Baker pressed on Holyoke Soldiers’ Home labor agreement

Gov. Charlie Baker is eager to sign a bill on his desk providing $400 million for the construction of a new Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, but first he has to make a decision on a controversial project labor agreement contained in the legislation.

A project labor agreement requires the contractor chosen to build the home to use workers supplied by various trade unions and to abide by wage and benefit provisions in return for a no-strike clause. 

On The Codcast, one of the state’s top union officials and one of its leading non-union, or open shop, contractors staked out different stances on the project labor agreement. Frank Callahan, president of the Massachusetts Building Trades Council, said he hopes Baker signs the bill as approved by the Legislature, while John Cruz, the owner of a third-generation minority construction firm, said he hopes the governor deletes the project labor agreement. 

The arcane provision has prompted an intense debate on Beacon Hill about competition and whether requiring a project labor agreement drives up costs and discourages minority participation. Nevertheless, the Holyoke bill passed with overwhelming support. 

Cruz said requiring his company to use workers supplied by the unions is wrong, and indicated he wouldn’t submit a bid on the project if the project labor agreement requirement is retained. He said 95 percent of the state’s minority-owned contractors are open shop businesses and most of them are unlikely to bid on the project. 

“This, to me, is a form of discrimination,” he said. “It says that you can’t get the treatment a union contractor or member can get. It’s that simple.”

But Callahan said the project labor agreement is not discriminatory. He said any contractor – union or nonunion — can bid on the project. But he acknowledged that unions would supply most of the workforce and that the contractor would be required to abide by the pay and work conditions laid out in the project labor agreement.

“Any contractor, union or nonunion, who bids work on this contract simply has to operate under the terms and conditions set for the workforce,” Callahan said. 

Callahan said the workers supplied by the building trade unions are well trained and come from diverse backgrounds. He ticked off a series of construction projects with project labor agreements that met or exceeded minority participation goals, including UMass Boston, the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal, and the Wynn Resorts casino in Everett. 

“We train 93 percent of all female apprentices in the state of Massachusetts and 86 percent of all people of color in registered apprenticeship programs. We’re doing the job,” he said. “We’re very proud of the workforce we provide.” 

The legislation calls for the creation of an access, inclusion, and diversity committee to promote and monitor minority participation on the Holyoke project.

Cruz said the committee is needed because minority participation is hard to achieve with a project labor agreement. “When it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. That’s why it’s in there,” he said of the committee. 

During the debate over the project labor agreement, opponents, including Cruz, have pointed to Polar Park in Worcester and its failure to achieve minority hiring goals. But Callahan said Polar Park was not built with a project labor agreement and minority hiring goals were not achieved because open shop contractors working on the project failed to reach their goals. “That had nothing to do with project labor agreements,” he said. 

Callahan said there have been no project labor agreements on public sector construction projects during the Baker administration. He said the governor agreed to one for the expansion of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, but that project never moved forward. Baker’s original bill seeking funding to rebuild the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home did not include a project labor agreement.

“I can’t read the governor’s mind on this. I hope he will sign it,” said Callahan. 

Cruz is also unsure what the governor will do. “I would hope he is opposed to it. I believe he is. His support has been for open shop,” Cruz said.




Spending challenge: The Legislature asked economic experts for advice on how to spend an estimated $5.3 billion in unrestricted funding coming from the federal government over the next five years under the American Rescue Plan. As Shira Schoenberg reports, it turns out spending such a large amount of money isn’t as easy as it appears.

  • First, the money can only go for four basic purposes — responding to immediate public health needs related to the pandemic, providing bonus pay to low-wage essential workers, replacing state money lost to the pandemic, and performing infrastructure work.
  • Since this is one-time money, the experts say the federal funds should go for one-time investments.
  • Be wary of construction projects, since the cost of labor and materials is skyrocketing right now because of heavy consumer spending. That means spending on school upgrades or affordable housing would yield less bang for the buck.
  • Good advice: “Spending this money will be easy. Spending it effectively will not,” said Evan Horowitz, executive director of the Center for State Policy Analysis at Tufts University. 

To read the full story, click here.


Mass General Brigham expansion: Paul Hattis, a former member of the Health Policy Commission, outlines what he hopes to learn as various state agencies review a proposal from Mass General Brigham to open ambulatory care centers in Westwood, Woburn, and Westborough. Read more.

Stay cool: Rebecca Davis of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council and Melanie Gárate of the Mystic River Watershed Association say climate change requires us to be just as attentive to staying cool in the summer as staying warm in the winter. Read more.





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