Pipeline would mean jobs
Construction workers go about their business at the new entrance to Greenfield High School on Tuesday.
Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »
Workers removed a 10,000 gallon underground fuel oil storage tank from the Courthouse construction site on Hope St in Greenfield, the hole now being backfilled by this power shovel. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »
In this Nov. 18, 2003 file photo Heidi Norton, second from left, hugs her partner Gina Smith, both of Northampton, Mass., during a news conference in Boston regarding the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's ruling that same-sex couples are legally entitled to wed under the state constitution. At right is Linda Davies with partner Gloria Bailey, second from right, both of Orleans, Mass. Its been a decade since the highest court in Massachusetts issued its landmark ruling legalizing same-sex marriage by declaring that barring marriage for gay couples is unconstitutional. Since then, 14 other states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage, with Illinois posed to become the 16th state next week when the governor is expected to sign a gay marriage bill into law. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File) Purchase photo reprints »
When Kinder Morgan representatives came to present their plans last month for their proposed Tennessee Gas Pipeline Northeast Expansion through Montague, Warwick and seven other Franklin County towns, a few voices were heard in the crowded town hall meeting rooms from workers, saying they’re hungry for the work of building the $3 billion project.
“Right now, I’m unemployed, I’m not even working. This is going to create a lot of jobs,” Turners Falls resident Roger Cloutier told the Montague gathering last month, reacting to the “temporary jobs” that one pipeline critic alluded to. At that meeting, Kinder Morgan spokesman Alan Fore said the project would bring about 3,000 jobs to the area. Those jobs would be short-lived during construction, which is projected to take about 1½ years, from the spring of 2017 to November 2018, according to Richard Wheatley, another Kinder Morgan spokesman.
But the 3,000 estimated jobs, Wheatley said, would be during “the peak of construction, when all pipeline contractors are mobilized and at work,” although he can’t estimate how long a period that peak would be along the 179-mile path from Wright, N.Y., to Dracut, north of Lowell. In fact, Wheatley said, we’re already in the three-year project period, even as Kinder Morgan continues “negotiating definitive contracts” for a pipeline for which a permit application hasn’t even been filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or begun the lengthy review process by any of the numerous federal and state regulatory agencies that need to approve it.
Whether you agree with the pipeline project or not, though, it’s a bread-on-the-table issue for laborers like Cloutier, who is now back working on the Greenfield High School construction project as a member of Laborers International Union of North America Local 596.
“People overlook (these jobs) because they don’t think about the people here working in the union, for contractors,” said Cloutier, 52, who’s lived in Turners Falls all his life. “They’ve got tunnel vision. Lots of times, I’ve had to travel. I had to work for weeks in White Plains, N.Y., because there was not much work here.”
A union member since 1987, Cloutier has done road work and bridge work and only started back at the high school construction project since the April 7 meeting
Like Cloutier, 44-year-old Bill Darnley of Turners Falls is working on the Greenfield High School construction job and is one of the 479-member Holyoke-based union members who turned out at the Montague meeting.
“Those of us in the trades, we go from temporary job to temp job, one, two, three years, six months, the idea is to have another one coming,” said Darnley, who’s lived in Turners. This job ... a lot of people, a lot of space. For us, that’s what we’re looking for.”
He called a long-term job like the pipeline “kind of like a golden goose. … You get people on a job like that and that gives people lots of hours, and hours is what fuels our industry. Health benefits, retirement benefits are based on how many hours we get. It’s the way we live our life, the way we make money.... There are long layoff times. Particularly this year, there are an awful lot of people who haven’t gotten back to work yet,” in part because Gov. Deval Patrick has refused to authorize road work expenditures of the Transportation Bond Bill at the level approved by the state Legislature.
“When we hear of an opportunity of a job like this coming up, it’s important to our people. Nine-to-five for the next 40 years at the factory isn’t happening anymore, and most people know it.”
Unionized laborers, who Darnley said make $25 an hour for base pay, work a variety of jobs, from digging trenches and laying water and sewer pipes to doing asbestos abatement work, as some are now doing at the Franklin County Courthouse. They are also working on the Interstate 91 bridge over the Deerfield River.
“Laborers do an awful lot,” said Darnley, who has been chipping up concrete at the high school site to put expansion joints in the floor. “We work really hard, if you come out on a 95-degree day and look at guys laying blacktop, or lugging 8-foot panels for concrete in that kind of weather, we work hard for that lifestyle.”
Darnley, who says he’s walked with a limp ever since he had an accident with a piece of rebar at a job at Six Flags soon after going to work for the union, said “It’s good work … (but) you work for your money.”
At the same time, he said, “It’s very frustrating for me personally. Every time something comes up, I don’t know what people are waiting for. The paper mills are not coming back, corporate America has changed, and now most people don’t have pensions. And (if) anyone tries to build anything, or you try to run a pipeline, or God help us, a Target or a Wal-Mart somewhere, it’s shot down consistently. And I’m not sure what’s going to be enough jobs to interest people and catch their notice.”
Darnley, who grew up in Monson, doesn’t deny that he and his fellow union workers were asked to show up at pipeline meetings in Montague and Warwick, but added that no one can force him to do so.
“If it’s something I believe in, I’ll go.”
Thomas Andrews, business manager for Local 596, who has attended several meetings with union members he’s asked to turn out “if they want to support it,” emphasized that he doesn’t try to coerce or bribe anyone to do so, and he’s not encouraged or required by Kinder Morgan to play that role, even though his job involves getting contractors and developers like Kinder Morgan to agree to use organized labor on their projects.
“It’s a possibility a $3 billion job could be coming through Western Mass., and one of my jobs is to create work,” says Andrews, estimating that as many as half the nearly 500 members of his local live in Franklin County. “Some citizens are saying the gas line is not a permanent job. Definitely to a construction worker it is. I send members there, they’ll work for the duration of a job, and I try to schedule another job for them to go to.”
Andrews said that the workers at the high school project, at the courthouse project, on the Deerfield River highway project and at University of Massachusetts projects are people who live in Deerfield, Montague, Greenfield, Bernardston and other surrounding towns. While they’re working, he said, their pay, including all benefits, is nearly $47 an hour for the roughly nine months a year that they’re able to find work.
“These members live in these towns, they work in the towns, they have the houses, they pay mortgages, they shop at the grocery stores, they get their gas down the road. We live here, we’re part of this community.”
After a winter that was particularly harsh, with bitter cold and heavy snow setting frost into the ground so that equipment at the high school wasn’t able to work through the frost, Anderson said, many members of his union — and related trade unions like operating engineers, welders and ironworkers — had a hard time finding work in this part of the state.
“The economy this year has been the worst,” he said. “I’ve had guys off six months who are just going to work right now. A lot of work dried up in September, after six or seven dorms at UMass had to be done, and we’ve got members out of work since September and October last year. That’s why it’s so important to get these guys back working.”
Andrews, admitting “I’ve never seen a pipeline this big,” said he doesn’t know what the company’s 3,000 worker estimate is based on, or how many workers from Local 596 would work on it if it goes ahead.
“But I do know it’s going to take an enormous amount of manpower to get that pipe in,” he added. “The people who are going to be in the trenches, working day in and day out, are going to be local guys.”
(Editor's note: Some information in this story has changed from an earlier edition)