By Jack Lister
As a retired Somerville resident, I have seen this city go through many changes and unfortunately not always for the better when it comes to shared economic prosperity. I’m proud that we are an inclusive and inviting city, at one time where everyone had a chance to make it. But city leaders are taking our beloved home in the wrong direction when it comes to economic fairness for our working families.
When I was a young union construction worker raising my family here in Somerville, I could count on the fact that I would make a good wage—enough to support a family, buy a home, and stay in the city I love. But now I see the city allowing out-of-town developers to use outside non-union labor, paying well below community standard wages and benefits, cutting corners on safety, and making it harder for workers to afford to live in Somerville.
With the amount of construction work happening in our city, Somerville residents should be able to work in Somerville, and it’s a shame our neighbors have to leave Somerville to find good jobs in construction.
The lost opportunity of Assembly Row is a tragedy for our city. Those could have been good construction jobs to help families stay in Somerville. But they weren’t. They were given to out-of-state contractors, many with bad track records who exploited workers and worsened our city’s housing crisis; even as the out-of-state developers of Assembly Row made a fortune. Now, union construction workers say they worry it will be the same story in Union Square.
It’s a disgrace if we can’t hang on to the values that make Somerville great—diversity and opportunity for all. If we want to keep racial and economic diversity, we’ve got to make sure that people can afford to stay here. That means affordable housing and jobs with high enough wages to support a family. We need both if we are going to live up to our reputation as a progressive city.
Our support of local working families must include the public service workers who keep our city running, who keep us safe and who educate our children. Our police, firefighters, school nurses and librarians have no contract right now, which means they haven’t had a raise in years. Meanwhile rents, health care and other costs keep skyrocketing.
I’m a proud voter, and when I go to the polls, I expect my elected local leaders to represent my interests, and those of my neighbors. But City Hall has failed to hold developers accountable to pay fair community standard wages and benefits, and adhere to safety standards. Instead, the city has given tax breaks to the very companies that are cashing in on our community.
That’s not how I want my taxpayer money spent. I want it to be spent to uplift our public service workers and their families. I want my tax money used to uphold the values of an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay from an honest company, that will end up being reinvested right here in Somerville.
We can enact policies that promote responsible development and they invest in affordable housing. We can have both, if our local leaders have the will to change course and do the right thing. No more false choice that it has to be one or the other.
Here are some simple suggestions: No more sweetheart deals to developers. No more turning a blind eye to workers’ rights. Ensure developers make strong commitments to affordable housing and strong commitments to workers.
Because right now, City Hall is taking working people for granted and trying to pit us against one another. We’re not falling for it.
Jack Lister is a retired union construction worker, Somerville resident, and an active member of Somerville Stands Together, a new coalition advocating for a truly progressive Somerville that includes respect for workers and affordable housing. More at SomervilleStandsTogether.com.