Coalition calls for wage guarantees for construction on Roxbury projects

Sandra Larson | 10/22/2014, 12:23 p.m.

A coalition of labor, housing and economic justice activists is proposing that developers of sites in the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan area commit to new “good jobs standards” that would include higher wages and a higher proportion of full-time permanent jobs in addition to already-established hiring goals for local, minority and female construction workers.

Members of the Boston Jobs Coalition appeared in force at an early October meeting of the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee to demand that the committee adopt a stronger set of employment standards for developers seeking committee approval for Roxbury projects.

The proposed standards include paying prevailing wage for all construction workers, whether union or non-union; ensuring that 75 percent of the permanent jobs created are full time and start at the city’s living wage of $13.89 per hour, increasing to $16.89 over three years; and adopting hiring goals of 51 percent local residents, 51 percent people of color, and 15 percent women on construction jobs.

The city already has a hiring goals ordinance in place — the Boston Resident Jobs Policy specifies that 50 percent of work hours are to go to Boston residents, 25 percent to minorities and 10 percent to women on city-funded projects — but the RSMPOC has long urged developers to aim for the higher 51-51-15 goals.

What’s different about the standards now being proposed is that they also address wages and that they take into account permanent jobs as well as construction jobs created by new development.

The new standards would not be laws, but rather goals that developers would agree to and be held to by the committee. RSMPOC members voted unanimously to endorse consideration of the proposal. A working subcommittee will review the ideas and draft formalized recommendations to present to the full committee in a future meeting.

“The issue here is, if these developments are going to create wealth, we need them to provide jobs at a fair living wage, and to be consistent across developments,” said RSMPOC co-chair Jorge Martinez in an interview.

“It was a spectacular meeting,” he added. “So many passionate people coming to the table asking for what they need.”

Part of what led the activists to call for new standards was the discovery by the Black Economic Justice Institute, co-directed by Priscilla Flint, that some workers on the new Tropical Foods store construction project near Dudley Square were being paid only $11 per hour. Flint’s group picketed the site in protest over the summer and called on developers Madison Park Development Corporation and Tropical Foods to raise wages.

MPDC Chief Executive Officer Jeanne Pinado said in an interview that the Madison-Tropical developers were equally disturbed to learn of the $11 wage and that the average wage on the project is $35 per hour. They have since set a minimum wage of $15 an hour, Pinado said, and individuals who worked for $11 an hour have received back pay. MPDC also sent a statement that indicated worker hours as of Oct. 14 included 41.7 percent resident, 57.1 percent minority, and 4.9 percent female, and that 35 percent of the total construction has been subcontracted to minority-owned firms.