This op-ed appeared in the Worcester Telegram on August 18, 2019.
By Frank Callahan – President, Massachusetts Building Trades Council
and Brian Brousseau – President, Worcester Building Trades Council
On Labor Day, it’s common to take stock of the latest job numbers and economic growth. And by many accounts, Worcester is on the rise. The local economy grew by more than 3 percent last year – the strongest numbers seen in this area since the boom years of the 1990s – and has continued robustly in the first half of 2019.
We also have hundreds of millions of dollars of new development projects in the planning phase that have the potential to revitalize our city and region for generations to come.
The question many people are asking is how do we ensure that the benefits of that development are shared by everyone? The answer is easy: Unions.
Labor unions carve a pathway to the middle-class, providing good wages and benefits that allow workers to support their families, buy their own homes, become part of their communities and contribute to their local economies.
Unions also guarantee pay equity and help eliminate income inequality, which is why you’re seeing so many more women on union construction sites across the region. In Massachusetts, there’s nearly three times more women in union apprenticeship programs than in the construction workforce nationally. And 95 percent of all women apprentices in Massachusetts are enrolled in Union-Sponsored Apprenticeship Programs, because we’re actively recruiting women for well-paying middle-class careers in the union building trades.
One project we’re especially proud of is the Worcester YWCA. The building trades unions, along with our contractor partners, are currently renovating the YWCA’s Salem Street headquarters with a construction management team comprised entirely of union women, and we’re actively working to make it a 100 percent female workforce too.
What’s more, through this project, local tradeswomen have the honor of building, and helping to fund, supportive housing for women and families escaping domestic abuse. The AFL-CIO Investment Trust is a partner and partial funder of this project, illustrating that both organized labor and the YWCA share a mission – creating opportunities to empower women.
Of course there’s lots of reasons why developers and contractors rely on highly-skilled union labor. For one, it eliminates the sticker shock, by ensuring projects are built on-time and on-budget by the best-trained workers. It also guarantees that the workforce is local. Whereas non-union workers often come from out of state, the same isn’t true for the union building trades. It makes sense for Worcester-area folks to build the Worcester area. It boosts our regional economy since the dollars earned here will be spent here.
We’re also doing our part to ensure the region’s skilled tradespeople are able to build their futures and provide for their families. Massachusetts’ building trades unions spend more than $1 billion every year on healthcare, covering more than 260,000 children, spouses and construction workers across the Commonwealth. And we invest over $55 million every year for members to train at more than 40 state-of-the-art training facilities, ensuring we have the best-trained workforce in the country.
The hardworking men and women in the Worcester-Fitchburg Building Trades unions have proudly built Worcester and the surrounding area brick by brick, and we’re just getting started. There are dozens of projects being planned over the next several years that will modernize and improve our region. This Labor Day, let’s ensure that they’re built by local families with a focus on equity, safety, and strengthening our city’s middle-class.