- Nonunion construction labor is gaining a small foothold in Boston due to lower costs, more development and — possibly — a federal investigation into union sway over the issuance of city building permits, according to The Boston Globe.
- According to the Boston Redevelopment Authority, while unions still control three-quarters of the construction projects and 90% of man hours in the traditional union stronghold city, "open shop" projects — primarily residential jobs on the outskirts of the city — have increased.
- Former union flag-bearer Mayor Martin Walsh, according to some developers, has made it easier for nonunion labor to work on certain residential projects so that his administration’s objective of 53,000 new affordable Boston housing units by 2030 becomes a reality.
The Globe reported that although there is an increased nonunion presence in Boston, it has a long way to go to shift the balance of power away from union construction labor. In addition, the current environment of accelerated building activity means that there has been enough work to go around for both nonunion and union workers, making it far less likely that unions will initiate a turf war to claim those jobs. Nevertheless, the federal investigation into whether or not nonunion jobs get the runaround at the permitting office has somewhat dampened the most fervent among union advocates for the time being. Walsh's administration has said that union membership plays no part in the permitting process.
Trying to provide a happy medium between union and nonunion wages, trade groups like the Metropolitan District Building Trades Council and New England Regional Council of Carpenters have proposed discounted wage rates for apartment construction. Building Trades Council representatives said they have put together a multi-trade "package deal" especially for apartment developers in exchange for using an all-union workforce.
However, labor isn't the only cost driving the Boston housing economic formula sky high. The steep prices for land and a challenging permitting process combined with those high wages can cost developers as much as $400,000 to develop a 1,000-square-foot apartment.
Earlier this month, The Wall Street Journal reported that building unions might be "losing their grip" on the New York City private market, as many of the city's major general contractors and developers were not renewing all of their collective bargaining agreements with building trade unions due to cost and strict rules about which union workers are allowed to do what task at what wage scale on a project.