Unions and industry partners to formally elevate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day through contracts and project labor agreements

John Moriarty and Associates, Suffolk, and Turner Construction support resolution put forth by Greater Boston Building Trades Unions to give holiday special status above and beyond state, federal law

BOSTON, MA – An industry that rarely takes a day off announced a sweeping agreement between unions and major general contractors to work jointly and officially to formally elevate the status of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in upcoming labor contracts and accords, ensuring workers will have the day off or will have access to overtime pay on the holiday, setting a standard that goes above and beyond federal and state law.

The agreement between the Greater Boston Building Trades Unions and the region’s three leading general contractors — John Moriarty and Associates, Suffolk, and Turner Construction — has also received the backing of major contractors, subcontractors, and contractor associations.

Announced on the first day of Black History Month, the change is part of a series of actions and initiatives being promoted by the union construction industry to continue underscoring and increasing its commitment and advancement of diversity, inclusion, and equity within the construction field. 

Due to collective bargaining agreements, also known as union contracts, construction workers in unions are contractually guaranteed equitable pay and benefits regardless of race or gender through standards established in those pacts. 

In advocating for the elevation of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to a special status across the region, unions cited Martin Luther King, Jr.’s role not only as the preeminent civil rights leader of the last century, but also as a great labor leader who was a staunch advocate of labor unions, labor organizing, and collective bargaining rights.

Under federal law, holidays, including Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, do not have a special designation for overtime pay and are viewed as another business day.

“It is critical that we continue to lift up and affirm the importance of civil rights, civil rights leaders both past and present, and a message of inclusion and equity across our industry,” said Brian Doherty, General Agent of the Greater Boston Building Trades Unions. “As has been said, statements are absolutely not enough, we must also continue taking proactive, structural steps to advance civil rights and workers’ rights – we know they are one in the same. This is just one reform of many and we need to ensure everyone in the industry is aware of it so that there is full cooperation. You will not see the same level of labor and activity on area construction sites on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day moving forward – and that is an important and good thing.”

The new designation that was advocated for by the Greater Boston Building Trades Unions was supported by the Boston area’s largest general contractors, John Moriarty and Associates, Suffolk, and Turner Construction, who, in partnership with union subcontractors, coordinate a significant portion of construction activity in the Boston area. 

“I applaud the agreement reached by the Greater Boston Building Trades and our region’s leading general contractors to elevate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to its rightful place by giving it special status as a holiday,” said City of Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh. “This is a fitting tribute to America’s preeminent civil rights leader, especially given his deep ties to the City of Boston. As we continue the work to advance racial equity and social justice, it’s more important than ever to lead through actions, and not simply words. This is a small but meaningful step on the path towards progress and healing the wounds of racism as a community.”

“I commend this accord established between construction industry leaders and the Greater Boston Building Trades Unions to designate an elevated status to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It is important that we all work to lift up the extraordinary contributions to our communities made by Dr. King,” said City of Cambridge Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui. “The unions and the general contractors are sending a message that this day is one where racial equity and workers’ rights – two intertwined causes that Dr. King fought and gave his life for – must have a special place not just in our minds and words, but in our actions. The elevation of Dr. King’s day to an even more prominent place in the agreements that govern and impact thousands of working-class residents in Cambridge and the surrounding area is an important tribute to Dr. King’s legacy of advocating for the rights and interests of Black workers and of the entire working class.”

“Ensuring Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is not business as usual is the minimum we can do to elevate and continue promoting those values in our sector and across our region,” said Mark Fortune, President of the Greater Boston Building Trades Unions. “We hope other employers and industry players will follow suit. Our members appreciate the level of support we have received for this initiative from Suffolk, JMA, Turner, and others.”

“We share the belief of Martin Luther King, Jr. with regard to opportunity and equity. We share his belief in the importance of the labor movement making sure that equity is reflected not just in the law, but that it is furthered and contractually guaranteed for working people through the labor movement and the realization that workers’ rights are civil rights,” said Billy McLaughlin, Business Manager of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 4 and Vice President of the Greater Boston Building Trades Unions.

“At John Moriarty and Associates, we believe the construction industry in partnership and collaboration with our union trade partners has always been a leader in providing access and opportunity to all. That goal and message has become even more critical and important in our current society. We need to continue to be the leader in expanding, fostering and strengthening diversity and inclusion initiatives within our industry,” said Chris Brown, CEO of John Moriarty and Associates. “Dr. King was a leader and advocate for equity and opportunity for all people. Recognizing Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in a way that goes beyond even a state and federal holiday is long overdue and an important step to continue, in more than just words, to promote civility, civil rights and inclusion in our industry.”

“When our actions are driven by empathy, caring and love, the dream of equality for all will be attainable. Our actions today will echo for future generations. We must lead by example and come together as one American family to defeat racism and discrimination once and for all. The special designation of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is yet another important step toward demonstrating our commitment to civil rights and equality for our industry, our nation and for all the world,” said John Fish, Chairman and CEO of Suffolk.

