SMW17 recently discovered that Blue Hills Regional Technical School in Canton is relying on unlicensed workers to perform its $84 million renovation.

It’s not right, so we’re taking action. SMW17 Business Manager Bob Butler raised our concerns in CommonWealth Magazine, and demanded that our elected leaders intervene. We’re proud to report that because of our advocacy, the matter is now being examined by state officials.

Poor Role Modeling in Tech School Renovation

Unlicensed workers undercut safety and quality message in classroom

Dec 8, 2018

THE IRONY SHOULDN’T be lost on students and staff at Blue Hills Regional Technical School in Canton as they watch unlicensed construction workers perform the school’s $84 million renovation. As students inside Blue Hills learn about rigid construction industry standards and how to correctly and safely build a project, outside, unlicensed workers are risking their own lives and the lives of everyone in the building, because they haven’t received proper training for the work they’re doing.

Construction is the most dangerous industry in America. Nationally, nearly one-quarter of all worker deaths occur in the construction industry. In Massachusetts last year, construction accidents accounted for one-third, or 21 out of 74, of workplace fatalities, according to a 2018 report from Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health and the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. And there were far more non-fatal construction accidents too.

To receive a license to do jobs like electrical wiring, or sheet metal work involving installing heating, ventilation and air conditioning, for example, workers often attend both a technical school, not unlike Blue Hills, and complete a multi-year apprenticeship program. Licensed workers are well-trained in their craft and in safety measures. Unlicensed workers, on the other hand, receive minimal training at best, putting their work product, life, and limb at risk.

Cutting corners by hiring unlicensed workers may help a contractor’s bottom line, but I’m fairly certain that everyone who walks into that school every day, or has a loved one who does, would expect that every precaution has been taken to ensure that safe construction practices are followed. That’s not the case, sadly, with the Blue Hills renovation project.

All of this begs the question: Where are the school administrators and town officials who have been informed that unlicensed workers are on the job? Blue Hills has an obligation to prepare its students for safe, successful careers in construction. Don’t they care about the quality of the work being done and the safety of all those who will be using the new building?

Public vocational schools like Blue Hills have historically played a valuable role in preparing students for meaningful careers in the trades. Their students graduate with a foundation for moving into good, middle-class jobs that fuel our local economy. By undermining important construction industry standards using unlicensed workers, the Blue Hills renovation project is teaching a terrible, and terribly dangerous, lesson.

Blue Hills District School Committee chair Marybeth Nearen was quoted at the groundbreaking for the school’s renovation as saying, “We want to continue the Blue Hills tradition of providing students with the best career and technical education possible.”

We couldn’t agree more, and we wish Chairman Nearen, and town and school officials, would follow her words by showing that quality and safety aren’t just theoretical lessons taught to students, but are actually practiced on school construction job sites as well.

Bob Butler is business manager for Sheet Metal Workers Local 17.

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