Martin J. Walsh made national news long before President-elect Joe Biden nominated the mayor of Boston to serve as labor secretary. In March, the former construction worker and union president became the first mayor of a major U.S. city to temporarily halt construction during the COVID-19 outbreak. “This was a difficult decision, but it was the right decision,” Walsh told ENR in an email. While he was concerned about workers’ loss of income, Walsh says he ultimately “acted to ensure worker safety.”
Industry supported Walsh’s decision, despite the fact that it halted Boston’s historic building boom, and it praised him for incrementally and collaboratively bringing work back in May. “He acted decisively in the early days of COVID,” says Meaghan Hooper-Berdik, vice president and general manager at Turner Construction, “and then, just as decisively, Mayor Walsh supported the workforce returning to the jobsites under new health and safety protocols.”
Knowing that safety on jobsites is a daily concern, Walsh says, “I was confident that we could implement safety protocols to keep individuals safe from COVID-19.” The city’s protocols required site-specific plans for preventing spread.
In December, Walsh helped to connect health experts, unions and industry executives who created a testing, tracing and treatment initiative for construction workers. Walsh says he’s proud Boston “paused construction early and implemented safety guidance to keep workers and their families safe.”
The pandemic isn’t Walsh’s first time advocating for worker health. He also promoted a program curbing industry-wide opioid abuse. Open about his own battle with alcohol addiction, Walsh says, “Getting a second chance was so important to my own success.”
The former head of the Boston Building Trades joined the Local 223 union at 21 and served as its president from 2011 until he was elected mayor in 2013. He served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1997 until he moved to City Hall. There he has shepherded Boston’s unprecedented development with an even hand, observers say.
“He has the proven ability to collaborate and bring stakeholders of various industries and interests together to find practical solutions for the greater good,” says Anthony Consigli, chief executive of Consigli Construction.
Walsh’s administration is ahead of schedule to deliver 69,000 housing units by 2030—including earmarking 22% of those units as affordable for lower and middle-income residents. Additionally, Walsh recently injected $500 million into funding for low- and middle-income housing during the next five years.
He also required city-funded affordable housing construction to meet carbon neutral performance standards. Walsh’s overall resiliency plan is “comprehensive,” according to David Manfredi, chief executive and founding principal of Elkus Manfredi Architects. “Boston has never strayed from the Paris Climate Agreement.”
A member of the Boston Civic Design Commission, Manfredi credits Walsh for the “first citywide planning effort in decades.” He adds, “Boston will miss his leadership.”