Business & Tech

Bold Types

A labor voice at Harvard: ex-union leader to study the underground economy

Chris Morris for the boston globe
Mark Erlich

Mark Erlich was a familiar figure at construction sites as executive secretary of the state’s carpenters union. Now Erlich is hitting the hallowed halls of Harvard.

He’s joining the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School as a fellow. He’ll be working with professors and researchers at Harvard and other universities on issues of wages and the underground economy.

It’s a topic, he said, that is important not just for the construction industry but for the broader economy.

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The research will focus on the rise of independent contractors and under-the-table compensation and how that affects public revenues, as well as identifying best practices for wage-enforcement programs.

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During his 12 years heading the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, Erlich was a consistent voice against wage abuses, pushing legislators to strengthen penalties for wage theft.

Erlich said several heavy-hitters on labor issues from the Obama administration are now in the Boston area, and he hopes to work with them as they explore a changing economy in which companies rely more on contractors, rather than full-time staff.

Sharon Block, former deputy assistant secretary for policy at the US Department of Labor, became executive director of the Labor and Worklife Program earlier this year.

And David Weil, former head the Wage and Hour Division of the Department of Labor, is going to become dean of the Heller School of Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University in August.

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Erlich said that the fellowship at Harvard is a part-time position — and that he’s still planning to enjoy his retirement. — DEIRDRE FERNANDES

An avoidable expense

At first glance, the $475,000 payment Worcester just made to Goodwin Procter might seem like a windfall. Not exactly. The Boston law firm had sought more than $1 million for legal expenses after a federal judge ruled anti-panhandler ordinances unconstitutional. This past spring, Judge Timothy Hillman knocked that down to about $520,000. Then, after further negotiations with the city, the total dropped to $475,000.

But Goodwin is keeping only $75,000, giving the rest to the American Civil Liberties Union’s Massachusetts chapter. The firm represented the ACLU in the fight.

Partner Kevin Martin says Goodwin has taken several panhandling cases in recent years pro bono and won them all. Each time, it donated the legal fees, keeping just enough to cover expenses and taxes.

“The fact we can get out out-of-pocket expenses covered means that we can take on more of this work than we could otherwise,” says Martin, who said partner Yvonne Chan played a key role in the Worcester case.

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If city officials would back down when informed such ordinances are unconstitutional, Martin says, they could avoid expensive resolutions.

“The justification they gave [is that] people are disturbed by panhandlers. That may very well be true,” says Martin. “But people are disturbed by all kinds of speakers. . . . When you allow the government to pick and choose which messages that bother people will be allowed, then you have a real problem.” — JON CHESTO

Bring on the mergers

James Dunphy just wrapped up his first M&A deal since becoming CEO at South Shore Bank in Weymouth two years ago. And if Dunphy has his way, it won’t be his last.

He has an agreement to acquire the smaller Braintree Cooperative Bank. Because both institutions are mutual banks, Braintree Cooperative will be folded into South Shore Bank through a merger — a pooling of resources — and not with an outright purchase.

The deal, which needs state and US approvals, is expected to close at year’s end. Customers will be switched to South Shore’s system in early 2018.

The merger will bring South Shore Bank up to nearly $1.3 billion in assets, from just over $1 billion. Dunphy’s looking for other M&A targets. He’s particularly interested in other banks in and around South Shore Bank’s 16-branch footprint, which stretches from Quincy south to Pembroke, and west to East Bridgewater and Stoughton.

The reason? There’s strength in numbers — or at least efficiencies to be gained — as banks wrestle with complicated changes in technology and increased federal regulation. The bigger banks have more critical mass to swallow the costs.

“I don’t want to say we’re going to grow for the sake of growing,” Dunphy says. “But I do think size is going to matter in the banking industry.”

South Shore Bank itself was formed in a merger of two Weymouth banks in 1997. Much of its growth has come through the opening of new branches.

Dunphy joined the bank in January 2014 and replaced John Boucher as CEO in July 2015.

Braintree Cooperative’s two branches will remain open after the merger. South Shore Bank will close its single branch in Braintree, obtained in its 2004 purchase of Horizon Bank & Trust. Dunphy says Braintree Cooperative’s nearly 50 employees all will be offered jobs, alongside South Shore Bank’s 180-person workforce.

The deal follows South Shore Bank’s efforts to pitch its services to rival local banks. South Shore has been providing IT services to Abington Bank, Dunphy says. That prompted Dunphy’s team to approach other banks, and South Shore Bank has since begun providing services to Braintree Cooperative and Whitman-based Mutual Bank.

Another factor: Braintree Cooperative’s CEO, Paul Pecci, decided it was time to think about retirement. He will join South Shore Bank as president, and other Braintree Cooperative executives will join South Shore’s management team. But Pecci is still expected to retire, most likely within 18 to 24 months, Dunphy says.

A bigger bank, Dunphy says, is more equipped to provide the digital services consumers and businesses expect. “The biggest thing now is mobile banking,” he says. “What’s hard is you can provide that service, but you’ve got to do it in a safe and secure way. . . . We have to make sure any new products are done in a thoughtful way, with security in mind.” — JON CHESTO

Can’t keep a secret? Tell us. E-mail Bold Types at boldtypes@globe.com.