked hard to get organizations and individuals to buy into the project.

According to Tom O’Brien, HYM founding partner and managing director, he has held over 450 meetings over a two-year period to discuss the proposed Suffolk Downs redevelopment. Some were large-scale community meetings, others were one-on-one chats across a kitchen table. Those give-and-take discussions helped shape the plans and goals for the project. Community issues also factor into the PLA governing the project.

For example, HYM is committing $2 million to equity and inclusion initiatives as part of the agreement. $1 million will be targeted to Building Pathways, an apprentice preparedness program that provides training and advocacy for women and people of color seeking employment in the construction industry. Its graduates have joined the ranks of Local 12. Mayor Walsh founded the program when he was head of the area’s building trades.

“Building Pathways is the vanguard for outreach and recruitment to underrepresented groups in construction,” says Brian Doherty, the current secretary treasurer and general agent of the Building and Construction Trades Council of the Metropolitan District. “It’s been such a game changer and has made a huge impact for a lot of people as well as the industry as a whole.”

Since its launch in 2011, Building Pathways has enrolled 343 participants, 86% of whom are people of color and 42% of whom are women. It boasts a graduation rate of 93% and a placement rate of 80% in union apprenticeships or industry-related employment.

Mary Vogel, the executive director of Building Pathways, is grateful for the PLA earmark and says that it will be used to sustain and expand the organization and its mission. She hopes to move into a larger space that can better accommodate the growing program. On her wish list is an in-house shop facility that could be used for hands-on training.

Beyond the financial support, Vogel notes that the Suffolk Downs PLA addresses important issues such as specifying that a percentage of the project’s construction jobs be reserved for apprentices and that a percentage of the apprentices be Building Pathways graduates. “The PLA’s equity provisions will not only increase participation of women and people of color in the building trades, but also help create a respectful and welcoming workplace,” she says.

“We worked collectively, all parties, to make sure diversity and equity are front and center in this pact,” Doherty adds.

Two Blue Line MBTA stations are located on the site.

Housing will be a key component

So, what will be built at the former racetrack? 10 million square feet, or 63% of the project, will be devoted to housing. The new construction will make a significant dent in the area’s acute housing needs. Commercial, office, and lab space, will account for 5 million square feet, and hotel and retail will occupy the remaining 1 million square feet of development.

“The retail is what we would call ‘neighborhood retail.’ It’s restaurants and small shops, not big-box retail,” says HYM’s O’Brien. That makes sense, because there will be lots of neighbors moving onto the site.

10,000 housing units, including apartments, condos, townhouses, and single-family homes, are planned and an estimated 15,000 people will eventually live in the new neighborhood. 930 of the on-site units will be affordable. HYM is pledging to build and preserve another 500 units of affordable housing offsite in East Boston. The Suffolk Downs redevelopment will create more affordable units in Boston than any other single project.

Bounded by major roads, the site, as it currently stands, is physically cut off from East Boston and Revere. HYM has plans to connect the new neighborhood to the larger community via infrastructure improvements valued at $367 million. “It’s our obligation to build all of the roads, parks, water, sewer–everything,” O’Brien says. A quarter of the site will be dedicated to open space. “We think that’s a terrific way to build community and make sure that even if you don’t live or work there, everyone will be welcome there,” he adds.

One of the ways that the Suffolk Downs site is connected to the community, and one of its greatest attributes, is that two Blue Line MBTA stations are located on its eastern border. It is a short ride to Logan Airport and about a 15-minute ride to downtown Boston.The project is scheduled to break ground later this year.

Harry Brett at Local 12 Boston

Visionary leader Harry Brett chose to expand Local 12

After increasing membership twofold and successfully leading Local 12 as its business manager for six-and-a-half years, Harry Brett was tapped by the United Association (UA) to serve as its special representative in New England. He took on the new role in early 2020, and the local elected Tim Fandel to succeed him.

“It’s been the best job I’ve had in my life,” Brett says about his term heading the union. “I can’t say enough about the people I worked with. We all believed in what we were doing. That has made all the difference.”

