Rita Gill-McCarthy Local 12 Boston

Gill-McCarthy is new LMCT administrator

The Labor-Management Cooperative Trust (LMCT) serves as a bridge between Local 12 and the Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association (GBPCA). It works to advance both organizations’ shared objectives and promote as well as maintain a vigilant eye on the plumbing industry. In April, the LMCT welcomed Rita Gill-McCarthy as its new administrator.

Gill-McCarthy brings 20 years of experience working for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Division of Apprentice Standards. A part of the Department of Labor, the division registers all of the state’s apprentices along with handling other apprentice-related duties. Among her responsibilities, Gill-McCarthy issued ID cards to apprentices seeking work on prevailing wage jobs. She also examined certified payrolls to make sure that apprentices were being correctly compensated.

The work prepared Gill-McCarthy well for her LMCT position. Part of her role includes analyzing construction project data to bring questionable business practices, including failures to adhere to prevailing wage laws, to light. She also ensures that bids are handled properly and that they are administered correctly and legally once they are awarded. The efforts help Local 12 members and signatory GBPCA contractors compete on a more level playing field.

“There can be some unscrupulous players–‘bad actors,’ if you will–in the industry,” Gill-McCarthy says. By exposing them and making sure everyone plays by the rules, the LMCT “can even help nonunion shops and workers in a roundabout way,” she adds.

The work often puts Gill-McCarthy in touch with the Fair Labor Division of the state’s Attorney General’s office. It also puts her in touch with GBPCA contractors and Local 12 officials, many of whom she had worked with while at the Division of Apprentice Standards. The relationships that she developed are serving her well at the LMCT. 

“I’m one of Rita’s biggest fans,” says Rick Carter, the director of Local 12’s training center, who often interacted with Gill-McCarthy when she was at the state agency. “She was always very helpful to our apprentices and the training center. She was very detail oriented. I can’t say enough good about her.”

With a father, two cousins, and an uncle all working as carpenters, along with another cousin who was a roofer, Gill-McCarthy was quite familiar with the construction trades growing up. She was also familiar with organized labor.

“My father was in the union and was very pro-union,” says Gill-McCarthy. “He always told me I should be a carpenter. I didn’t listen to him.”

But the labor message did resonate as she pursued a degree in labor studies from UMass Boston and went to work for the Department of Labor after graduating college. 

Gill-McCarthy’s husband is a teamster. They have a ten-year-old daughter. She says that her family enjoys taking bike rides and traveling. (Remember traveling?)

As LMCT administrator, Gill-McCarthy notes that her multi-faceted work keeps her on her toes. “Every day is something new,” she says. “I love the challenge.”

Jovai Taylor and Michael Alewxander Local 12 Boston apprentices

2020 will be memorable first year for apprentices

No matter what may be happening outside of the industry, it’s always momentous for apprentices when they join Local 12 and begin their training.

Members likely have vivid memories of their first year in the program as they began to learn the trade and started on their journey in a new career. But for the thirty first-year apprentices who came on board in 2020 amid the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, their experiences will be especially memorable. The Pipeline caught up with two of them to learn about their path to Local 12.

Michael Alexander

As a third-generation Local 12 member, you might think that it would have been Michael Alexander’s destiny to become a plumber and join the union. But that wasn’t necessarily the case.

While he always liked putting things together and making things work, Alexander chose to study engineering in college. But when he joined the Army National Guard three years ago as a helicopter mechanic, he found his calling working with his hands.

“It was then that I knew the desk thing wasn’t really going to be for me,” says Alexander, noting that he enjoyed being in the field repairing and replacing helicopter parts. “That’s when I decided I wanted to work in the trades.”

As to what trade, his family provided inspiration. Alexander’s grandfather, Ed Farrell, uncle, Brian Farrell, and cousin, Ryan Farrell, all joined Local 12 and pursued plumbing as a career. He sought the advice of his uncle, who helped convince him to follow the family tradition.

