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Summer in Review: Building Trades Issues and Strategies Workshop Series

By Will Silverman, Father Edward F. Boyle, S.J. Summer Fellow

A two-part workshop series, Building Trades Issues & Strategies, provided all Building Trades Union with the opportunity to gain more skills and the knowledge necessary to advocate in various public arenas. Whereas the first session on June 6th highlighted issues affecting the building trades and municipal politics, the June 20th session was focused on the legislative process.

Frank Callahan, President of the Mass Building Trades Council (MBTC), narrowed in the areas of prevailing wage rates, wage theft, project labor agreement myths, and contractor laws. In regards to the former most, Frank reiterated the importance of the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 and the precedent it established, requiring contractors to pay the local prevailing wages on public works projects for laborers and mechanics. Although this act has aided workers at risk of non-local competition from undercutting labor costs, other problems loom over the building trades.

“Left unchecked and under-enforced, the illegal practice of stealing workers’ wages has become a business-as-usual activity in every corner of the Commonwealth . . . In Massachusetts alone, $700 million is stolen from hard-working men and women each year,” said Callahan.

In response, Senator Sal DiDomenico and Representative Dan Donahue have sponsored An Act to Prevent Wage Theft, Promote Employer Accountability, and Enhance Public Enforcementto address the growing crisis. Similarly, Responsible Employer Ordinances (REOs) have been adopted in 18 municipalities in Massachusetts to resolve problems with prevailing wages, workers’ compensation insurance, and unemployment insurance. This discussion culminated in clarifying the myths surrounding project labor agreements; although more than 60% of the construction workforce is unionized in Massachusetts, many purport that 80% are non-union.

For the second workshop session, Rich Marlin introduced the participants to the legislative process. The way to decide who gets what, when, where, how, and why, Marlin walked us through the battle over wage theft legislation. Just as all elections have consequences, this session served as a reminder to those in the audience that the advancement of workers’ interests is dependent on those same workers participating in the political process and even becoming political leaders.

This article originally appeared in the Sumer 2019 issue of Labor Life.

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