When talking to the people with whom he worked, it’s clear that the feeling is mutual. If Local 12 members and the organization’s other constituents believed in what they were doing, that’s largely because Brett had the vision to chart and articulate a course–which included some unconventional paths–and the charismatic leadership to rally people with a sense of common purpose.

“That’s Harry,” Fandel says about his predecessor and friend. “He comes up with fresh, innovative ideas, gains consensus around them, and moves forward with a plan.”

Brett, 57, joined Local 12 in 1986. After serving on a number of committees and helping the union in other ways, he was elected as a business agent, a position he held for 13 years. In 2013, the local elected him to serve as its business manager.

Asked to reflect on his tenure, Brett says that he “was able to get the membership and contractors to take a chance on some different thinking and expand our horizons.” Perhaps the single most expansive initiative he championed was the introduction of a residential division in 2016.

For many years, Local 12 plumbers and the contractors with which they work did not participate in certain residential construction projects such as mid-rise, wood-frame apartment buildings. Amid a regional housing shortage, there has been an explosion of activity in the sector. It represented an enormous, overlooked market, and Brett saw it as a prime opportunity.

In order to make the new residential division work, the business manager had to change the hearts and minds of people who were set in their ways, including Local 12 members and the plumbers, plumbing contractors, and general contractors that specialized in residential construction.

To help sell the concept, Brett says that he asked members to tell him how many non-union jobs they passed on the way to their union projects. When they said there were a lot, he responded, “So why aren’t we on those jobs?”

Price, according to conventional wisdom, might have been one of the primary reasons offered to explain why union plumbers weren’t working at residential construction sites. But Brett thought it was more about the relationships–or lack thereof–between general contractors and Local 12 contractors that accounted for the situation. People gravitate to people they know, he reasoned. So, it followed, the union needed to prove itself and develop some new relationships.

Initially, a couple of contractors took a chance and explored the market. The response was immediate and dramatic, with union plumbers driving the schedules and doing exemplary work at residential construction sites. In short order, general contractors recognized the value of working with the union, and plumbers and plumbing contractors wanted to join Local 12’s new residential division.

“People’s perspectives shifted,” says Brett. “We have created many new, positive relationships. And it’s growing.”

Harry Brett addresses the audience at Local 12’s 125th anniversary event.

The former business manager says that he values the relationships he has with all of the contractors that work with Local 12 as well as the Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association (GBPCA), the organization that represents them. Instead of being adversarial, as some might expect from labor and management groups, the two sides are congenial and work collaboratively. Brett says that they have a high level of mutual trust.

“I would never put them in a position to fail,” he notes, to help explain the contractor’s trust in him and the union. And no matter what new paths Brett pursued and what opportunities arose for contractors, they knew the local had the horsepower of its trained workforce to back them up when they bid jobs.

“Harry was a transformational business manager,” says Jeremy Ryan, the GBPCA’s executive director. “He implemented hugely progressive policies that grew our markets and crafted an organizing mentality that will have a positive impact for decades to come. We as an industry are at our best when both labor and contractors are thriving.”

Brett acknowledges and embraces the notion of the two groups working in tandem. “Without successful contractors, we don’t have much to offer membership,” he says.

While the introduction of the residential division may have been his signature accomplishment, and one of the factors responsible for doubling Local 12’s membership over the course of seven years, Brett had a number of other significant achievements during his tenure. For example, in addition to advocating for new residential construction work, he also placed more of an emphasis on residential and small-business service work, another area that the union typically ceded to non-union shops. To help market the work, Brett developed the Plumbers 911 brand and campaign.

In order to accommodate growing demand and better prepare the next generation of union plumbers, Brett oversaw the expansion of Local 12’s Training Center. Over the course of his term, the center was able to double the number of apprentices in its program. One of the ways that the center was able to accomplish the increased enrollment was by transitioning to a day school. Whereas apprentice classes had previously been presented at night, the introduction of the day program increased capacity and better utilized the facility. Arguably the day school also produces better-trained plumbers.

