By Peter Goonan
April 1, 2020
Coronavirus and construction: Massachusetts Building Trades Council calls for stop to non-emergency construction
SPRINGFIELD — The Massachusetts Building Trades Council is urging Gov. Charlie Baker to halt all non-emergency construction work across the state due to the coronavirus.
The executive board of the statewide labor union, which represents workers in the building trades across the state, voted unanimously in favor of a one-month halt on regular construction. The organization is seeking to only allow emergency construction and certain work deemed essential, according to a trades council statement.
The vote came one week after Baker’s administration rejected the idea, calling instead for strict workplace precautions.
The Building Trades Council has 75,000 members statewide.
In the vote, the Council called for the suspension of construction to begin Friday and continue through April 30.
“The only way to protect the health and safety of our members, their families and of the general public is to keep people apart,” said Francis X. Callahan, the organization’s president. “It is impractical and, in many cases, impossible to safely work on a construction project right now given the current state of affairs.”
There are roughly 150,000 workers connected to the building trades statewide including union, non-union and office workers, Callahan said. Workers would be eligible to collect unemployment pay during a shutdown, he said.
While the impact is great, the top priority is worker safety, he said.
Such a ban would impact major projects across the state, including the construction of Polar Park in Worcester. Last week city officials said work on the minor league ballpark — as well as the construction of the South High Community School and a new public library — would continue, despite Baker’s stay-at-home advisory.
In Springfield, work is ongoing on an apartment project at the long-vacant Indian Motocycle building at 837 State St. and the adjacent Mason Square fire station. The project’s developer, Gordon Pulsifer, said this week that he expects the 60-unit apartment project to be done by July 1 — if there are no coronavirus-related delays.
Work allowed under the Council’s proposal would include emergency utility work, new utility connections to occupied buildings, work at health care facilities and shelters, and work to ensure the reliability of the transportation network.
The Baker administration said last week that it was requiring adherence to the “safety stand down” as part of sweeping set of guidelines provided to the construction industry.
That included workers certifying before each shift that they are not sick, and for each job site to post cleaning and decontamination procedures, among other guidelines.
Boston and some other cities have enacted halts on construction, and were not withdrawing the orders as of last week when the Governor’s office called for coronavirus regulations and enforcement.
The Mass. Building Trades Council said that in the meantime, it is working with industry stakeholders and public health experts “to develop best practices and new safety protocols to ensure the safest worksites possible for the emergency and essential projects that need to continue, and for all projects when it becomes feasible to return.”