News and Information about the Eastern Massachusetts Plumbing Industry • January 2016 www.massplumbers.com
“We’re here to help all plumbers. Paul has come to the rescue of people who have been terribly cheated.”
- Harry Brett Business Manager, Local 12 See “Level Playing Field” cover story
For Joe Cannistraro, Education Is the Key e may be in the midst of winnowing candidates to nominate for president of the United States, but the presidency of the Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association (formerly the PHCC of Greater Boston) was decided earlier in the year. Members voted Joseph C. Cannistraro, the CFO of J.C. Cannistraro in Watertown, to head the organization’s executive board.
Cannistraro brings years of experience to the leadership role. He also brings an abiding interest in education and learning to the position. He plans to leverage the resources of the GBPCA and encourage other member contractors to take advantage of the organization’s educational opportunities. Through its affiliation with the Mechanical Contractors Association of America and the Plumbing Contractors of America, the GBPCA offers training and best practice models in areas such as project management. Cannistraro is hopeful that by pursuing education and working together, GBPCA members can help themselves, help one another, and make the organization stronger.
Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association 978-777-8764 www.greaterbostonpca.com
United Association Plumbers and Gasfitters Boston Local 12 617-288-6200 www.plumbersandgasfitterslocal12.org
He credits his parents, John Cannistraro, Sr. and Rita, for nurturing his belief in the importance of education. The fifth of seven children, Joe describes himself as the “well-adjusted middle child.” His father started a one-man plumbing shop in 1963 that under his and his siblings’ leadership (three of his brothers work alongside him) has grown into the largest family-owned mechanical construction firm in New England. Taking on a leadership position wasn’t a birthright according to Cannistraro. “My father established conditions that we needed to fulfill.” School was a top priority. The GBPCA president wasn’t even sure he wanted to work in the family business or the plumbing industry. Continued on page 5
MORE THAN 600 GUESTS filled the Boston Park Plaza ballroom in October 2015 for Local 12’s 125th Anniversary Gala. It was a night to join together with colleagues and friends, reminisce, celebrate, pay homage, and look ahead. More on page 4.
A 20-Year Quest to Level the Playing Field BEFORE HE ARRIVED AT PLUMBERS LOCAL 12 to serve as its research analyst, Paul Coutinho had a varied background including stints in retail management and working for the U.S. Department of Defense in procurement. He also played hockey for many years, including two years professionally for a minor league team. It may seem like he took a curious route to Local 12. But as a goalie, Coutinho knows all about playing defense and protecting his team. He also knows that whether it’s on the ice or on the job at construction sites, all sides need a level playing field in order to fairly compete. In that sense, hockey has been a great inspiration for the work he has done defending Local 12, its members, and its signatory contractors. For the past 20 years, Coutinho has been conducting research, unearthing information, shining a spotlight on questionable business practices, and leading other efforts to help protect and advance the cause of union plumbers and contractors. The Pipeline sat down with Coutinho to learn more about him and the trail he has blazed in his unique position. Working to support his family for a number of years, Coutinho didn’t finish his college degree until he was in his 40s. He attended UMass Dartmouth full Continued on page 3
Plumbing Contractors Can Now Say, "Show Me the Money"
f you put in a day’s work, you expect to get a day’s pay — and you expect to get paid promptly, right?
Those expectations are at the core of our free enterprise system. For decades however, plumbing contractors have been putting in a day’s work, but not getting paid in full until many weeks — or more typically, many months — later. Thanks to a recent Massachusetts law, that’s no longer the case. Associated general contractors had been using a long-held practice known as “retainage” to routinely withhold payment to subcontractors such as plumbers. Incorporated into most contracts, GCs would customarily hold back 10 percent of a subcontractor’s pay until they determined that the work was completed to their satisfaction. Although construction projects would, in fact, be successfully completed, GCs wouldn’t release the funds until much later.
of JC Cannistraro, a member of the Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association and a signatory contractor with Plumbers Local 12, served on the ASM negotiating committee. The law is a follow-up to the Prompt Pay Law. Enacted in 2010, that legislation regulates the process and the timing of the regular payments GCs make to subcontractors. It does not address retainage, however. The key provisions of the retainage legislation, which went into effect November 2014, dictate that the amount withheld cannot exceed 5 percent and that general contractors must pay subcontractors within 30 days of re-
“Owners have the upper hand over general contractors, and generals have leverage over subs.” The Fair Retainage and Prompt Pay laws bring balance and fairness. Retainage is an important issue for plumbing contractors and other subs. With the new law effectively cutting the amount withheld in half, subs can access more of the money that is due to them from the start of a project. And by accelerating the pace at which they receive their final payment, subs can significantly improve their cash flow.
