For Construction Workers in Massachusetts, It Pays to Join a Union

In Massachusetts, painters, carpenters, electrical workers, and other construction industry workers make an average of $13 more per hour when they join a union. That’s according to a new study by Cornell University.

“The Apollo Alliance recently did a study that had very similar findings on the national level,” said Maria Figueroa. She is an author of the new study and the director of the Labor and Industry Research department in the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Figueroa spoke at the Massachusetts statehouse on April 5.

Also at the statehouse was Frank Callahan, president of the Massachusetts Building Trades Council. “We need the state legislature to pass laws to crack down on non-union employers who violate the law,” he said.

The Cornell study found that non-union construction companies in Massachusetts frequently violate the law. For example, the owners of the companies get government road building and other contracts by promising to pay workers a good wage. Then they pay low wages and keep the difference.

George Noel is director of the Massachusetts Department of Labor. He joined Figueroa and Callahan at the statehouse. “Non-union employers often fail to pay workers’ compensation, as they are required to do by law,” he said. When this happens, taxpayers pick up the tab.

Another speaker at the press conference was state Rep. Martin Walsh, D- Dorchester. “There is a middle class in Massachusetts because of the labor movement,” Rep. Walsh said.

Two more speakers were owners of union construction companies. One of them said he knew of job sites in Massachusetts where construction workers are paid so little that they are homeless and live in their cars on the job site.

The final speaker at the press conference in the ornate statehouse hearing room was fire sprinkler installer Mike McDonald. He worked for 14 years non-union, then for the past 11 years as a union member. “The union has helped me and my family a lot,” he said.

The press conference ended at around noon. Near the statehouse cafeteria, workers were fixing beams that supported the building’s roof. They said they were non-union.


The study is at

(This article appeared first at


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