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Friday, November 25, 2022

Brown pledges to hire union labor for major construction

Brown commits to all-union labor, Building Futures support on construction projects over $25 million

Brown University

Through a new landmark agreement with the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council and Building Futures, Brown University has marked a milestone in its longstanding commitment to ensuring that campus development serves as a regional economic engine and career catalyst for local workers.

During a signing ceremony at Brown on Monday, Nov. 14, University President Christina H. Paxson joined leaders from RIBCTC and Building Futures in signing a five-year memorandum of understanding that formally commits Brown to employing all-union labor for all campus construction projects over $25 million. This builds on a strong history of engaging union labor for Brown capital projects.

The agreement also extends the University’s existing goal of ensuring that at least 15% of labor hours worked to construct those projects are performed by graduates of Building Futures. Paxson said the formal project labor agreement deepens Brown’s commitment to the Rhode Island building trades by supporting an array of well-paying union jobs as well as training for local residents looking to build careers in construction.

“As Brown continues to invest in spaces for cutting-edge research, dynamic residential life and innovative teaching and learning, we rely on our longstanding partnerships with the talented tradespeople of Providence and Rhode Island to advance our physical campus and support Brown’s mission,” Paxson said. “This new agreement formalizes Brown’s commitment, and we look forward to building on our history of support for career development among construction laborers and seeing even more local residents thrive and succeed.”

The RIBCTC represents 16 trade unions and approximately 10,000 construction workers, and advocates for safe working conditions, training opportunities and fair wages for Rhode Island workers in construction trades. Building Futures is a Providence-based nonprofit apprenticeship program that helps low-income workers build skills and move into fruitful construction careers.

RIBCTC President Michael Sabitoni said Brown’s longstanding support of the construction trades has had “a massive impact on the economy and on people’s lives.” He views the new project labor agreement as a testament to the University’s existing dedication and future commitment to economic opportunity for Rhode Islanders.

“Brown has impacted so many people’s lives and brought them into the middle class, not just by creating jobs, but by building careers,” Sabitoni said. “The fact that Brown is memorializing that commitment to the community with this labor agreement is larger than life for the men and women who work on capital projects on campus.”

Building on a track record of support for local construction industry

Brown’s partnership with RIBCTC and Building Futures dates back more than 15 years, and since 2012, a Building Futures workforce agreement has been embedded in labor contracts for every Brown construction or major renovation project over $5 million. Those partnerships have translated into 34 capital projects fueled by union labor on which 128 Building Futures pre-apprenticeship program graduates have logged over 465,000 hours employed as construction trade apprentices and laid the foundation for their careers.

Building Futures Executive Director Andrew Cortés said the new memorandum of understanding builds on the success of the University’s longstanding partnership with Building Futures and will accelerate future growth and training for laborers on capital projects on Brown’s campus and beyond.

“As one of our first institutional partners, Brown has been absolutely essential for us throughout our history,” Cortés said. “This agreement allows us to scale up to meet future demand and enroll more people from disadvantaged communities throughout Providence to help start their careers, and through apprenticeship, become the skilled journey workers needed in Rhode Island.”

Michael Guglielmo, Brown’s vice president for facilities management, said that in addition to supporting the local economy through employment and purchasing, Brown’s support of workforce development for the state’s construction workers is increasingly critical as its construction labor force ages, leading to an ever-shrinking pool of qualified tradespeople who are available to work on major projects.

“This project labor agreement demonstrates that Brown is investing in the pipeline of local workers while also providing a workplace through our capital projects,” Guglielmo said. “Having a qualified workforce to build state-of-the-art facilities is essential. If not, Brown and other local organizations would have to go outside of Providence and outside of Rhode Island to construct new buildings.”

In-progress projects on campus include the Brook Street Residence Hall project and the state-of-the-art Lindemann Performing Arts Center, both of which are expected to open in Fall 2023. The Lindemann project alone has employed up to 200 union trade workers daily since 2018, including 24 Building Futures pre-apprenticeship program graduates now employed as apprentices in various trades — the largest number on a site to date — all of whom are helping to create a world-class arts and performance center for students, scholars, artists and community members. That bustling construction site was the backdrop for Monday’s signing ceremony, held in the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts, which overlooks the site.

“Construction careers are started and maintained on Brown University’s campus,” Sabitoni said. “Brown has been one of the largest clients of the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council, and that commitment to the community and to the men and women that work on these projects should be commended.”

Making an economic impact individually and statewide

Over the last 20 years, Brown has executed individual labor agreements for more than $350 million in complex development projects, which have employed thousands of skilled union-member tradespeople, according to the memorandum of understanding. The new five-year project labor agreement further solidifies Brown’s commitment while helping to create efficiencies by removing the time required to create standalone agreements for each new project.

“By not sitting down for each project over $25 million and negotiating new terms, the agreement will help with timely completion of construction projects within budget,” Guglielmo said. “Perhaps most importantly, the agreement ties in the Building Futures program so we’re providing younger qualified individuals opportunities to enter the construction workforce.”

We want to memorialize who we are and what we do as the stakeholders affecting so many young people’s lives, both in higher education, but also the amount of economic activity that Brown University gives to the community through its vendors as well as what it does via the construction activity.In recognition of Brown’s longstanding commitment to the organization, Building Futures will present the University with its inaugural Impact via Apprenticeship Award during the organization’s 15th anniversary celebration on Thursday, Nov. 17. The event is timed to coincide with National Apprenticeship Week, and the award recognizes the University for supporting “hundreds of Rhode Islanders to launch rewarding careers while helping to develop Rhode Island’s construction workforce,” according to Building Futures’ announcement.

“Brown University has been a leader in helping demonstrate to other institutions why apprenticeship utilization is important for the industry,” Cortés said. “By doing so, Brown has paved the way for placing community residents on projects well beyond Brown.”

When Paxson, Sabitoni and Cortés signed the new memorandum of understanding on Nov. 14, it underscored the University’s campus-wide commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, Guglielmo noted.

“Our core values of diversity and inclusion are embedded within the decision to pursue this agreement,” Guglielmo said. “We’re intentional about making sure that women and workers from historically underrepresented groups have a pathway in the construction industry to living wages, career opportunities and permanent employment.”

Cortés noted that 75% of Building Futures apprentices are people of color, and 100% of participants have low incomes upon program entry.

“It really goes to show that when Brown creates opportunities, it has a ripple effect for the community and residents beyond the campus’s borders,” Cortés said. “I cannot overstate the impact that our partnership with Brown has had across the state — and this agreement is a continuation and celebration of that.