“Even though I had grown up hearing about the union, I didn’t know much about it,” Alexander says. “After my uncle told me about the high professional standards, the safety standards, the wages, the benefits, and more, I decided to apply.”

Alexander was accepted into the local in 2019, but duty called when the Army National Guard deployed him to the Middle East. Part of a heavy maintenance team, he serviced Blackhawk helicopters in his home base, Kuwait, as well as in Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Over the course of Alexander’s deployment, which lasted through

January of this year, his team supported 33,000 hours of combat flight time. “I knew that I had Local 12 to go home to,” he says.

Upon his return, Alexander went to work for Glionna Plumbing and Heating where he has remained. Not long after he started, the COVID-19 pandemic erupted. Alexander notes that there have been no reported virus cases at any of the job sites on which he has been working. He credits Glionna, the general contractors, and the safety protocols adopted by the building trades for helping to keep him and his coworkers safe.

Many of Glionna’s projects are municipal buildings. Alexander, for example, has been working on new police headquarters in Belmont and Beverly. The crews are relatively small, which makes it easier to social distance. 

He cites another benefit of working for a smaller shop. “My uncle was a foreman and ran a lot of huge jobs. With Glionna, I get to do a lot more, because I wear many hats. I’m getting a lot of hands-on experience with a variety of things.”

Alexander says that his military experience and regard for the chain of command has served him well at job sites. “It makes it easier for me to learn. I have respect for the journeyman and foreman above me,” he notes. “You only have to tell me things once.”

He also notes parallels between the military and the union. “With Local 12, there’s strength in unity. We have each other’s backs. We are part of something bigger than ourselves.”

As for the benefits he is receiving, the 24-year-old says that he doesn’t know anybody else his age with a health care plan, an annuity, and a pension. “It’s pretty fantastic.”

Jovai Taylor

She always liked working with her hands, but Jovai Taylor ended up with jobs at auto dealerships and a car rental agency. Tired of sitting at a desk and seeking a change, she thought about the things she liked doing and remembered how much she enjoyed working alongside her father helping him with home 

repairs and improvements. It’s something Taylor carried with her throughout her life. She says that she always tries to figure out how to do things herself. She thought construction could be something to pursue.

“I wanted to get into the building trades for a long time,” Taylor says. “But I just didn’t know how to do it.”

Then a friend who is a pipefitter told her about Building Pathways. The Roxbury-based pre-apprenticeship program helps prepare people, especially women, people of color, and others in underserved communities, for careers in the building trades. Local 12 is one of the unions that works with and supports Building Pathways.

Taylor enrolled in the program in 2019 to begin her new career path. As part of the curriculum, participants are asked to identify two trades they would like to enter. She chose plumbing and pipefitting.

After graduating from Building Pathways, Taylor applied to some of the building trade unions. While she waited to hear from them, she took a job with a nonunion shop to get some experience.

Accepted by Local 12, the first-year apprentice says that up until recently, she didn’t know much about unions. “Now, there is a sense of security. I understand that Local 12 has my best interests at heart and is looking out for me,” Taylor says. “Unlike past jobs, it feels like a career for me now.”

Having briefly worked for a nonunion contractor, she says that there is a big difference on the union side. “The way I’m treated, the pay, the benefits–it’s all so much better.”

As a woman working in the trades, Taylor says her gender has been a non-issue. Everyone has been accepting her.

Since joining Local 12, Taylor has been working for GBPCA contractor TG Gallagher at 51 Sleeper Street in Boston’s Seaport District. The mixed-use building, which dates back to 1924, is being renovated and converted into new office and lab space.

While the class sizes are smaller than usual at Local 12’s training center, and everyone is wearing a mask along with other safety measures, Taylor says that as a first-year apprentice, she has nothing to compare it to. Her experiences in the classroom and the center’s shop have been great, she notes. Taylor is especially looking forward to learning more about welding and brazing.

Apprentice draws on her past experience

Third-year Local 12 apprentice Kerri Reppucci took an interesting journey into the industry. 

