Coronavirus concerns spark walk-offs on Massachusetts construction sites

Coronavirus concerns spark walk-offs on Massachusetts construction sites

Massachusetts union leaders have directed members to stop working “until it is safe to resume.”

Nearly 17,000 carpenters and painters are refusing to work at Massachusetts construction sites over concerns for safety as the coronavirus pandemic escalates, reports the Boston Herald.

The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT), Hanover, Maryland, has directed its 4,000 members in Massachusetts and across New England to stop working following the close of business on April 6 and ordering them not to return to work “until it is safe to resume.”

“Business representatives and organizers have visited job sites and reported to me that there is an unsafe risk of exposure to COVID-19,” said Jeffery Sullivan, the union’s secretary-treasurer, in a letter to members. “Many of our partner contractors have made strong and sincere efforts to protect our members on the job. Despite these efforts, I am now convinced that construction sites in Massachusetts are not presently safe for our membership.”

Gov. Charlie Baker said his administration has issued “robust” guidance including requiring social-distancing protocols and a “zero-tolerance policy” for infected workers on the job. Sites not in compliance are instructed to “secure the site and pause construction,” but union leaders said enforcement is not happening and workers are being put at risk.

“I’ve seen with my own two eyes that enforcement is not happening,” says Frank Callahan, president of the Massachusetts Building Trades Council, Malden, Massachusetts. He said workers aren’t getting enough protective gear or given the opportunity to practice distancing.

The building trades council — representing 75,000 workers — has urged Baker to order a statewide construction shutdown. The governor has stopped work on commercial, retail and hotel projects, but has allowed some construction to continue, including residential work.

Baker responded to these requests April 7, stating that essential construction projects can safely continue under strict guidelines, which includes frequent hand washing and keeping workers at a distance from each other.

“The administration has followed federal guidance and tailored the essential business list to reflect the Commonwealth’s unique economy while maintaining strict guidelines for essential workers,” says Sarah Finlaw, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office. "The administration has issued guidance to keep those performing essential services safe, including putting out supplemental guidance last week to ensure the safety of construction sites and the health of workers.”

According to MassLive, legislators said that emergency and essential construction should continue, “but building luxury condominiums, corporate offices, housing and other non-emergency and non-essential projects is a risk to the workers building those facilities, their families and the communities they work and live in.”