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Citing coronavirus, construction unions urge a statewide halt to building projects

A group representing 75,000 Massachusetts workers says it’s impossible to ensure on-site safety.

Construction workers at the new Somerville High School crowd around a canteen truck to get food on March 19. Work on that project, along with many others in Somerville, has since been shut down.
Construction workers at the new Somerville High School crowd around a canteen truck to get food on March 19. Work on that project, along with many others in Somerville, has since been shut down.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Leaders of the state’s largest construction labor group on Tuesday called for a monthlong halt to nearly all building projects across Massachusetts.

The executive board of the Massachusetts Building Trades Council — an umbrella group of unions representing about 75,000 construction workers — voted unanimously to call for the suspension of all but emergency construction statewide, according to an e-mail the council sent to union leaders Tuesday.

A message sent by council president Frank Callahan said the only way to ensure worker safety amid the mounting coronavirus crisis is to shut down job sites entirely. Callahan said union leaders consulted a wide range of experts about ways for construction to continue safely, but found none.

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“All point to the only decision that can be made,” he wrote. "The only way to protect the health and safety of our members, their families and the general public is to keep people apart. It is impractical and, in many cases, impossible to safely work on a construction project given the current state of affairs.”

The union group had no official statement Tuesday afternoon, but the e-mail to union officials, which was obtained by The Boston Globe, outlined its position and detailed a handful of exceptions, saying work should continue on health care facilities, essential transportation infrastructure, and emergency utility projects. They suggested suspending work on all other projects beginning on Friday and continuing through April 30.

It’s the loudest call yet for a statewide shutdown, an idea that Governor Charlie Baker has thus far rejected. Leaders of Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville have halted nearly all projects in their cities, but work continues unabated on apartment and office buildings in many other cities and towns. Workers at several sites throughout Greater Boston have been sent home after showing symptoms of COVID19.

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Two weeks ago, Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston became the first big-city mayor to stop construction to blunt the spread of coronavirus, a halt he has since extended indefinitely. Other cities, along with states such as Pennsylvania and Washington, have since followed suit.

Baker last week issued a set of guidelines designed to encourage worker safety on construction sites. He said he believes they will protect against the spread of coronavirus while allowing much-needed new housing developments and other projects to continue to move forward.

A spokeswoman for Baker had no immediate comment Tuesday.




Tim Logan can be reached at timothy.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan. Andrea Estes can be reached at andrea.estes@globe.com.