Massachusetts Construction Companies Stop Work To Protest Fatal Overdoses

By Paul Gaita 06/17/19

Between 2011 and 2015, construction workers accounted for around 25% of all fatal overdoses among workers in Massachusetts. 

Massachusetts Construction Companies

Construction companies and labor unions across Massachusetts held work stoppages on June 5th to protest rising numbers of fatal opioid overdoses among their members.

A recent state Department of Public Health report found that construction workers make up nearly a quarter of all opioid-related deaths in the Bay State, and are six times more likely to incur a fatal overdose than other employees. That information spurred labor and trade groups to draw attention to the problem through the work stoppage, and to highlight efforts within their own industry to assist their workers through support programs and extended health care coverage.

As Boston's NPR news station reported, tackling the situation is not only a health imperative for Massachusetts, but also a financial necessity: their coverage cited statistics from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation that showed that the state lost more than $15 billion in productivity, health care costs and other expenses due to the opioid epidemic in 2017 alone.

To that end, trade groups like the Associated General Contractors of Massachusetts are prioritizing safety and health measures for its members. Their opioid safety program, developed in conjunction with Boston Medical Center's Grayken Center for Addiction, helps employers recognize the signs of drug dependency among workers, provides information on the proper way to respond to an overdose and links them to outside resources for dependency treatment.

Other organizations are following suit: the New England Carpenters Benefits Funds began covering up to 90 days of substance abuse treatment in a residential facility for union members, and the Massachusetts Laborers Benefit Funds is connecting workers with treatment and other dependency services.

According to representatives from both groups, 25 workers have been placed in treatment through the Carpenters Benefits Fund, while the Laborers Benefit Fund has assisted more than 130 members and their families.

Robert Petrucelli, CEO of the Associated General Contractors of Massachusetts, spoke about the need for such programs at one of 50 work sites across the state that participated in the stoppage on June 5th. After reviewing the Department of Public Health report, he said, "It was clear we had to do something. No one talks about this, but it permeates our industry."

As WBUR's coverage noted, the problem of addiction in the construction business is not unique to Massachusetts. It cited a feature by the Cleveland Plain Dealer from 2017 that found that construction workers in Ohio were seven times more likely to die of an opioid overdose between 2010 and 2016 than workers in any other line of work. 

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.