For nine years she was a mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP) coordinator and developed blueprints for commercial construction projects. Now Reppucci is on crews doing the kind of plumbing that she once designed. Her background gives her a unique perspective among apprentices.

Unlike many people who find their way to Local 12, Reppucci didn’t know anybody who was a plumber or worked in other construction trades, nor was she exposed to or had any inclination to join the industry as she was growing up. She knew the owner of EHK Adjorlolo & Associates, a building information modeling (BIM) services company based in Norwood, who hired her soon after she graduated high school and trained her in all aspects of virtual design and construction.

The learning curve was steep, but Reppucci became proficient as an MEP coordinator and developed drawings using computer-aided design (CAD). She simultaneously learned about plumbing, mechanical, electrical, and fire protection systems as well as the overall building trades industry. “In time, I ran coordination meetings,” Reppucci says. She recalls sitting across the table from GBPCA contractors such as E. M. Duggan and Valante Mechanical.

While she enjoyed the work, Reppucci says she eventually wanted to change careers and began thinking about being on the other side of the construction industry. An avid equestrian and an active, outdoorsy person, she sometimes found it a struggle to sit behind a computer and be confined to an office. “When I went to job sites, I loved being out there,” recalls Reppucci.

Interestingly, it was her boss who helped steer her away from his company. He would often talk to Reppucci about her personal five-year plan and encouraged her to envision where she saw herself. She realized she wanted to explore a career in the construction trades.

Coincidentally, Reppucci met a plumber who discovered the MEP coordination work she did and asked her if she ever though about getting into the field. When she expressed interest, he offered her a part-time position working for him on Saturdays. For about a year, Reppucci learned the basics of plumbing on residential service jobs.

“I liked it from the start,” she says. Reppucci decided to actively pursue becoming a full-time plumber. “It was scary to switch careers. But I knew I had to pull the trigger.”

She applied to Local 12, but didn’t initially get in. The plumber with whom she had been working on Saturdays offered her an apprenticeship position and she took it, although Reppucci says that she didn’t give up on her dream to get into the union. She knew the pay would be better as well as the benefits such as health insurance and a pension. She also knew that Local 12-affiliated contractors did the type of large-scale projects on which she wanted to work.

In 2018, Reppucci reapplied and was accepted into Local 12. She has been working for American Plumbing and Heating on projects such as a new Children’s Hospital building and the expansion of TD Garden’s concourse.

“When I first started, it was so exciting,” she enthuses. “It was almost surreal. I would ask myself, ‘Is this happening?’ ”

Reppucci says her many years as an MEP coordinator have been serving her well. Her ability to look at drawings and know exactly what they mean has helped her on the job. At the same time, she adds, she is learning a different side of plumbing that she couldn’t get in an office.

“Pipe is much easier to manipulate in your hands than in a drawing,” Reppucci notes.

She is currently on the American crew at the mixed-use development known as Parcel K in Boston’s Seaport district. The 500,000-square-foot project includes a 12-story residential building with 304 apartments and a 12-story Hyatt Place hotel with 294 rooms. Parcel K will also include an underground parking garage, office space, and ground-level retail shops and restaurants. Reppucci is working on the hotel side of the project.

Before she came to Local 12, Reppucci had taken classes for open-shop apprentices. She says that the union’s training center, which emphasizes hands-on opportunities in its shops, is a completely different experience. Whereas before, she mostly sat at a desk and read along as teachers lectured, now she is putting theory into practice.

“We’re doing things that help me really understand plumbing,” says Reppucci. “I’m a tactile learner. I need to do it to understand it. The instructors are great.”

When she gets older, Reppucci says that she may want to return to MEP coordination. But for now she is thrilled to be learning a trade that she loves. She looks forward to a long career and says that she is bullish on the plumbing industry.

“People will always need water, sinks, toilets, and heat,” explains Reppucci. “The trade won’t go away.” 

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.”