Construction workers building two projects at Hood Park joined elected officials, union officials and property owners on May 3 for the first-ever construction worker stand-down to memorialize workers lost to opiate overdoses.
More than 200 workers at the Hood site stopped work with the sound of an air horn, and for 90 seconds stood quietly in honor of those who have lost their lives to overdose. The stand-down runs in parallel to a long-standing tradition in the trade unions to have such a stand-down when a worker is lost on the job. With the opiate crisis hitting the construction trades harder than most workplaces, it was only natural to extend the effort to those lost to opiate overdoses.
“I do think it affects us more than other,” said Larry Rufo, a worker for Welsh Corp. working at Hood – who said he cleaned up from drugs and alcohol 25 years ago. “This is a tough business to be in. Alcohol and drugs run rampant in the construction industry. It was tough back in the day because it was acceptable. It’s tough and it’s hard work. People get hurt and they’re looking for a way to get through the pain and keep working. I’m glad it’s starting to get to the point where we acknowledge there is a better way. I’m glad people see how hard it is and want to help.”
The first ever Building Trades for Recovery conference, organized by the Building Trades Employers’ Association (BTEA) came to a close May 3 with two stand downs on two different construction sites – the last one being at Hood Park on the Lee Kennedy Construction Company worksite. All work halted and hundreds of workers bowed their heads in silence for 150 seconds, to honor the 150 construction workers lost per 100,000 to the opioid crisis.
“If you’re out there struggling, please tell someone in your union – your employer, your coworker, your family. Please come forward. We’ll help you. We’ll get you in rehab and get you back to work as soon as possible,” BTEA Director of Labor Relations Tom Gunning Jr. said. “I hope next year when we’re standing here for Recovery Week, we can say we’ve made a difference and we’ve helped someone in the building trades make a new start…I was there. Lee Kennedy provided me a job. They helped me get back on my own two feet.”
Lee Kennedy spoke to the workers from the podium and was praised by union officials for being the first company to take a stance on the opiate problem. One of the major initiatives they founded was being the first company to have Narcan on site to help reverse workplace overdoses – as well as to making recovery services easy to access without the fear of losing employment.
“We’re trying to get awareness out there about a serious issue, a real crisis that is all across the country – particularly in Massachusetts. We’re two times the national rate as a state,” he said.
State Rep. Dan Ryan said offering recovery and making it easier for those in the construction trades is essential. He noted that the crisis didn’t necessarily come from illegal drugs, but likely from highly profitable drug companies that misled patients and doctors.
“This was not like selling coke or marijuana on the street corner,” he said. “This was unscrupulous drug companies and CEOs who should never have been approved for these drugs by the FDA. This was about misleading people as to the addictive nature of their medications, and that maybe what was said on the label wasn’t exactly correct.”
Massachusetts Building Trades President Frank Callahan said it was time to remember those that lost their lives – and to stick together to lend a helping hand.
“The reason we are doing this stand-down is for the 150 of our building trades men and women per 1,000 that lose their lives to opiate overdoses in this country every year,” he said. “We really do stick together. We have our fights and our differences, but this isn’t one of them.”
The stand downs were the culmination of the weeklong Building Trades for Recovery Week that ran April 29-May 3. Construction industry workers are six times more likely to become addicted or die from Opioid Use Disorders than workers in other industries.