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25th Anniversary Of Defeat of Ballot Question #2 To Repeal The Mass Prevailing Wage Law

By Frank Callahan
President of the Massachusetts Building Trades Council

Question 2 Button 19881988 represented a major challenge for the labor movement, as anti-union employers and contractors lobbied to repeal the Massachusetts prevailing-wage law. The law had been on the books since 1914, and required that workers on state-financed building projects be paid a wage roughly equivalent to union workers. A federal prevailing wage law, the Davis-Bacon Act, was enacted in 1931 for federal building projects. The purpose of prevailing wage law is not just to protect union workers and contractors from their underpaid and underbidding counterparts, but to ensure that contracts for taxpayer-funded projects are awarded based on competence and productivity, rather than the lowest price—jeopardizing quality.

In the mid-1980’s, the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), who had for the past decade lobbied Congress to overturn the Davis-Bacon Act, started a campaign in Massachusetts to repeal the prevailing wage. In 1987, ABC—who then called themselves the Fair Wage Committee, collected the required signatures to place a question on the ballot to repeal the law.

Throughout 1988, Massachusetts residents were subjected to heavy campaigning from ABC and their ally Citizens for Limited Taxation (CLT) for a yes vote on Ballot Question # 2. Early in the campaign, voters heavily favored the repeal; at one point by a margin of 49% to 30% according to a union poll.  ABC had effectively convinced voters that the prevailing wage was a wasteful, unnecessary tax. A major development in the campaign was a study released by a well respected research firm hired by the construction unions, which disproved much of the anecdotal and contrived evidence that ABC and CLT had been using to sway voters. The study determined that a repeal of the law would result in only a marginal tax savings, and that the most significant result would be lower wages for workers. The publicity generated from this study helped to transform the issue from a superficial argument over taxes, to a more substantive argument about profits vs. people.

While transforming the argument and disproving the ABC’s propaganda was helpful, it was ultimately the efforts of the construction unions to mobilize member and public support that resulted in the defeat of Question 2. Unions held voter registration drives for members, and the building trades were able to gain support not only from other unions, but also from elected officials throughout the state, students, community leader and public housing advocates. The argument was seen as an issue for the entire working class, rather than just a segment.

On Election Day, a supporter of the building trades was placed at every polling place in the state.  After the polls closed the voters rejected Question #2 by a wide margin of 58% to 42%. What at one time seemed impossible based on public opinion was achieved through solidarity and mobilization, and a public commitment to economic justice.

(Originally Posted on MA Building Trades website.)


75,000 Member Mass Building Trades Council Endorses Stephen Lynch for US Senate

Rep Steven Lynch  Francis X. Callahan, Jr., President Jeff Sullivan, Vice President Louis A. Mandarini, Jr., Secretary-Treasurer

Rep Steven Lynch
Francis X. Callahan, Jr., President
Jeff Sullivan, Vice President
Louis A. Mandarini, Jr., Secretary-Treasurer

Today, the 75,000 member Massachusetts Building Trades Council is proud to announce its endorsement of Stephen F. Lynch for the office of United States Senator. Stephen Lynch’s hard work and thoughtful approach on legislative issues impacting working families stretches over 11 years in the United States Congress and 6 years in the Massachusetts Legislature as a State Representative and State Senator.

That record comes as no surprise to those who know him best because we knew him long before he entered public office. We know Stephen Lynch as a second generation Ironworker, who worked 18 years in the trade just like every one of our 75,000 members. We know Stephen Lynch as the youngest president of Ironworkers Union Local #7 who stood up for his members and represented them on the job, securing better wages, hours, working conditions and a secure retirement. We know Stephen Lynch as the guy who put himself through college and law school at night while working construction during the day. We know him as the guy who never forgot where he came from and continues to fight on behalf of working families in the US House of Representatives.

The United States Senate is full of professional politicians and millionaires. It’s about time we sent someone to Washington who doesn’t just talk about representing the interests of working people. We need to send someone to Washington who understands the challenges facing working families. Steve Lynch understands that because he’s lived it. He knows the value of hard work and he knows what it’s like to collect unemployment when the work dries up.

Mass. Building Trades Council President Frank Callahan said, “Hard work, skill and commitment are values that count for a lot in the Building Trades. Steve Lynch exemplifies those values. He has worked hard, with great skill and maintained his commitment to the working families of Massachusetts that he learned as an Ironworker. He has earned the support of our 75,000 members.”

We hope the voters of Massachusetts will send a true representative of working families to represent us in the United States Senate by electing Stephen Lynch.

