By Jeannette Hinkle
April 16, 2020

Carpenters calls on Spicer to shut down Framingham worksite, citing coronavirus safety concerns

The drivers of the vehicles in the rolling protest, designed to keep protesters from congregating in a group, were mostly members of the North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters, a labor union whose members are arguing job sites like the one at the Bancroft Building should shut down to protect workers, their families and the community from the coronavirus.

FRAMINGHAM – A chorus of car horns mixed with the din of construction at 59 Fountain St. on Thursday morning.

Workers, who are building a luxury apartment complex at the site of the old Bancroft Building, peered down from rooflines and the mill’s plastic-sheeted windows at the parade of honking pickups and SUVs that circled the streets around the worksite.

Taped to the vehicles’ windows were posters with handwritten messages.

“Safety over profits,” read one. “Framingham, take COVID-19 seriously,” another said. “Unsafe jobsite, Framingham in danger,” read another.

The drivers of the vehicles in the rolling protest, designed to keep protesters from congregating in a group, were mostly members of the North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters, a labor union whose members are arguing job sites like the one at the Bancroft Building should shut down to protect workers, their families and the community from the coronavirus.

Rick Anketell, a business representative for North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters Local 336, said general contracting company DellBrook Construction isn’t doing enough to protect workers at 59 Fountain St.

Anketell said he’s observed and photographed workers at the site congregating in confined spaces, many without masks and other protective equipment. Workers have also been carpooling to the site, he said, a violation of social distancing guidelines outlined by the state.

The project is putting the community at risk, he said.

“It’s not a union issue,” Anketell told the Daily News. “It’s about the workers’ safety and protecting the community.”

Gov. Charlie Baker included housing unit construction in the state’s list of essential work “to ensure additional units can be made available to combat the Commonwealth’s existing housing supply shortage.”

But Frank Gomez, a member of the carpenters union, said workers’ safety is more important than completing a housing complex like the one at 59 Fountain St., set to wrap up next February.

“We don’t believe this type of work is essential,” Gomez said. “Essential means something we can’t go without, like an airport, electricity, power plants, work like that. But residential just has to wait another three to four months until everything blows over. This is not essential by any means.”

Some cities, including Boston, have rebuked Baker’s classification of residential housing construction as essential by pausing all non-emergency construction projects. On March 31, the Massachusetts Building Trades Council, which has 75,000 members, voted unanimously to suspend all regular construction 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,” Francis X. Callahan, president of the Massachusetts Building Trades Council, wrote in a press release. “It is impractical and, in many cases, impossible to safely work on a construction project right now given the current state of affairs.”

The North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters has voluntarily pulled 10,000 carpenters off Massachusetts construction sites not related to public health or safety in response to the coronavirus. Gomez said workers are now at home and filing for unemployment benefits, he said.

“Right now, we are counting on the federal government for their unemployment so those guys have something to rely on, but the main thing is to protect the workers and their families,” Gomez said. “These contractors are not following guidelines so by doing that, they’re jeopardizing the health of the workers.”

The union was recently successful in pushing a Lynn developer, whose site was being managed by the general contracting company DellBrook Construction, the same company managing the 59 Fountain Street project, to largely halt construction.

A Lynn newspaper quoted the developer, Michael Procopio, as saying the shutdown was largely prompted by the union’s protest tactics.

“We had hoped to avoid this unfortunate step, and we remain confident in the stringent safety protocols that are in place on-site, as they far exceed the procedures and protocols of other sites,” Procopio said. “However, in the interest of reducing tensions and ensuring the safety of our workers and medical professionals (specifically related to the off-hours stalking of workers, daily lawless protests at the site, aggressive behavior and social distancing violations of the protestors), we have had no choice but to suspend all non-essential activities on-site.”

The goal of Thursday’s protest was to convince Mayor Yvonne Spicer to conduct an immediate review of safety practices at the site, and to shut it down.

