Letter to the Editor:Somerville residents seek good jobs and benefits for workers at Assemble Sq.

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(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville News Weekly and Boston News Group belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville News Weekly or Boston News Group, its staff or publishers)

By Rand Wilson, December 7, 2014

Hundreds of Somerville residents have signed letters to Don Briggs, Senior Vice President for Development at Federal Realty Investment Trust, urging FRIT to select a general contractor that would use union labor at Assembly Sq.

FRIT is expected to choose a general contractor for a huge 448-unit apartment building on Parcel 6 in early December. The selection is between the generally pro-union Suffolk Construction and Callahan Inc., a low-road contractor that has a long track record of non-union subcontractors.

A letter from “Good Jobs Somerville” signed by more than 75 residents dated Dec. 1 stated: “The contrast between Suffolk and Callahan could not be starker. Suffolk plans to build the project with all union labor, using skilled men and women who will provide high quality work while earning a decent wage with health insurance and retirement security benefits. If Callahan performs the work, on the other hand, there will be no union presence. Workers on the project will receive substandard wages and few or no benefits.”

Local Somerville residents can only be assured of a genuinely fair opportunity to work on this project if it is awarded to a union contractor that is required to predominately source workers from the local area union hiring halls. Union contractors also invest in meaningful apprenticeship training programs that lead to lasting careers in the building trades. Conversely, “open shop” contractors like Callahan operate under no such requirements and routinely recruit low-wage, under-trained workers from elsewhere.

“A decision to build such a large project with non-union workers from outside our city will send a clear message that Federal is not a responsible corporate neighbor and is focused exclusively on the bottom line at the expense of Somerville residents,” the letter emphasized.

The letter was signed by Ward 7 Alderman Katjana Ballantyne, Ward 1 Alderman Matthew McLaughlin, Ward 5 Alderman Mark Niedergang and State Representative Denise Provost. Similar letters were also sent to Briggs by State Sen. Pat Jehlen and State Rep. Tim Toomey; and others signed by over 100 Somerville members of the carpenters and electrical workers’ unions.

In an reply from FRIT dated Dec. 5 sent to everyone who signed the letter, Briggs indicated the union bid was “40 to 60% more expensive than the other proposal.” Yet, leaders in the building trades contend that the price spread is significantly less. More importantly, the whole debate about the union ‘premium’ is meaningless without the names of the subcontractors and assumptions that Callahan has used to establish its bid price. To date, FRIT has refused to provide that information. Without transparency, there is no way of knowing if Callahan’s proposal is legitimate.

In a scathing exposé: Uncovering the Facts on Callahan, Inc. the New England Regional Council of Carpenters documented Callahan’s history of allegedly using subcontractors that broke the law. “Aside from the project delays and costly court expenses, the actions of Callahan and its subcontractors come out of every taxpayer’s paycheck. Nearly $56 million in lost revenue has been collected since 2008 by a Massachusetts joint task force – money diverted from schools and municipalities because of fraudulent practices,” the report stated.

“FRIT and all of the businesses in Assembly Sq. could not succeed without enormous support from all levels of government: municipal, state, and federal,” said Rand Wilson, a long-time resident and workers’ rights activist. “That support is conditioned on those businesses adhering to the high standards of organized labor. All of our elected representatives have consistently made it clear that development at Assembly Sq. should be done in a way that supports family-sustaining wages, with training and benefits to create opportunities for the entire region — especially Somerville residents.”

For a copy of the signed community letter, the “Uncovering the Facts on Callahan” report or more info, contact: Rand Wilson at email: rand.wilson@gmail.com

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