“I am proud to accept this endorsement from my brothers and sisters in the Building Trades,” Rep. Lynch said.  “I worked alongside them for 18 years as an ironworker, and have stood with them throughout my career in the state legislature and in Congress.  I am honored that they stand with me now in support of my Senate run.  As a card-carrying union member for more than 30 years, I understand the challenges faced by working families.  I have stood on an unemployment line, and shared their worries.  As a member of the Senate, I will stand with working families and make sure their voices are heard.”


The Massachusetts Building Trades Council is a 93-year-old organization dedicated to helping working people improve their quality of life. The Council is comprised of 74 member locals representing over 75,000 working men and women across the state.

MA Senate Race: Iron Workers Endorse Stephen Lynch for U.S. Senate

NHLN Editors Note: In what will be a highly contested race from the MA Senate seat vacated by Sen Kerry, the Iron Workers have already come out in support of Stephen Lynch.   Lynch, being a union man himself knows and understand the issues that union workers and middle class families are dealing with right now.  

***Iron Workers Endorse Stephen Lynch for U.S. Senate***

The International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers announced today that it supports Congressman Stephen Lynch in his campaign to represent Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate.  The Union is committed to helping Lynch win the special election that follows John Kerry’s departure from the U.S. Senate to serve as Secretary of State.

Lynch, a South Boston native, graduated from his three-year Ironworker apprenticeship in 1976 and was elected President of Iron Workers Local 7, Boston, in 1985.  He earned his legal degree while serving as the Local’s President and joined the Massachusetts State Legislature in 1994.  Lynch was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2001, and he is prepared to serve the people of Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate.

“Steve Lynch has walked the proverbial mile and then some in the boots of the middle class,” said Iron Workers General President Walter Wise.  “He has lived the issues that are important to working families, fought on behalf of working families during his legal career and will be a much-needed addition to the United States Senate.  He will use that knowledge to help working people across America.”

About the Iron Workers Union: The International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Iron Workers (IABSO&RIW) was founded in 1896 in Pittsburgh, Pa. They now represent more than 125,000 Ironworkers throughout the United States and Canada. The IABSO&RIW’s mission is to improve the working conditions of its members while promoting constructive relationships with their employers to increase work opportunities.

Open Letter About Mitt Romney’s Record as Governor of Massachusetts

Open Letter to Building Trades
About Mitt Romney’s Record
as Governor of Massachusetts

I am sure that many of you share my frustration at trying to sift through campaign commercials and talking points to find out where the candidates for President really stand on issues that are important to you.  Part of the problem is Mitt Romney’s habit of changing his positions to suit his audience.

One thing he can’t change is his record.  I had a front row seat for Mitt Romney’s term as Governor of Massachusetts.  His positions and his actions on the issues that have a direct impact on Building and Construction Trades workers were not good for our members.


  • Mitt Romney filed legislation to Eliminate the Prevailing Wage on broad segments of public construction projects.
  • Mitt Romney Vetoed a Minimum Wage increase just two years after promising to support raising it in his campaign.
  • Mitt Romney Vetoed legislation to stiffen penalties on employers that cheat workers out of their proper wages.

Unemployment Insurance:

  • Mitt Romney filed legislation to reduce the number of weeks you could collect benefits, make it far more difficult for construction workers to be eligible for benefits, and cut premiums to the point of jeopardizing the financial health of the unemployment fund.

Construction Safety:

  • Mitt Romney Vetoed a bill to require OSHA 10-Hour Training on public projects.  Romney said it “would increase the cost of doing business for contractors” even though they are only required to maintain a copy of a worker’s OSHA 10-Hour card.  Ironically this was one time when Romney brought the Democrats and Republicans together when members of both parties in both the House and Senate voted unanimously against Romney and overrode his veto.

Apprentice Training:

  • Mitt Romney tried to eliminate the State Division of Apprentice Training in his first state budget.  He tried to undercut the Division’s funding every year after that.

Candidate Mitt Romney often changes his positions to suit varying segments of the electorate.  On issues impacting Building & Construction Trades workers he has been consistent:  Candidate Romney has vowed to repeal Davis Bacon Prevailing Wage, ban Project Labor Agreements, and pass anti-union Right To Work Laws. This is one area where Romney’s rhetoric matches his record. As Governor of Massachusetts, every time Mitt Romney had a choice between supporting workers’ interests and the interest of Big Business he chose Big Business every time.

Please keep this in mind when you cast your vote on November 6th.


Francis X Callahan Jr

President, Mass. Building Trades Council, AFL-CIO


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