A Sustained Effort By All Pays Off by Roger Brunnelle
A couple of years ago, when word came down that the City of Lowell was awarded approval by the Massachusetts School Building Authority to build a $350 million high school, it was all hands on deck for the building trades representatives. DC 35, along with its building trades partners, started gathering support among elected officials on the Lowell City Council to support a Project Labor Agreement. DC 35 Business Representatives Chris Brennan and Ray Pickup, as officials of the Merrimack Valley Building Trades Council, and their labor partners had educated the councilors and appeared to have seven votes on the nine-seat city council.
Former State Senator Eileen Donahue was the new city manager, and several meetings had transpired to educate her on the value of supporting a Project Labor Agreement on the largest-ever school building project in Massachusetts. But what became apparent was that she was already misinformed and convinced by the construction managers that a PLA was a bad idea. She then took her misguided information and tainted the city council, and in the spring of this year, a PLA was voted down by elected officials who had given us their word. In our world, our word is our bond and the betrayal by these elected officials could not go unanswered.
For decades, the building trades in the City of Lowell had been showing good faith as a community partner through charitable contributions to organizations throughout the city. From charity projects to rebuilding local parks, the trades collectively have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars over the decades in the community. It’s unconscionable that with all this good-faith investment, the City Council still voted against the best interests of the community by denying local hiring of a diverse workforce, not to mention a highly-skilled, trained and safety-orientated workforce through union membership.
After the vote, the decision was made to stand up and fight back. A plan was put in place to cultivate our own candidates, and over the next few weeks the process started to take shape. Before the end of July, DC 35 and the building trades had a full slate of nine candidates to run in the preliminary election. The slate consisted of two incumbents that voted for the PLA, two union members, one former union member, one former councilor, and three newcomers with some political exposure in the city. Chris Brennan and Ray Pickup spend hours educating these candidates on the issues that most affect our members. One candidate we did not have to educate was John Drinkwater. John is a union member and is the legislative director of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. He might be a familiar name to you because he ran for the open state senate seat in Lowell last year.
The preliminary election saw five of our candidates finish in the top 9 slots. Now the work began to hold those spots into the November general election. From September to November, we hit the streets to talk to union members all over the city and let them know that it was time for a change. DC 35 was firing on all cylinders with a complete team effort from Business Representatives Chris Brennan and Ray Pickup, Director of Organizing Justin Desmond and his staff, the government affairs department, and rank-and-file members all working as one. We knocked on thousands of doors, held signs at the rallies and debates, and educated the public about good jobs for local people. This was all under the direction and watchful eye of BMST Jeff Sullivan who gave us the resources to make it all happen.
And on election night we had held the five seats and knocked down some incumbents. The building trades slate now has a majority on the Lowell City Council, and we hope to change the course of Lowell for the betterment of the working families that live there.
On election night we had many victories across our jurisdiction, but this was the most rewarding. WHEN WE FIGHT, WHEN WE VOTE, WE WIN.