Stop-work orders issued at Groton water treatment plan

Groton — With the issuance last week of stop-work orders for two subcontractors working on the town's water treatment plant, local representatives of organized labor saw an opportunity to advocate for local jobs and responsible contracting.

Paul Oates, a spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Labor, confirmed that the department on Thursday issued stop-work orders to the Massachusetts-based Callahan & Montalto Site Construction and to the Texas-based Malden Steel.

On Monday, he said the stop-work order for Callahan & Montalto had been lifted, and that Malden will be replaced with another subcontractor.

The stop-work orders were issued because the companies didn’t have Connecticut workers’ compensation, Oates said. Malden Steel also was not a registered business in the state. The stop-work orders collectively affected 12 employees.

These two companies have been among the subcontractors working on the $54 million renovation of the water treatment plant, located off Poquonnock Road across from South Road. Groton Utilities hired R.H. White Construction Co., which it said was the low bidder, as the general contractor.

R.H. White then hired subcontractors, of which Chief Operating Officer Jim McCarthy said there are approximately six. Oates said that Department of Labor inspectors interviewed five companies while on-site Thursday.

The two stop-work orders won’t impact the cost or timeline of the project, McCarthy said. He noted that the stop-work orders were based on paperwork issues, and that Callahan & Montalto had the wrong certificate.

When stop-work orders are issued, red notices are placed at the construction site, and word can travel fast. On Friday afternoon, several members of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters Local 326 and International Union of Operating Engineers Local 478 organized a small demonstration near the construction site. They put up a sign reading, “Are lawbreaking contractors working here now?”

Municipalities always talk about wanting the lowest responsible bidder, and “we want a quality contractor who abides by the law and is competitive,” carpenters’ union organizer David Jarvis explained to The Day afterward.

Some of the demonstrators and their supporters also took issue with work being done by out-of-state companies.

“Obviously we would like to see union workers on the job, but if nothing else, Connecticut workers,” said Michael Gates, an organizer for the operating engineers. Gates said he had a man at the demonstration who lives a quarter-mile from the water treatment plant but hasn’t had a job since December.

Keith Brothers, president of the Norwich-New London Building Trades Council, expressed a similar view. He said it’s “disheartening” that members out of work in the area are seeing Massachusetts and Texas license plates when they’re dropping their kids off to school.

“The state of Connecticut gives money to the town and the city of Groton, and they in turn spend it on contractors out of state, which is kind of ridiculous,” Brothers said.

He and Gates want to use the recent stop-work orders as ammunition to try to get project-labor agreements on the upcoming school building projects in Groton.

McCarthy, of R.H. White, responded to Friday’s demonstration by saying, “I think they, as union reps, have the right to recommend that union labor be used on the job. We have subcontractors on the job, some are union and some are open shop, so there’s no discrimination.”

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