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Mass. AFL-CIO, Building Trades Issue Response to Negative Attacks on Vicksburg Square Project Ahead of Tonight’s Vote

On Monday, Nashoba Publishing ran an article, “Mass. AFL-CIO appeals to “Brothers and Sisters” on Vicksburg Square vote,” that suggested there had been “mixed reaction” to a letter sent by labor officials concerning a pending vote on a 246-apartment construction project in Vicksburg Square. The project aims to provide “workforce housing, available to working individuals making roughly $16,000 to $41,000 and for families making up to roughly $58,000.”

The vote is scheduled for tomorrow, March 28th, at 7PM.

But the article doesn’t do an entirely thorough job of showing that reaction to the letter had been mixed. Rather, it intimates early on that the letter was met with disgust: “Some locals resent the outside pressure, others fault the letter for inaccuracies,” it reads.

Several presumed Harvard representatives are on the record as vehemently opposing the project…

“I find the letter from a national union, directing its members to vote a certain way on matters directly impacting Harvard, to be distressing and surprising,” said Harvard selectman Chairman and project opponent Marie Sobalvarro…

“I have absolutely no knowledge whatsoever of where the AFL-CIO sourced its information,” said Harvard School Committee Chairman Keith Cheveralls. “There has been no discussion that I am aware of about teacher layoffs should Vicksburg Square not proceed.”

“Anyone in this town that reads this should be outraged at the mistruths,” said Harvard resident Wade Hotlzman of the AFL-CIO letter. “How many in the ‘working force’ make as little as the maximum of $41K to qualify for an affordable unit?”

Upon being notified of the article’s publishing, the letter’s sponsors, MA AFL-CIO president Steve Tollman and MA Building and Construction Trades Council president Frank Callahan, felt compelled to draft a rebuttal to the aggressive claims of the Harvard community. The text of that letter appears below, as does the original letter sent by the state AFL-CIO and BCTC.:


We are writing in response to several outrageous and erroneous statements that appeared in yesterday’s article ‘Mass. AFL-CIO appeals to “Brothers and Sisters” on Vicksburg Square vote.’

Marie Sobalvarro’s attempt to turn this debate into an us vs. them argument by characterizing the Massachusetts AFL-CIO as a “national union, directing its members to vote a certain way.” is both false and outrageous. First, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO represents hundreds of working families that live, work and vote in the towns of Harvard, Ayer and Shirley. Second, The AFL-CIO does not, cannot and would not presume to tell our members how to vote. Our letter provides our members with information on the project and encourages them to support it for the reasons stated. That is not only our democratically protected right, but our responsibility as leaders of our respective organizations.

Mark Coulter mischaracterizes as misleading our statement that the project would create “hundreds of jobs for members of our building trades” because we “decline to mention the jobs are temporary..” His statement ignores two facts;

1) The Fort Devens community has been hit hard by this recession and those jobs he describes as ‘temporary’ would be welcomed by the many tradespeople who have been struggling to find work in the last four years;

2) An investment of $83 million in the area is sure to generate additional economic activity and thus more jobs - both “temporary” construction jobs and permanent jobs.

Lastly, I want to inform Harvard resident Wade Holzman about the economic realities in our state. He is “outraged at the mistruths” questioning “How many people in the working force make as little as $41K to qualify for an affordable unit.” We too are outraged but for a different reason. $41K a year is not enough to support a family in Massachusetts and too many hard working Massachusetts residents earn that or less. That is why the Massachusetts Building Trades and the Massachusetts AFL-CIO support this project. The construction workers on this project will be paid prevailing wages and workers who earn $41K a year or less, will have an affordable place to live.

The AFL-CIO was founded to improve the wages, hours, working conditions and the general quality of life for all workers, not just our members. Our support for this project is wholly consistent with that mission. We respect the rights of those who disagree with us. However, we firmly reject their demands that we surrender our rights and retreat from our long held principles.

Steven A. Tolman
President, Massachusetts AFL-CIO

Francis X. Callahan, Jr.
Massachusetts Building Trades Council

Vicksburg Square Letter 3 26 12


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