Two of the region’s largest construction unions are ordering members to stay home in a rebuke of Massachusetts Charlie Baker’s decision to let major projects move forward amid the coronavirus.
Thousands of members of the North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters refused to show up for work on April 6 at new housing and infrastructure projects across Massachusetts after a top union official issued a stay-at-home order.
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The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 35 will also follow suit, with the union issuing a stay-at-home order for its thousands of members that will go into effect after the close of business on April 6.
The moves come just a few days after the Massachusetts Building Trades Council, which represents 75,000 union members ranging from carpenters and painters to ironworkers and laborers, urged Baker to shut down all but emergency work for the rest of April.
A spokesperson for Baker was not immediately available for comment.
The Massachusetts governor has shut down a wide range of businesses that involve in-person contact, but has made an exception for new housing and infrastructure work.
Citing a severe shortage of new apartments, homes and condos across the state, Baker has expressed concern that some housing construction might not reopen later if is shut down.
However, Bert Durand, a spokesman for the carpenters’ union, disputes that shut downs would be hard to reverse. While members of the union want to work, the health and safety risks amid the pandemic are simply too severe to continue on, he adds.
The union is making an exception for critical infrastructure, such a new ICU unit in the city of New Bedford its members are working on.
“We have had members who have been asking for this and who do not feel they are safe on job sites and don’t understand why construction workers are being sent to work while everyone else is staying home,” Durand says.
In letters to their members, the business managers of both the carpenters’ and painters’ unions, who together have more than 17,000 members across New England, said they had come to the conclusion that their members can’t work safely under current conditions.
“As the number of Covid-19 confirmed cases and deaths has dramatically increased, it has become apparent that working on construction sites in Massachusetts is abnormally dangerous,” wrote Thomas Flynn, executive secretary-treasurer of the carpenters’ union, in a letter to members.