Holyoke Soldiers’ Home labor agreement praised

Union official says Project Labor Agreement is best approach

IT’S BEEN JUST over a year since news broke of the deadly COVID-19 outbreak at Holyoke Soldiers’ Home that killed 77 veterans and infected 84 more. In reviewing what went wrong, a state commission report revealed years-old plans to remodel or replace the facility — improvements long advocated for by veterans groups — may have prevented these needless deaths in the first place.

Our veterans bravely served our country, protecting our safety and our freedom. State lawmakers must honor that service by finally giving veterans the safe and secure home they deserve.

Thankfully, the Massachusetts Legislature is considering a $400 million bond bill to rebuild and revitalize Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, and it can’t receive approval fast enough.

The bill prioritizes safety, quality, and reliability, both during construction and when the new home is completed. In the construction phase, a highly skilled diverse local work force will ensure the home is built safely, on time, and on budget — a welcome relief for the veterans who live here, and for taxpayers, who don’t want to be on the hook for unexpected cost overruns. They’ll also ensure it’s built with the highest quality standards and is worthy of the veterans who call it home.

The bill also ensures that the new Soldiers’ Home creates pathways to opportunity for women, people of color, and returning veterans. Project Labor Agreement projects promise diversity and equity in hiring, and our Massachusetts building trades unions back up that promise with one of the most diverse workforces in the industry. Massachusetts construction unions are nationally recognized leaders in providing career opportunities to previously underserved populations. Massachusetts Unions have triple the national average for women in union apprenticeships. One outstanding example in apprenticeship diversity is the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 98 in Western Massachusetts, with 22.2 percent women and 44.4 percent people of color.

Massachusetts’ building trades unions have also paved critical inroads for veterans returning from service, placing over 900 military veterans into good union construction jobs through the Helmets to Hardhats programs. Inclusive hiring practices not only strengthen the quality of each project, but also provide great jobs and family-sustaining benefits for working families throughout our Commonwealth.

As our nation slowly emerges from the pandemic, President Biden has issued a call for all of us to Build Back Better. And this is exactly how we do it — by guaranteeing high-quality construction and investing in our neighbors and communities. That’s exactly what we should do for the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home.

While some have questioned the cost of rebuilding a better, safer Soldiers’ Home, and even advocated for cutting corners on its safety, we know our veterans in Western Massachusetts have a right to the same safety measures and high-quality work provided throughout the rest of the state. Employing the most qualified, best-trained trades men and women is critical to ensuring the long-term safety of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home residents.

Simply put, our veterans deserve the best. And a Project Labor Agreement is a proven model to deliver it, every time. We’re urging the Legislature to pass H.96 so that all of our state’s residents, regardless of background, can benefit from inclusive projects, built by qualified, highly trained, local workers.

Meet the Author

Frank Callahan

President, Massachusetts Building Trades Council
Frank Callahan is the president of the Massachusetts Building Trades Council, the state’s largest construction labor organization, representing 75,000 building trades union members.

For another point of view on the construction of a new Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, click here for an article by Greg Beeman of Associated Builders and Contractors of Massachusetts.