Union and community activists respond to work accident at luxury development site
On June 19, a diverse group of 50 people, union members and community allies together, entered a Transformative Transit Oriented Development meeting in Lynn. They marched into the Lynn Museum in silence, carrying signs linking safe working conditions, affordable housing, and the city’s ongoing crisis of affordability and displacement.
“We built this city, we are this city!”
The disrupted meeting featured a panel with Lynn Mayor Tom McGee and Michael Procopio of Procopio Enterprises, the developer of a new 10-story luxury apartment building. This is one of the first times Procopio has faced the public since a June 2018 neighborhood meeting that was shut down when residents and neighbors voiced their opposition luxury development in downtown Lynn, and their frustration with being ignored by city officials. Procopio Enterprises got a $2.5 million tax break with no commitments to union jobs, community benefits, or affordable housing.
The protest was sparked by a serious workplace accident. On May 24, a wall of rebar fell onto 20-plus workers at the nonunion site on Munroe Street that will soon be home to this contentious luxury building. One worker was severely injured and was taken by helicopter to Mass General Hospital for treatment. He had four feet of his intestines removed.
Labor unions and community organizations recognized their shared stakes in bad developments. The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) District Council 35, New England Regional Council of Carpenters, local housing and tenants’ rights organization Lynn United for Change, and statewide elders’ community advocacy organization Massachusetts Senior Action Council came together to craft a joint response.
“Development without Danger, Development without Displacement!”
As Michael Procopio began to speak, protesters spoke back. Using the call-and-response “people’s mic” popularized during the Occupy movement, protesters issued a statement laying out their issues and demands. The panel moderator tried to intervene over the Lynn Museum’s sound system with no success; the labor and community activists continued with their statement.
Procopio hired Dellbrook JKS as the general contractor for the site. Dellbrook has a bad track record of wage theft, work site injuries, and illegal kickback schemes. Using a legal loophole that completely ignores the spirit of the law, the city of Lynn is arguing that this site does not fall under Lynn’s 2019 anti-wage theft ordinance—because Procopio received a tax increment exemption, not tax increment financing, this work site is not covered.
Kathleen Santora, Lynn resident and IUPAT DC 35 member, said: “I’m excited about development coming to the city. But I don’t want it at the expense of worker safety and people living in Lynn now who are being priced out. Procopio was warned about Dellbrook and he didn’t listen. Now, an accident happened that resulted in life-altering injuries for a worker. Everybody deserves to work in a safe work environment.”
“We know where Munroe Street is, and if we need to we can shut it down!”
“People in Lynn are struggling to make ends meet. Rent’s going up, there’s a new trash fee, even water is going up,” said Chandra Slattery of Lynn United for Change. “It’s ridiculous for the city to give big tax breaks to millionaire developers, especially when the development we’re getting so far is not really good for our community. We want good development that includes safe workplaces, good jobs with benefits, and affordable housing.”
“If developers want to take advantage of our waterfront and our great city to make millions of dollars, they should have to give back,” said Kathy Paul, president of Massachusetts Senior Action Council’s North Shore chapter. “Instead, this developer is hurting its workers and contributing nothing to Lynn.”
The protesters’ statement to Michael Procopio was simple: that Procopio enterprises comply with the Lynn wage theft ordinance, protect worker safety, use contractors that pay area standard wages with benefits, and include affordable housing in the project.
New Lynn Coalition agrees with this statement, and we stand with the workers and community members voicing their opposition to bad contractors, bad work sites, bad jobs, and bad deals for our city. We want to build a New Lynn, a city that works for all of us.
Jonathon Feinberg is organizing director of the New Lynn Coalition. You can reach the coalition at 781-346-9733, by email at NewLynnCoalition@gmail.com, or on Facebook at fb.com/NewLynnCoalitionMA.