Boston officials are venting frustrations over allegations that a troubled contractor was doing business in the city under a new corporate name within months of the deaths of two workers at a job site in the Financial District.
The alleged actions of the contractor, Laurence M. Moloney, revealed shortcomings in Boston’s system for overseeing companies who routinely seek city permits to do business, several city councilors and mayoral candidates said.
“I think it’s infuriating,” said Councilor Kenzie Bok. “It’s really troubling for all of us who care about worker safety.”
On Aug. 18, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration said that Moloney, the owner of Atlantic Coast Utilities, had formed a “successor” company following the deaths of Jordy Alexander Castaneda Romero, 27, and Juan Carlos Figueroa Gutierrez, 33. The men died Feb. 24 after being struck by a dump truck and thrown into a 9-foot-deep trench on High Street, where Atlantic Coast Utilities was making emergency repairs to a sewer line for a building owner.
OSHA identified the successor company as Sterling Excavation LLC, and said it shared responsibility with Moloney’s other companies for $1.3 million in fines that the agency wants to impose for “willful, repeat and serious” workplace safety violations.
OSHA also said it was inspecting Sterling Excavation after receiving a report about hazardous conditions at a job site in East Boston earlier this month. The inspection is ongoing, and a spokesman said OSHA couldn’t comment on the evidence linking Sterling Excavation and Moloney.
A spokesman for Atlantic Coast Utilities said the company is not operating under the name of Sterling Excavation or any other name.
“No principal of Atlantic has an ownership stake, management role, or income flow from Sterling or any other company, and all assertions to the contrary are baseless. We are confident that any investigation will confirm this,” said the spokesman, Jim Borghesani.
The Boston Water and Sewer Commission suspended Moloney’s drain layer license after the workers died and prohibited him from working in the city, Borghesani said. Atlantic Coast Utilities has said the deaths were a “tragic accident,” adding that suggesting otherwise is “inaccurate and imprudent.”
Nuala Nichoncubhair, who incorporated Sterling Excavation on March 1, has denied that Moloney is involved with the company. She didn’t respond to voice mails.
The city said last week that the Public Works Department will deny any permit applications submitted by Moloney or companies affiliated with him.
On Wednesday, the office of Acting Mayor Kim Janey said “she is committed to seeking justice for the families who lost loved ones on High St. and supports OSHA’s strong enforcement action against” Moloney and Atlantic Coast Utilities.
Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins is investigating the deaths. No criminal charges have been filed.
After the fatalities on High Street, the Globe reported that Moloney failed to disclose in August 2019 and December 2020 that Atlantic Coast Utilities had been cited by OSHA for workplace safety violations as required by the city, records show. It appears the city did not review the claims because the company continued to work in Boston.
The city began requiring that individuals or businesses seeking work permits in Boston report their safety record on an affidavit after two workers died in 2016 when a trench collapsed in the South End. The document is called a “Mattocks-Higgins Affidavit of Workplace Safety” in honor of Kelvin Mattocks and Robert Higgins, the trench collapse victims.
John Barros, a mayoral candidate who previously served as the city’s chief of economic development, said his administration would ban contractors from working on private or public projects if they lie about OSHA fines or complaints on permit applications. Contractors who are fined by OSHA three times in one year would be banned from working in the city for five years, Barros said.
“We can no longer rely only on the criminal justice system to punish contractors who disregard the safety of their workers,” Barros said in a statement. “We must have stronger safeguards in place to hold these repeat offenders accountable and prevent these senseless workplace crimes from happening.”
Councilor Michelle Wu, who is also running for mayor, said in a statement that Moloney shouldn’t be working in Boston. If elected, she said a member of her cabinet would be responsible for identifying unscrupulous contractors and her administration would help workers file complaints and establish a public database of OSHA violators.
“Workers died on Laurence Moloney’s watch, and he should be permanently barred from doing business with the city,” Wu said.
Another mayoral candidate, Councilor Annissa Essaibi George, said she would establish a new city department to address economic justice and workers’ rights, including safe working conditions and fair wages and benefits.
“We will hold irresponsible, thoughtless, and uncaring employers accountable in our city and across this country,” she said in a statement. “There’s no room for this type of behavior in Boston.”
Councilor Andrea Campbell, who is also running for mayor, didn’t respond to a request for comment sent to her campaign.
Several councilors said it is time to close loopholes in the existing regulations.
Councilor Lydia Edwards suggested requiring contractors to list the names of any predecessor companies on the affidavit.
“That would help with a little more transparency,” she said.
In March, Councilors Michael Flaherty, Ed Flynn, and Liz Breadon filed paperwork to hold a hearing about safety at construction sites.
“It is shameful that a company that has blood on its hands goes and forms a successor company and is allowed to continue doing business in the city. This is unacceptable,” said Flaherty. “I will look into strengthening the existing ordinance that is on the books to ban bad actors like this from ever doing business in the city.”
Flynn’s office said that it hopes to hold the hearing in September.
“It is extremely concerning to hear that a company with serious safety violations is able to form a successor company, and that it can continue to do business in our city,” Flynn said in a statement. “We need to ensure that our construction workers are safe when performing their jobs.”
Laura Crimaldi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.