Striking carpenters’ union issues qualified back-to-work call

A large construction union in the state of Massachusetts has partially lifted a strike order, thus allowing carpenters and joiners to return to essential projects from today – but only if individuals feel safe and only if contractors have submitted an adequate plan for stopping the spread of Covid-19.

The North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters ordered members to down tools on 6 April, saying it was impossible to work safely on construction sites amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A large painters’ union and the Massachusetts Building Trades Council joined in the action as state governor Charles Baker resisted calls to declare a statewide suspension.

Now, the union says it has talked to contractors and believes they are committed to creating a safer working environment.

In a letter to members on Sunday, the union said: "This would include, but not be limited to: conducting appropriate training and education of the workforce as to COVID-19, conducting daily health assessments of the workforce, establishing and maintaining social distancing, providing adequate personal protective equipment and providing adequate hygiene on the construction sites."

But the easing of the strike applies only to what the union called "essential services", meaning health care facilities, public works, infrastructure, schools, housing, roads, and bridges.

And the union said every contractor should have submitted a copy of their Covid-19 jobsite protocols for each of its jobs before today for the union to review.

"If the safety measures are not adequate, or they are not implemented and enforced on the jobsite, the council will exercise its right to direct its members to not go to work or to cease working on that jobsite," wrote Joseph Byrne, the union’s executive secretary-treasurer.

He added that workers should check with local union representatives to see if a project had been approved by the union.

Byrne added: "Please understand that this is not a directive or order for members to return to work or to work on all projects in Massachusetts. The Council respects the concerns of members who do not feel safe going to work and expects that all fellow members and signatory contractors will respect them, too."

Image from the Twitter account of the North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters

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