Another way the program was able to increase enrollment was by expanding the physical facility. The local converted a space on its campus into a new shop and a state-of-the-art classroom. The union was able to pay for the annex without taking any loans.

“I put my heart and soul in Local 12, and I believe to the core that everything we did was for the good of the organization and its people.”

Harry Brett

Between the new apprentices and other new members that have swelled its ranks, the union is bursting. “I’d like to think that Local 12 is seen as a very welcoming place,” Brett says. “That’s one of the reasons we have grown so much.

Rank-and-file members, including women and people of color who have been joining the plumbers’ union, echo Brett’s assessment of Local 12’s inviting and open atmosphere. That wasn’t always the case among unions. There was an attitude, Brett says, that members had their jobs and the unions didn’t need anybody else to join. To his mind, it’s a flawed view.

“We need to grow, to attract new members, and to expand the scope of our work,” Brett says. “We need to reach beyond our horizons, to knock down barriers. Ultimately that will benefit current members, now and in the future.”

Local 12 business manager Harry Brett with apprentices.

Having essentially grown up while at the local, it has been a bit difficult for Brett to write the next chapter in his career. “It is bittersweet moving on,” he says. “I put my heart and soul in Local 12, and I believe to the core that everything we did was for the good of the organization and its people.”

So what’s next? As the special representative for the UA in New England, Brett will serve as the liaison between the national organization and the twelve locals in the six-state region. In addition to other New England plumbing unions, the UA represents pipefitters, sprinklerfitters, and HVAC techs. He will be assisting business managers with training initiatives, legislative matters, and other important UA issues. For now, he says he is busy learning the job and getting up to speed.

Brett is the first to admit that he has been fortunate to lead Local 12 during a time of unprecedented growth in the local construction industry. But the industry can be fickle and is not immune to the whims of the economy.

“The boom can’t last forever,” Fandel says, as he contemplates the future under his leadership of the local. Brett’s legacy, he believes, is that he has opened up new markets and positioned the union for growth and sustainability. “Harry thought farther down the road. He has been an excellent steward of the local.”

“In a good economy–and we are in the middle of an incredible one–there are two choices,” Brett says, as he explains the reasoning that drove him. “You could just ride it out. Or you could take advantage of the good times and expand. We chose to expand.”

What is a project labor agreement?

Representing 16 million square feet of development across 161 acres that will span two communities and require 14,000 construction workers over the course of 15 to 20 years, the project labor agreement for the construction of the Suffolk Downs redevelopment will be the largest agreement of its kind for a private-sector project ever in the region. But what is a project labor agreement, exactly?

“Project labor agreements are good, sound public policy,” says Brian Doherty, secretary treasurer and general agent of the Building and Construction Trades Council of the Metropolitan District. “They ensure that all stakeholders involved with construction projects benefit. PLAs are good for developers, contractors, workers, and surrounding communities.”

The concept of a project labor agreement (PLA) dates back to the 1930s, when it was first introduced to help guide complex and massive public projects such as the Hoover Dam in Nevada and the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington. A PLA establishes the terms and conditions of employment for construction workers prior to breaking ground on a project. It defines a set of agreed-upon expectations for all parties.

To draft a PLA, union labor organizations negotiate a collective bargaining agreement with the owner of a project, whether it is a public or private entity. In some cases, general contractors and/or representatives of the communities in which projects are based are also involved in the negotiations. For the Suffolk Downs PLA, general contractor John Moriarty & Associates participated in the development of the agreement along with the project’s owner, the HYM Investment Group, and the building trades unions.

Included among agreements’ terms are elements such as employee wages and benefits, budgets, timelines, accountability and transparency provisions, and community benefits. More recently, issues such as pay equity, gender equity, and diversity equity have been addressed in PLAs, including the one negotiated for the Suffolk Downs project.

By considering and standardizing terms and conditions up front, PLAs help promote productivity, efficiencies, and stability, which engender the quality of the work and the timely completion of projects. The agreements dictate minimum standards that translate into fair treatment for workers, including assurances that they will not be locked out of their jobs. In exchange, workers agree not to strike or picket during the term of the PLA. Should disputes arise, resolution mechanisms are included in the agreement.

