Coronavirus concerns prompt second construction union to walk off jobs

Coronavirus concerns prompt second construction union to walk off Massachusetts jobs

BOSTON, MA. – MARCH 17: A construction worker at a site in the Seaport District peers out of a opening. Mayor Marty Walsh ordered all construction to stop today as the Coronavirus continues to spread on March 17, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

Nearly 17,000 carpenters and painters are refusing to work at Massachusetts construction sites over concerns for the safety as the coronavirus pandemic escalates and calling on Gov. Charlie Baker to order a statewide shutdown.

The Painters and Allied Trades Union has directed its 4,000 members in Massachusetts and across New England to stop working following the close of business on Monday and ordering them not to return to work “until it is safe to resume.”

“Business representatives and organizers have visited job sites and reported to me that there is an unsafe risk of exposure to COVID-19. Many of our partner contractors have made strong and sincere efforts to protect our members on the job. Despite these efforts, I am now convinced that construction sites in
Massachusetts are not presently safe for our membership,” Jeffrey Sullivan, the union’s secretary-treasurer said in a letter to members.

Gov. Charlie Baker said his administration last week issued “robust” guidance including requiring social-distancing protocols and a “zero-tolerance policy” for infected workers on the job. Sites not in compliance are instructed to “secure the site and pause construction,” but union leaders said enforcement is not happening and workers are being put at risk.

“At this point, I think the guidance and safety protocols we have in place are appropriate,” he said at a Monday press conference.

It’s a point of contention with the building trades unions, several of which have taken workers’ safety into their own hands and ordered work stoppages amid what they see as a lack of state guidance.

“I’ve seen with my own two eyes that enforcement is not happening,” said Frank Callahan, president of the Massachusetts Building Trades Council. He said workers aren’t getting enough protective gear or given the opportunity to practice distancing.

The building trades council — representing 75,000 workers — last week urged Governor Charlie Baker to order a statewide construction shutdown. The governor has stopped work on commercial, retail and hotel projects, but has allowed some construction to continue — including residential work.

“Our members want to work, but they’re scared. They don’t want to work in an unsafe environment,” said trades council President Callahan.

Last week, the North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters directed its 13,000 members in Massachusetts to stop working effective Monday “until it is safe to do so.”

Cities including Boston and Somerville have enacted their own construction bans on all but emergency projects citing concerns over the ability to take proper safety precautions to contain the virus, but construction continues across most of the state.


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