“Mayor Spicer has the ability to confirm the serious issues about non-compliance with the required COVID-19 safety guidelines by Dellbrook|JKS at the Bancroft Building at 59 Fountain St. in Framingham,” Steve Joyce, a Framingham resident and carpenter, said in a statement. “We are encouraging her to close this construction project immediately, for the health of these workers, their families and the Framingham community.”

The Daily News reached out to Spicer for comment and will update this story when we receive a response.

According to a state spokesperson, local boards of health can take enforcement action when a non-essential construction project is continuing in violation of the order, or when an essential project has not implemented required safety protocols. Violations may result in a civil fine of up to $300 per violation, or criminal charges.

However, on the state’s website, a list of safety guidelines for construction sites says the rules apply to “both State employees and contracted staff working on behalf of the State,” and the spokesperson said the guidelines and procedures must be implemented at all times on public construction sites. Private construction sites are “urged” to follow the guidelines.

Sam Wong, Framingham’s public health director, said his department has received complaints about the Fountain Street worksite, but because the site is private, his powers to investigate are limited. Wong did say that he is considering enacting orders taken by other municipalities that allow local health officials to enforce state safety guidelines.

The company has set up a COVID-19 screening area in the site’s boiler building, which is located between the Bancroft mill building and a new structure that will include both housing units and parking.

Carson said DellBrook has hired trained medical staff that he said conduct a “pre-start self certification process” that involves checking the temperatures of all workers at the start of their shifts. If a worker has a temperature over 100.3 degrees, the person is sent home, Carson said.

During the screening process, workers are also required to answer questions to determine if they are exhibiting any other symptoms of the virus.

On the job site, Carson said DellBrook is limiting the number of workers allowed in certain areas to ensure they can maintain proper social distancing. If workers must be in close quarters, Carson said the subcontracting company for which they work must alert DellBrook ahead of time and provide a plan that explains what personal protective equipment or other measures are required to keep workers safe as they perform those tasks.

The company has also set up hand washing stations throughout the worksite and hired cleaning staff to continuously disinfect high-touch surfaces, Carson said.

If the company learns a worker has either tested positive for the coronavirus or that a worker is exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms and has been in close contact with a person who has tested positive for the coronavirus, the construction site is shut down and decontaminated, Carson said.

Carson said he could not tell the Daily News whether any DellBrook workers have tested positive for the coronavirus, but he did say the company has shut down job sites for decontamination “a handful of times.”

“We’ve taken precautions that go above and beyond the requirements that have been established by Gov. Baker and his staff,” Carson said. “DellBrook is doing everything we can to ensure the health and safety of everybody on our projects, visitors, workers, our own employees.”

District 8 City Councilor John Stefanini said the city should not take the company at its word.

“I think the community should verify that those things are, in fact, happening because it certainly doesn’t appear from what I’ve seen in videos, pictures and what I’ve seen with my own eyes that they are practicing physical distancing and wearing protective equipment,” Stefanini said. “At a minimum, I think they should stop work on the site until they can certify that they are taking care of their workers.”

District 6 City Councilor Philip Ottaviani wrote a letter to Spicer this week urging her to stop work at the site immediately. Ottaviani framed the issue as one of racial equity and justice.

“The data from across the country on the disparate rates at which people of color are dying from the coronavirus weighs heavily on me as I see the largely Latino and Black construction crews working on this project,” he wrote. “These are people living paycheck to paycheck, dependent on maintaining their employment, and with little power to change their working conditions.”

Allowing the project to proceed, Ottaviani said, undermines the city’s public health efforts.

“My grandfather organized local laborers in the 1930′s to provide safe working conditions and living wages for local workers,” Ottaviani wrote. “Given all the advances we have made as a community, I never thought that I would see the return of such inhuman practices at a local worksite in my lifetime. We cannot remain neutral by sitting in silence while such dangerous practices are occurring in front of us.”

The Bancroft Building project has drawn the ire of the carpenters union and City Councilors in the past. A worker was seriously injured at the site last year after falling through the roof, an incident the union pointed to as evidence of unsafe work practices. And a push by developer Washington Square Ventures to get a tax break after the project began was eventually abandoned after councilors characterized it as a bailout.

Read the original article on The MetroWest Daily News website.

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