The move comes amidst increasing joint efforts by stakeholders to continue ensuring the industry does more to promote civil rights, diversity, equity, and inclusion.

The announcement follows an industry-wide “stand down” that occurred on Juneteenth to affirm Black Lives Matter. That stand down, which froze all work on union construction sites across the Boston region, was supported by the stakeholders who announced the plans to modify contracts in order to designate heightened status within the union construction industry for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday.

Over the last decade, construction unions in Massachusetts have developed a sweeping range of programs that have helped to increase the diversity and inclusivity of their Locals and apprenticeship programs, including the Building Pathways Program, Build a Life that Works, Tradeswomen Tuesdays, the Build a Bright Future initiative, and more.

Labor unions and union construction companies who were involved with the talks to enshrine Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with special designation in contracts across the region and industry weighed in on the changes.

“Implementation of an initiative like this at scale will take everyone working together, but there is no more important cause than ensuring that happens right away and that the union difference continues to also mean a difference in how we proactively approach matters of equity, civil rights, and inclusion,” said Joe Bonfiglio, Business Manager of the Massachusetts and Northern New England Laborers’ District Council

“I’m proud to be a part of Laborers Local 223, and I’m proud to celebrate the incredible work of Dr. King. Our industry, our labor movement, our communities, and our world are better because of Dr. King’s work to advance civil rights and labor rights. Dr. King believed in the trade union movement, and the power it has in lifting standards for people. The work we do every day builds on his legacy, and commemorating his day is part of that work, and from there the work continues,” said Donnell Gray, Executive Board of Laborers Local Union 223.

“This is just one key step of many that IBEW 103 and our fellow unions of the Greater Boston Building Trades Unions are taking to ensure that we make structural reforms to promote diversity and inclusion – and to stand against racism in our industry and beyond,” said IBEW Local 103 Business Manager and Financial Secretary Lou Antonellis

“This is much more than a symbolic action. It is one that has real weight and meaning and is an example of the kinds of structural, policy, and economic changes that must be made to ensure our industry is truly advancing not just the conversation but also the causes for which Dr. King stood,” said Kenell Broomstein, Business Agent of IBEW Local 103

“As an Iron Worker, I have been proud to participate in a number of key initiatives to fight against racism both in the community and in the construction industry. My union has had my back and it’s great to see industry players joining with labor to send the message that the vision and values of Dr. King should apply across the construction sector,” said Caron Reese, a member of Iron Workers Local 7

“As a person of color and as a member of the blue collar workforce, MLK Day has always been important to me. He stood for equity and unity not only along racial lines but also in terms of class. It has always been a sore spot for me that of all the holidays designated in the industry that this is the one omitted. It’s ironic to me that while most white collars workers are granted the day to reflect on MLK’s legacy, there is division on who is afforded this privilege,” said Shamaiah Turner, a member of Sheet Metal Workers Local 17. Turner is also a member of the SMART International Women’s Committee and a trustee of the SMART Recruitment and Retention Council. “Who and what is celebrated in this country matters and to acknowledge the contribution of MLK will make a huge difference in how people of color participate in this industry and in how working class people participate in their communities.” 

“We are all beneficiaries of Dr. King’s work to promote labor rights and civil rights, we know they are one in the same, and it is heartening to see his day elevated beyond what is required by law since for too long those laws have held back the interests of workers, in particular Black workers and workers of color. We need to keep going the extra mile and not settle for the status quo. This change builds on the work we have done to fight for equality, and although we’ve made progress, and this is an important step to lift up Dr. King’s work, we need to continue building in his honor. For our fellow workers today and in the future, we still have work to do on our path to justice,” said Alexis Jones, Sprinkler Fitter Local 550. 

The industry partners and unions successfully began phasing the reforms in this most recent Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at key projects and will be taking steps to ensure industry-wide adoption at union construction sites by next Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday, January 17, 2022.

“Turner Construction Company strongly supports honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a union holiday. Members of the construction industry clearly recognize Dr. King’s extraordinary contributions to this country, civil rights and to racial justice. We are proud to join forces with the Building Trades to increase diversity, equity and inclusion in our industry and in the communities we serve,” said Turner Construction in a statement.    

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The Greater Boston Building Trades Unions represents 35,000 working families in the Metropolitan Boston region. The building trades unions advance social and economic justice by providing family-supporting wages, healthcare benefits, and dignified retirement benefits to workers and their families in the construction industry.

The Building and Construction Trades Council, an umbrella group of 20 local construction unions, in partnership with more than 3,300 union contractors, provides the highest standards for workers in the construction industry. It is through collective bargaining and the Labor-Management partnership that workers achieve the highest levels of training, safety and economic security throughout their careers.

The Council strives to create a more fair and just environment for all workers in the construction industry.