“The best way to develop a PLA–and it’s worked for nearly 100 years now–is to anticipate any issues that might come up and resolve them before the project starts,” Doherty says.

The benefits flow in all directions. “The PLA gives us predictability in terms of cost, schedule, and quality,” says Tom O’Brien, HYM founding partner and managing director. “We build all of our jobs with union construction trades.”

While Suffolk Downs is enormous, PLAs are not necessarily used just for large projects. The advantages that they bring can be scaled for projects of any size.

Through the years, PLAs have weathered some storms. In the 1980s and 1990s, anti-worker forces challenged their legality. The issue made its way through the judicial system, ending with the Supreme Court hearing a case regarding the Boston Harbor cleanup in 1993. The court voted unanimously to uphold the use of PLAs on public projects based on the fact that they make sense for both business and labor.

“PLAs just make sense,” Doherty says when asked why the agreements have stood the test of time and remain vital today. “They’re critical to the democratic process. They ensure that when there is economic development, everyone has a seat at the table and shares in economic prosperity.”

Day care that works for parents in the trades

–Suffolk Downs redevelopment PLA to support new program

Interested in early-morning childcare? Indicate your interest at the Care that Works site.

For any parents of young children, finding good, affordable day care can be a challenge. For plumbers and other people working in the building trades, it can be especially difficult to locate providers that can care for their children. That’s because their workday begins much earlier than most other people in the workforce, and the day care industry just isn’t designed to accommodate them.

What if there was a network of family childcare providers ready to welcome kids into their homes starting at 5 a.m.? Parents would be able to drop off their children and make it to the job site on time. That’s the idea behind Care that Works, a new program developed by Community Labor United. Part of the funds that HYM Investment Group is targeting to equity and inclusion initiatives in the Suffolk Downs project labor agreement will support Care that Works.

“For women in particular, childcare can be a barrier to getting access to good union jobs,” says Lindsay McCluskey, deputy director at Community Labor United. It’s a problem for people currently working in the trades as well as for people wanting to get into the trades. The problem boils down to who is going to watch their kids in the early morning, or what the day care industry refers to as “nonstandard hours.”

To address the issue, Community Labor United formed a coalition of community organizations concerned about childcare, including the apprentice preparedness program, Building Pathways, and unions representing childcare providers. “Together, we thought these groups could really make an impact and come up with solutions,” McCluskey says.

Caring for kids–and childcare providers

Care that Works is assembling a group of family childcare providers that would agree to accept children beginning in the early morning each day. As opposed to large group childcare facilities, family childcare providers are licensed by the state to care for up to 10 children in their home. This spring, Care that Works plans to launch a pilot program that would include five to ten family childcare providers.

At the same time, the organization is reaching out to construction workers and people enrolled in union-affiliated training programs to determine the need for early-morning childcare. To find out more information and to indicate your interest, go to carethatworks.org.

Once it has gathered families seeking childcare and providers that want to offer early-morning care, it will match them up.

“It‘s both about making sure that families working in construction have access to the childcare they need and recognizing that childcare workers deserve to have a living wage,” says McCluskey about the goals of the program. In recognition of the sacrifices that family childcare providers would make in changing their schedules and waking up earlier, Care that Works would compensate them with a rate differential. “Our campaign has a workers-rights perspective for childcare providers,” McCluskey adds.

In addition to the Suffolk Downs redevelopment PLA, other projects are supporting Care that Works. For example, MP Boston will be providing funds to the program through the project labor agreement it signed with the building trades unions for Winthrop Center, a building now under construction in downtown Boston.

Community Labor United works with grassroots organizations and labor unions on a variety of campaigns and initiatives. Among its programs is the Green Justice Campaign, which brings energy efficiency upgrades and jobs to Boston’s low-income communities and communities of color, and Public Transit, Public Good, which advocates for an affordable and efficient public transportation system that invests in workers and meets the needs of riders.

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.”

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.”