Mass. Retainage Law Changes Dynamics
The amounts withheld and the unduly long delays in payments were a matter of tradition. It’s just the way things had been done, and plumbing contractors begrudgingly accepted the status quo. “Delays in payment had been a chronic and systemic problem,” says Monica Lawton, CEO of the Associated Subcontractors of Massachusetts. She heard horror stories of subs waiting a year or more for their final payments. “[GCs] wanted to withhold 10% because they could.” To break the tradition and rattle the status quo, the ASM spearheaded negotiations with the General Contractors of Massachusetts and worked with legislative leaders to craft the Fair Retainage bill. David Cannistraro
ceiving requisitions. It applies to private projects valued at $3 million and more. Why did the situation persist for so long? “The construction industry is built on unequal relationships,” explains Lawton.
Local 12 Steps Up for First Night When the call went out for businesses and organizations to come to the aid of First Night Boston, Local 12 and its members came through. The union was one of the sponsors of the recent New Year’s Eve celebration.
Massachusetts is the tenth state to cap retainage at 5%. Among the other states that have a 5% provision is Connecticut. Lawton says that while the ASM committee was working on the issue, she confirmed with industry colleagues in the neighboring state that the sky did not fall after the law was enacted. There has been no negative impact since the Fair Retainage law took effect in Massachusetts either. “We have not heard a whisper of any problems,” says Lawton. She points to the state’s robust construction industry as proof that the law has not impeded development. In fact, despite initial pushback from GCs and owners, the law ultimately benefits all parties. By providing a process to promptly resolve final payments, it helps to keep projects moving forward and wrapping up in a timely manner.
“We’re pleased to support this important annual tradition,” says Harry Brett, Local 12’s business manager. “It brings a lot of joy to the community.” All First Night performances and activities were free. The event included two fireworks displays, a parade, music, magic, dancing, and a multimedia show.
“More often than not, the 10% retainage represented all of the profit on a job,” Lawton says. Regardless of the amount of time GCs took to pay, subs had to pay salaries and buy materials out of pocket for the projects on which they worked. “Essentially they were front-loading projects and giving owners and generals free financing. It wasn’t fair.”
One of First Night’s ice sculptures featured Local 12’s logo among other sponsors of the event.
This Goalie’s Goal: A Level Playing Field for Local 12 Continued from page 1 time and participated in captain’s practices with the hockey team. “I was kind of like Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School,” he says. “The kids called me ‘Grandpa.’ I hated that!” He continued at UMass Amherst to get a Master’s of Science degree in labor relations. “I was raised in a union family,” Coutinho says to help explain his midlife career change. Growing up in New Bedford, his mother worked in the mills and was a member and steward in the Garment Worker’s Union. While in Amherst, Coutinho became a research assistant. Around the time he graduated, one of his professors told him that Local 12 was looking to hire someone with his background, so he interviewed for the position. Knowing little about the construction industry, Coutinho sat down with Local 12’s business manager at the time, Harvey Fleitman. “The non-union shops are cheating,” the Local 12 leader said to him. “We don’t know what to do. But we want you to figure it out.” Nobody had done the work prior to Coutinho, and there was no job description. The mission
was clear, but there were few details readily available. Still, the prospect of starting something from scratch and helping to make a difference appealed to Coutinho. In 1996, he began working full time at the union. He dove into prevailing wage and bid laws. He discovered that some contractors were flagrantly cheating their crews. For example, some would pay a laborer’s rate to a plumber to do plumbing work. Others would pay the state minimum wage until they touched a pipe. There were laws specifically preventing actions such as these, but disreputable non-union shops would disregard them. Coutinho says he began to meet with wronged workers, convinced them to come forward, and helped them to gather documentation. He also started getting more involved with public records after he realized that everything on a public job is a matter of public record. Among the data he collected were bid documents, signed contracts, project meeting minutes, and clerk of the works records. “Other area construction unions had never heard of this before,” Coutinho says. Like a detective or a lawyer building a case, he methodically gathered evidence.
AMONG THE TRADES AT THE TOPPING-OFF CEREMONY for Millennium Tower Boston was Local 12. Located at the former Filene’s site, the 686-foot structure will be the tallest building in Downtown Crossing. To mark the occasion, owner Millennium Partners and general contractor Suffolk Construction presented a meal for more than 500 workers. GBPCA contractor J.C. Cannistraro is handling the plumbing for the massive project. The building’s 442 condos, which went on sale in late October, have nearly all been sold.
