Unions press on jobs for DOT Block project

A debate about labor contracts has become an issue as the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) continues its review of the DOT Block development project. The proponents of the large-scale, mixed-use redevelopment plan say they intend to move forward with a general contractor who will employ union workers on the construction site.

Union members were a noticeable presence at a BRA-sponsored meeting about the project held on Feb. 23 at the Boys and Girls Clubs of Dorchester. Before the 6 p.m. meeting began, cars and homes near the meeting were leafleted with a one-page sheet that was critical of Demetrios Dasco, the property owner who heads the DOT Block development company Atlas Investment Group LLC. No one claimed authorship of the flyer, which alleged that Dasco’s past projects had a poor safety record.

This marked the first time that union members had inserted themselves into discussions about DOT Block since serious planning began some two years ago, attendees said. The project, if completed, would include 374 units of mixed-income housing and about 40,000 square feet of retail space between Hancock Street and Dorchester Avenue. It would also feature a five-story parking garage with space for some 450 vehicles.

At the meeting, the DOT Block team was pressed on the number of union jobs that would be generated by the project and on whether there had been a break with the general contractor, Lee Kennedy Co., Inc.

“We have been very clear since our foot went out of the door,” said Catherine O’Neill, who represents the DOT Block team. “This is going to be an union project.”

BRA project manager Gary Uter estimated that up to 150 people were at the “well attended” meeting that was scheduled to brief the community on changes to the overall design and the traffic plan around the 2.24-acre site after it had received crucial approvals from the Boston Civic Design Commission and the Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association.

Questions about unions and labor are coming at an early point in the discussions, O’Neill said, as the project is just finishing the design process. Atlas has been going through budgeting and scheduling with Quincy-based Lee Kennedy for about nine months.

“We do not have any type of formal agreement to go into construction, but we wouldn’t typically at this point in time,” said Chris Pennie, senior vice president at Lee Kennedy. “But [Dasco] is only talking to us at this point, and if we are awarded the contract, which I hope we are, we would build it as 100 percent union, as we always do in the city.”

Those who came to the meeting, Uter said, “primarily talked about things we have heard. Traffic, and typical conversation around that.” He added that some came to hear about employment issues in general.

The anonymous leaflet included excerpts from articles on three incidents of Dasco-involved projects: One, in which two Irish workers died on a Quincy project in 1999; one in which reports of damage to a large 2015 condo project prompted a stop-work order in Portland; and one in which union groups alleged work violations on the construction of a school in Braintree in 2015.

The Reporter did not find citations of any complaints against Dasco-managed firms beyond the three cited articles. Dasco and his spokespeople asserted in a Boston Globe story that the 2015 school project was being built fully in compliance with state and federal laws. In the condo case, an action plan was underway to determine the cause of the damage and potential solutions.

“Once we figure out a solution we’re going to make it right,” Dasco told the Portland Press Herald. “Any damage that was caused by [the ground settling], as the developer, we’re obviously responsible and we would evaluate that and we would fix it.”