Unionization efforts underway amid overhaul of Boston planning agency

As the Wu administration moves to revamp the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), two unions – AFSCME Council 93 and SENA Local 9158 – have been seeking out BPDA staff members as part of unionization drives.

SENA (Salaried Employees of North America) is a division of the United Steelworkers, while AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) Council 93 represents 45,000 members in four New England states (Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont).

“We definitely do have an interest in representing the members down there,” said Jim Durkin, Council 93’s legislative and political action director. “We would be proud to be their representatives.”

The union, which represents some 2,000 employees across a wide range of City Hall departments, recently organized more than two dozen workers who work on non-emergency issues reported to the BOS:311 app or phone line, as well as 100 workers with the Boston Water and Sewer Commission.

SENA represents employees at the Boston Centers for Youth and Families and Inspectional Services, among others. John Buonopane, the Steelworkers’ subdistrict director for New England, said SENA 9158 represents 800 people across multiple city departments.

“We think this group would be a really good fit for our unit,” he said of BPDA employees.

A SENA member has recently been spotted standing by City Hall elevators, hoping to buttonhole BPDA workers getting on or coming off.

“Our employees have the right to join or refrain from joining a union and the BPDA supports any decision they make,” a BPDA spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Labor unions have seen a resurgence in attention over the last few years. Workers at Starbucks coffee shops and e-commerce giant Amazon have voted to unionize, and the number of US strikes increased in 2022.

The BPDA, which is overseen by the city’s chief of planning, Arthur Jemison, has roughly 200 employees. The agency has seen turnover in the last year, mirroring a similar economic trend in other sectors while also reflecting the change in mayoral administrations.

Mayor Wu ran on a platform of abolishing the BPDA and ending its urban renewal powers. Her “State of the City” speech this year focused on overhauling the agency, established under state law in 1957 as the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

Jemison told the City Council in February that the creation of a new city planning department with BPDA workers will likely occur next year. According to the Boston Business Journal, Jemison told councillors that he has relayed to employees they will have the same salaries and benefits after the transfer.

This post was updated with a comment from a SENA representative.

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