For Alewife contractor labor standards, Cambridge looks across river to Boston
Complaints of labor abuses by the contractor for an Alewife development brought calls for Cambridge to be as good about enforcing labor standards as it is at talking about them.
“We’ve been letting them get away with it,” councillor Leland Cheung said of Callahan Construction Management of Bridgewater, which has a better record on labor practices across the river. “In Boston, Mayor Menino was known for not letting construction companies get away with not hiring organized labor and saying quite frankly, ‘If you’re not going to do right by the people working here, just don’t do work in this city.’ Mayor Marty Walsh comes from the trades as a background and has been keeping up that legacy.”
“It’s up to us on the council to be that voice and to say if you’re not going to make sure that people get a living wage and benefits and who are working here can afford to live here, you shouldn’t be doing business in our city,” Cheung said Monday at a council meeting.
Callahan is the general contractor for Hines Construction at 165 Cambridgepark Drive, a six-story, 244-unit building that is scheduled to start selling this year under the name Fuse.
This isn’t Callahan’s first work in Cambridge. Boston Properties hired the contractor for recent prominent Kendall Square projects such as the renovation of the plaza by the Marriott hotel and 3 Cambridge Center lobby.
The company has had controversies along the way. In 2009, the attorney general found it lied to the town of Hanover to win the low bid to build a high school. The next year, construction of Somerville’s 199-unit Maxwell’s Green project included a covenant encouraging union hiring, but Callahan’s weak efforts left some feeling burned. When Callahan was considered for Assembly Square construction, Alderman Matt McLaughlin told Danielle McLean at the Somerville Journal that he was “very concerned about having a developer who’s already shown a complete lack of respect for this community to come in and now be rewarded for their bad behavior.”
“Not aware” of complaints
The order by Cheung and fellow councillors Marc McGovern and E. Denise Simmons calls Callahan “a company with few direct employees that tends to subcontract out its work, has a reputation as a company that has been willing to compromise worker safety, worker wages and job security for its workforce in order to cut costs and win job bids” and asks that the company and its employer, Hines, meet with labor groups to address those issues and craft a hiring agreement.
Hines Senior Managing Director David Perry is out of town this week, according to his office, but a message seeking comment was left Tuesday with another manager.
Callahan’s chief operations officer, Doug Morrison, said he was “not aware of any complaints” having to do with labor practices. He invited questions by email, but didn’t respond Tuesday evening.
The council meeting was packed with labor group members, and at least nine gave public testimony urging action.
“Wonderful things have happened to my family because we have been able to make it in Cambridge with wages from good union jobs,” said Dave Borus, a 25-year Cambridge resident and union carpenter. “But now there are contractors and developers coming in like Callahan Inc., who are unscrupulous in their work practices and how they treat not only workers but subcontractors. Had I worked for a contractor or subcontractor like Callahan … our lives would be very different.” Medical crises would likely have forced the family into bankruptcy, he said by way of example.
“We don’t need them in our city … they need to be stopped,” said Mark Thomas, another labor member and longtime resident, calling Callahan a “scab general contractor.”
Mark Sutherland, another Cambridge carpenter, said Callahan’s policies on employment, pay, pensions and benefits are “stealing from working people.”
Simmons called for the policy order to be voted immediately after public comment and cited complaints about Callahan including under-the-table pay and other dodgy hiring practices, a list to which McGovern added unfair wages and a lack of worker insurance and health care. Simmons noted that “this council has always stood with labor” and should make those standards clear to Callahan and its employers, including Hines.
“It’s important to stand up and let Callahan know we will not tolerate this kind of behavior. Particularly when you go right over the bridge and this company does not behave in this manner,” Simmons said. “We should hold it to the exact same standard and the exact same practices as is held over in Boston.”