When he felt he had enough proof of criminal activity, Coutinho would submit the info to the attorney general to initiate investigations and start probable cause actions. “Right away we were able to nail some non-union contractors with things like misuse of apprentices and not reporting true and accurate payroll records.” As a watchdog — or maybe bulldog is a more apt description — Coutinho has been able to get shady contractors to pay a considerable amount of back wages. He says that after dogging lawbreakers for 20 years, he has helped put about $1.5 million back into the pockets of workers. In one case alone, which involved a military housing project at Hanscom Air Force Base, a plumbing contractor had to pay back over $200,000 in back wages. He’s been able to succeed against some big guns. Coutinho says that he’s been at hearings with a team of lawyers representing the other side. “The lawyers are probably billing a total of $1500 per hour, and it’s just me sitting across the table with an agent and a contractor,” he says with a laugh. “More often than not, we prevail.” The irony is that Local 12, collectively with the union contractors, pay Coutinho’s salary, but he frequently ends up helping non-union plumbers recoup back wages owed to them. It is a byproduct — a collateral benefit — of the overall mission to level the playing field. The research analyst notes that sometimes as a result of his actions, plumbers have received checks in the mail and didn’t know why. “We’re here to help all plumbers,” says Harry Brett, Local 12’s business manager. “Paul has really come to the rescue of people who have been terribly cheated.” 20 years in, Coutinho says that Local 12 is well on its way to re-
alizing the mission of a truly level playing field. “By this point, the major contractors know I’m looking,” he says. “They wouldn’t dare do anything wrong. Most are above board and wouldn’t cheat again.” “Paul has been a positive influence in making sure that public construction is administered the way the state envisions it,” Brett adds. “He’s well respected by everyone at Local 12 as well as others in the construction industry and municipal and state agencies all the way up to the attorney general’s office.” Retirement is on the horizon, and Coutinho looks forward to, among other things, traveling with his wife, visiting their kids and grandchildren, and catching some hockey games. Until then, he’ll continue to keep contractors honest. He’ll also keep on assisting other building trades unions so they can conduct their own research. And he looks forward to training his successor at Local 12 to carry on the important work he started.
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Local 12: Going with the Flow for 125 Years Council, and Steve Tolman, president of the Mass. AFL-CIO. Hugh Kelleher, the executive director of the Greater Boston Plumbing Contractors Association talked about the longstanding relationship that his organization has had with Local 12. The contractors’ group dates back to 1885, when it was known as the Master Plumbers Association.
Local 12 Business Manager Harry Brett addresses the audience at the gala to celebrate the union’s 125th anniversary.
“IT WAS GREAT TO LOOK BACK,” says Local 12 Business Manager Harry Brett. Marking the union’s 125th anniversary at a gala, there was no shortage of memories to celebrate. More than 600 people attended the event at the Boston
Park Plaza Hotel. Among those who spoke were Boston City Clerk Maureen Feeney (representing Mayor Martin Walsh), Pat Kellett, the United Association’s administrative assistant to the general president, Brian Doherty of the Boston Building Trades
Steve Hahn, a Local 12 member who is a talented sculptor created a bust of P.J. Quinlan for the gala. A Boston-area plumber, Quinlan was instrumental in forming the national UA in the late 1800s and served as its first general president. Among other artifacts on display at the event were executive board minutes and dues cards from the earliest days of the Boston union. There were 192 charter members when Local 12 formed in 1890. (Today, there are 1800 members.) The documents revealed that the first meetings were held at the Eagle Hall on Washington Street near the current site of the Millenium Tower.
The officers discussed matters such as collecting donations to help sick members and efforts to recruit new members. “Since the beginning, Local 12 has been about working together for the common good of members,” says Brett. “We’ve withstood the test of time because there’s never been a shortage of people willing to step up and advance our cause.”
A statue of P. J. Quinlan, the U.A.’s first general president and a Boston native, was unveiled at the anniversary event.
Pending Legislation for Medical Gas There is an act before the Commonwealth’s legislators to establish standards for medical gas piping systems. Plumbers have long performed the specialized work, but it has been unregulated. The bill would incorporate medical gas as part of the state’s plumbing code.
“It’s really a health and safety issue,” says Harry Brett, business manager for Plumbers Local 12. The Plumbing Board can’t oversee or regulate anything that’s not part of the code. “It’s very intense work, and should be scrutinized.”
