MaxPak changes approved; unions plan more protests

by Tom Nash on January 7, 2011

Protesters threatened to shut down work on a major development project minutes after the Planning Board voted Thursday to approve changes that will allow it to go forward without assurances the developer would hold to a covenant that calls for union labor.

Protest organizers say their concerns began when construction started on one phase of the project, located at the long-vacant MaxPak factory site and near a future Green Line stop, without the developer working out a formal agreement to use union labor.

“We want them to live up to the covenant that they signed,” organizer Rand Wilson said. “That’s all we’re asking for, is a project labor agreement and for local people to get on this job.”

The video above features speeches made by Wilson, Ward 6 Alderman Rebekah Gewirtz and other community activists.

During the initial approval process, KSS signed a non-binding “covenant” that states the city “encourages” the use of union labor and a project labor agreement. The project labor agreement the organizers are calling for would include a guarantee of union jobs — 40 percent of which would come from Somerville residents.

Work began shortly after one of the original project applicants, Stephen Kennedy Smith, dropped his participation in the development. His former partner at KSS Realty, Ted Tobin, recently formed a new partnership with Gate Residential Properties.

The development itself has undergone a reconfiguration from its original plan, which Tobin has attributed to the economy and difficulty in securing financing. The current proposal, which required a second round of approval from the Planning Board, calls for 184 rental units instead of 184 condos in addition to the 15 townhouses already under construction.

The Planning Board delayed a decision on the change at its Dec. 2 hearing, which board member Elizabeth Moroney said was supposed to allow time for Tobin to meet with the unions.

Tobin, after reiterating at Thursday’s meeting the developer’s switch from condos to rentals that would start from $1,500 studios, answered questions from the board on whether he carried through on talks with the unions.

“Our intent is to try and get Somerville jobs here,” Tobin said in between shouts of ‘Not true!’ from labor representative Tom McIntyre. “The unions are more than welcome to bid on this contract.”

Board member Michael A. Capuano was the only vote against approving the project’s changes, noting that by replacing condos with rental units “the entire nature of the project has changed.”

The other board members, however, were ready to see the project started.

“Something has to get built,” Chairman Kevin Prior said. “It’s time to get shovels in the ground.”

After the meeting, McIntyre, a rep for the Internaional Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, told the protesters that without a Project Labor Agreement “they’ll cut our legs off once we get out of here.”

“I hope everyone here has the time and the energy to go to MaxPak and shut the job down,” McIntyre said, adding he is still hoping for a special hearing by the Board of Aldermen on the issue. A petition with 65 signatures was submitted just before the meeting.

McIntyre’s full remarks:

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Courtney O'Keefe January 7, 2011 at 5:46 PM

Sorry…totally walked into your shot.

James January 10, 2011 at 11:33 AM

Only one of the board members has the cojones to stand with the neighborhood and local workers?! Everyone else wants to get the project done NOW no matter how bad it’s becoming.

Confused January 13, 2011 at 11:00 AM

Let me get this straight, the unions are protesting because they’re being asked to bid for the work rather than it being given to them on a silver platter? And what about contractors who use local and union labor? I’ll bet plenty of them will be bidding and getting work on this project, but I guess if it doesn’t go through the union fat cats then it doesn’t qualify as “union” enough.

And how is the developer supposed to hire these particular unions when the union leaders are calling them every name in the book and threatening to shut down the project? A disrespectful, obstructionist crew isn’t exactly what you need to get the job done on time and under budget. It’s almost like they’re trying to convince the developer not to hire them.

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