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MBTC, Labor Guild Hold Third Building Trades Issues and Strategies Workshop of 2019

by Sean Lundergan, Boyle Fellow

The Massachusetts Building Trades Council, in partnership with the Labor Guild, put on a two-part workshop at IBEW 223 in Taunton on Thursday, October 10 and Thursday, October 17.

The first day, MBTC President Frank Callahan led an overview of the current issues that building tradespeople have to navigate: prevailing wage laws, wage theft, project labor agreements, responsible employer ordinances, public construction bid laws, and public infrastructure funding and tax policy. Frank put each topic in its historical context, explaining the impetus for prevailing wage laws in the early twentieth century, for instance, and then broke down the implications of each issue for members of the building trades unions. Discussion with the attendees around the room combined the broad conceptual structure of these issues with concrete examples from day-to-day workplace situations.

Later in the session, Jim Pimental, an Organizer with Bricklayers Local 3, spoke about the ways that local politics affects the building trades. From the influence of cost-cutting developers on many city councilmembers to the varying degrees of success of municipal wage theft ordinances, he detailed the obstacles and opportunities that municipal politics presents for members of the building trades.

The second day of the series, Frank and his assistant Dan McNulty asked the attendees to break into small groups and discuss what they would do to prepare for and run a campaign. After the groups had come up with a set of ideas, they compared those ideas with the practical example of the Marty Walsh campaign for mayor. Many of the ideas the groups proposed—community organizing, coalition building with local central labor councils, courting endorsements—were tactics the campaign used.

Rich Marlin, Legislative Director for the MBTC, led the second half of the session, in which he discussed the opportunities for and impediments to labor policy in the state legislature. He outlined some of the mechanisms of wage theft—misclassification, off-site fabrication, subcontracting—and the legislative and regulatory remedies that both the General Assembly and the Attorney General’s office have either adopted or proposed. To illustrate the difficulty with passing protections like wage theft laws, he detailed the cumbersome nature of the legislative process—how since its inception, the state legislature has been set up to pass only the most pressing bills, a small portion of the bills that are proposed in a legislative session. The inherent status-quo bias in the system is intended to prevent any wild swings in policy and myopic legislating, but in practice it can impede important actions like labor protections. Marlin’s presentation equipped attendees with the knowledge to approach and navigate these institutional challenges.

The workshop attendees came from IBEW Local 223, Carpenters Local 346 and Operating Engineers Local 4. This was the third time the workshop has been put on in 2019, and we are grateful to Frank, Dan, and everyone who has spoken at and attended them throughout the year.

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