Editorial: A bad call on the Kennedy Greenway

It’s one of those stories that makes you wonder aloud: What the hell were they thinking?

The Boston Globe was first to report this week on a decision by the Conservancy that owns the Rose Kennedy Greenway to change maintenance contractors. After ten years— and no documented complaints— they’ve pulled the plug on Work, Inc., a Dorchester-based company that specializes in training and employing local individuals with disabilities. Instead, the contract to clean the Greenway has been awarded to a Kentucky-based firm that will use lower-paid workers, with the likelihood of higher turnover to follow.

To date, the head of the Conservancy, Jesse Brackenbury, has defended the decision in the media. His main argument seems the be that the contract with the new vendor— Block by Block— will save the non-profit organization about $50,000 per year.

That’s not a small figure for any non-profit. And yet context is everything in this case. For one thing: What happened to the notion that good work should be rewarded? Ten years and not a single complaint filed about the work of the men and women from Work Inc.? Pretty impressive for any company. But, keep in mind: Work, Inc. is working with a population that has historically been shut out in any meaningful way from the economy.

Work Inc.’s mission is to change that and unlock the potential of this population of men and women— so many of them from our neighborhoods right here in the city— who might otherwise not have employment opportunities.

Wouldn’t an organization whose namesake is Rose Kennedy want to empower that sort of mission and reward its good works, particularly when there has been no outward signal of a problem?

Jim Casetta, who is the president and CEO of Work, Inc., is livid and he has been making the case for his workers to anyone who will listen. On Tuesday, he gave an interview to BNN-TV’s Chris Lovett on the Neighborhood Network News.

Casetta said that Work, Inc. has been “scrambling” to find alternative employment for the disabled employees who have been cut loose from the jobs that they came to love.

There’s no question they will find other spots, he said.

“We just got a call from Martin Richard’s father, Bill Richard,” Casetta told Lovett. “He told us that he wants Work, Inc. to maintain my son’s park [Martin’s Park, in Fort Port Channel]. The reason why he called us is because he loved the way we maintained the Greenway. Right now, we are about to enter into a contract with the Richard Foundation to employ at least one of the people who lost their jobs on the Greenway.”

Casetta rattled off other public buildings and spaces where Work Inc. has contracts: the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum and the Edward M. Kennedy Institute in Dorchester were among them.

“We’ve had 30 individuals with disabilities who’ve gone on to equal or better jobs from the Greenway. We like to move our people along – because there are a lot more who want to go to work,” he said.

“We still don’t know the real reason why we weren’t selected,” said Casetta, who called the decision demoralizing. “I love the Greenway. I think it looks beautiful and one of the reasons why is because Work, Inc. employees were making it look great. Our people were power washing, cleaning, picking up trash, removing snow, mowing the grass…”

Casetta is right to be passionate about this. These are people who deserved better from the Greenway and its leadership. We hope they’ll reconsider.

- Bill Forry