Because of the high concentration of hospitals and medical research facilities in the region, Local 12 has the most number of plumbers trained for medical gas in the country. “We’ve had our plumbers rip out entire medical gas systems that were improperly installed by open shop contractors,” Brett says. “Because we can offer hospitals a trained workforce — and nobody does medial gas training like Local 12 — we’ll do it right. We offer good value.” The medical gas bill was introduced early in 2015 and is making its way through the legislature. PAGE 4
GBPCA President Emphasizes Education and Collaboration Continued from page 1 Instead of goofing off with his friends, Cannistraro has memories of working at the plumbing shop during summer vacations from elementary school. “I remember my Uncle Joe once told me to pull out the weeds around soil pipe fittings. The next morning I woke up, and my arms looked like Popeye’s — all swollen — because the weeds were poison oak. To this day, the vines are still there.” Halfway Around the World and Back to Massachusetts He continued to work at the shop through high school and got a job working at a construction firm during his senior year. But Cannistraro earned a degree in economics at Yale and minored in East Asian Studies and Japanese. After graduation, he scored a job in Japan working on technical journals. “Everyone knew me as one of the Cannistraros. It was hard for me to make a place for myself,” he says. “I thought, all right, I’ll go halfway around the world and find myself.” After a year, Cannistraro returned to Massachusetts. His father invited him to work for the firm. Although it was in his DNA, and he had worked parttime doing odd jobs at the shop while growing up, Cannistraro had no formal training or real experience. He enrolled in plumbing school and got his journeyman’s license. About one year into his tenure, the company’s controller retired. Given Cannistraro’s economics degree, it seemed like it would be a natural fit for him to assume the role. His dad wasn’t entirely sure. Cannistraro, Sr. called the company’s CPA and asked him to interview Joe for the job. The CPA still works for the company. Joe says with a laugh, “To this day he tells me, ‘I can’t believe I had to interview the boss’s son for the position. What was I going to say?’ ” Joe has been
overseeing the company’s finances ever since. “Apparently I must have passed the interview.” It was the early 1990s, and Cannistraro was in his mid-20s. He jumped into the position and focused on accounting and networking systems. He bought the office’s first PCs. Cannistraro’s economics degree hadn’t given him the skills he needed for the new challenges, however. He turned to education and read everything he could get his hands on to teach himself about accounting, software, computer networks, and anything else necessary to modernize the department and accommodate the burgeoning company. For many years, Cannistraro says he was like Slinky Dog: The company kept expanding, and he’d acquire new skills and take on more responsibilities; but he could never quite catch up.
“For the first 20 years or so, I worked in the company, as opposed to working on the company,” says Cannistraro. “I was always in crisis mode, doing everything by default.” Now, as the CFO, he says that he’s made some strategic hires, learned to delegate, and has turned his focus more on ways to improve efficiencies and grow the company. Finding Balance So, what’s it like sharing oversight of a 550-employee company with three siblings? “It’s a constant tightrope we walk,” Joe says. Michael P. Cannistraro is the company’s VP of engineering, David G. Cannistraro is the CEO, and John C. Cannistraro, Jr. is president. The brothers all bring something unique and important to the firm, and they are all able to focus on their areas of expertise. “We give each other room,”
says Joe. “We do pretty well finding the balance.” Balance is what Cannistraro hopes to bring to the GBPCA in his role as president. “I think Harry [Brett] is doing a great job as the Local 12 business manager,” Cannistraro says. He wants to explore ways to work cooperatively with Brett and the union and develop creative ideas that will benefit labor and management. Acknowledging that it takes more than the ability to install pipe to be a successful contractor, he also wants to explore ways to share ideas and join forces with other member contractors. While the economy is doing well and construction is booming now, Cannistraro knows that conditions could turn on a dime. “Collaboration is important,” he says. “And you can achieve collaboration through understanding and [wait for it] — education.”
