On the same day that more than 200 communities across the country submitted their bids to snare Amazon’s second headquarters — with enticements ranging from offers of free land to billions in tax breaks — a group of more than 100 demonstrators gathered on Walpole Common to protest the expansion of another giant technology company in their town.
The rally was sponsored by the “Siemens: Be A Good Neighbor” campaign, which is financed by the Building and Construction Trades Council of the Metropolitan District. The labor group wants Siemens to hire only union construction workers, and more local people, on its $300 million project.
“There are plenty of Walpole-area residents who are eager to find good jobs in construction and manufacturing,” Brian Doherty, a spokesman for the group, said in a press release. “We are calling on Siemens to hire locally and to select contractors who support our community by providing fair wages and benefits, and access to certified training programs that lead to career pathways while improving safety.”
Siemens Healthineers spokesman Lance Longwell said in an e-mail that he was “surprised and disappointed” by the Oct. 19 rally and the complaints.
Longwell said the general contractor for the Walpole project, Columbia Construction Co. of North Reading, “has subcontracted with firms through a competitive process open to qualified and responsible contractors. The majority of work on site has been awarded to signatory contractors” — that is, those with union agreements.
“This expansion project is one of the largest in the company’s recent history, and it demonstrates our local commitment to invest in innovation to enable health care providers around the world to achieve better outcomes at lower costs,” he said. He added that Siemens anticipates employing up to 1,600 people at the site by 2026.
German-based Siemens’s health care division broke ground in June on a 300,000-square-foot addition to its existing manufacturing and research plant on Coney Street. The company credits its decision to build there, in part, on the town’s decision to cut property taxes on the new project by an average of 75 percent annually over the next 20 years.
For its part, Siemens promised to provide 400 new jobs in Walpole, making a “good-faith effort” to hire locally, and to be a good corporate citizen. The company agreed to immediately give the town $510,000 toward a new playing field, snow removal equipment, and a ladder truck — which Longwell said Siemens has done.
Walpole Town Administrator Jim Johnson said local officials encouraged Siemens to hire local and union labor when building the project, but were not legally allowed to require the company to do so.
Johnson said he didn’t know how much local and union labor was involved in the work to date. “It’s a private project; I don’t get involved,” he said.
Dan Donovan, a Walpole resident and member of Local 223 of the Laborers’ union, said he drives to Chelsea for work, but he would “absolutely rather be working in Walpole — a five-minute commute instead of a two-hour” one.
“I feel like [Siemens] is using cut-wage labor to build their new facilities, and after receiving the tax break they did, I feel that’s a slap in the face to Walpole residents and state residents as well,” Donovan said.Johanna Seltz can be reached at email@example.com.