Innovation and Collaboration on Tap at Cannistraro IT BEGAN AS A ONE-PERSON PLUMBING SHOP IN 1963. Today, under the second-generation leadership of company President John C. Cannistraro, Jr. and his three brothers, J.C. Cannistraro employs over 550 people at its sprawling Watertown headquarters and out in the field. Among the first mechanical contractors to embrace concepts such as pre-fabrication and 3-D modeling software, the company continues to pursue innovation and growth. Already offering plumbing, fire protection, and HVAC services, the multi-disciplinary firm recently added sheet metal fabrication to the mix. In 2014, it merged with Harrington Air Systems, a well-regarded sheet metal shop that dates back to 1947. With its additional capabilities, Cannistraro is able to broaden its scope as a one-stop shop for owners and general contractors. “We can offer staff consistency and
seamless quality management,” says John C. Cannistraro, Jr., president of the familyowned company. Among the many high-profile projects on which Cannistraro has worked are the new Spaulding Rehabilitation Center in Charlestown, the Lunder Building at Mass. General Hospital, and Vertex Pharmaceuticals headquarters on the Boston waterfront. Reflecting the influx and expansion of biotech and pharma companies in the region, Cannistraro has been doing a lot of work in the sector. Continued on page 6
SECOND-GENERATION BROTHERS (L to R) Michael P. Cannistraro, vice president, engineering, Joseph C. Cannistraro, CFO, John C. Cannistraro Jr., president, and David G. Cannistraro, CEO, of the J.C. Cannistraro company. PAGE 5
Lawrence YouthBuild Program Is Win-Win According to Rick Carter, the director of Local 12’s Training Center, the Lawrence project is a great hands-on opportunity for apprentices. “Since they mostly work on rough installations, few of them get to see finish work like this.” Tim Fandel, who was on the job site as well, added that the project also gives the apprentices a chance to see the residential side of the industry. Much of the work handled by Local 12 plumbers is commercial.
LOCAL 12 BUSINESS AGENT TIM FANDEL works with an apprentice at the Lawrence project.
A GROUP OF LOCAL 12 PLUMBERS WAS BUSY AT A JOB SITE RECENTLY. But the group wasn’t typical. It included seven female apprentices. And the job site was anything but typical. It was a new residential home being constructed by YouthBuild Lawrence, a vocational training and educational program for high-risk young adults, ages 16 to 24. By donating the labor, Local 12 was able to help YouthBuild keeps its costs down and maximize its profits from the sale of the home. The funds will be used to support the non-profit organization’s services. Built on a vacant lot, the home will help improve the Lawrence neighborhood. YouthBuild will also help the community by selling the property to first-time homebuyers that meet HUD requirements.
“Local 12 is a wonderful partner,” said April Lyskowski, Director of Alternative Youth Services and YouthBuild for Lawrence Family Development and Education Fund. “They always come through for us.” In addition to working on new home construction for the organization, Local 12 plumbers donated their services to help build a commercial kitchen for as culinary arts program at the program’s education facility. Lyskowski says that she organizes an annual field trip to Local 12’s Training Center so that the students can learn about the apprenticeship program. One YouthBuild graduate became an apprentice as a result of the partnership. The group of women apprentices was organized by Kim Garside, an instructor at the Training Center. It is part of the Local’s efforts to encourage diversity among its members. The apprentices working on the YouthBuild home included Sylvia Roche and Domenique Care of American Plumbing and Heating, Caitlin Mayo and Kerry Carbone of E.M. Duggan, Olivia Levangie of TG Gallagher, Chelsea Boudreau of J.C. Higgins, and Shylanda Johnson of J.C. Cannistraro.
ON THE JOB. Local 12 Training Center Director Rick Carter (L), Business Agent Tim Fandel (R), and Kim Garside, instructor (3rd from left) accompanied seven female apprentices to the Lawrence YouthBuild project.
Plumbers & Gasfitters Boston Local 12 1240 Massachusetts Avenue Boston, MA 02125 617-288-5400
Editorial Board Harry Brett Business Manager, U.A. Local 12 Edward Strickland President, PHCC of Greater Boston George Donahue Business Agent, U.A. Local 12 Hugh Kelleher Executive Director, PHCC of Greater Boston Roger Gill Funds Administrator, U.A. Local 12
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Catching Up with the Cannistraros Continued from page 5 One of the more unusual projects is MIT’s nanotechnology research center for which the company is handling HVAC piping and duct work. “We are using a new delivery method called design assist,” says John Cannistraro, Jr. The firm is working with the project’s architect and engineers early in the planning process and thinking through prefabrication and other construction issues. “It really promotes collaboration and makes for a much better project than the old adversarial ways of bidding then slugging it out later.” Speaking of collaboration, Cannistraro recently converted one of its rooms into a multimedia center for “co-location” meetings. In addition to bringing members of its in-house team together that represent the firm’s four trades, it also invites GCs and trade members outside of the company to participate in the meetings. By sharing information and anticipating the construction process, the co-location concept helps keep lines of communication open, promotes efficiency and teamwork, and allows construction projects to proceed in a timely and orderly manner. It’s one more example of Cannistraro’s leading-edge innovation.