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Governor’s essential service list keeping contractors on the job

By Thor Jourgensen | March 24, 2020

LYNN — Nick Meninno’s company has seven construction jobs around Massachusetts and three lines in Gov. Charlie Baker’s nine-page “COVID-19 essential services” list are keeping those sites open.

“Construction Workers who support the construction, operation, inspection, and maintenance of construction sites and construction projects (including housing construction),” is a category on the long list of essential workers allowed to continue operations as the state works to halt the virus.

The exemption is good news for Meninno Construction Company Inc., and its 50 full-time workers and 50 to 75 subcontractors. But Meninno, the company’s president, is keeping a careful eye on updates from the state and on his workers. 

One employee is home sick and Meninno, a Swampscott resident, has stated clearly to his workers that “any personal situations at home take precedent.”

“We’ve got a great group of employees and we will fill all the gaps,” he said. 

Coronavirus’ impact on the working world is an “either/or” proposition for the construction industry. The business is “99 percent boots on the ground,” in Meninno’s words and builders can’t work at home. Boston and Cambridge have shut down work sites in a bid to halt the coronavirus’ spread. 

Meninno has seven projects underway across the state, including a Woburn mall, apartments in Canton, a housing subdivision in Salem, jobs in Marblehead and Swampscott, and a big project in Ipswich. 

The word went out for job managers to button up work sites Monday morning until the governor’s list clarified the construction industry’s status in terms of essential services. 

“We’ve been following all federal and state regulations,” he said.

DeIulis Brothers Construction has closed down two of its five active construction jobs. Boston’s moratorium closed down a residential project the Lynn company was working on and work on North Shore Medical Center’s Salem campus has been halted due to coronavirus precautions. 

Work on the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Revere Beach maintenance building is almost completed and company Principal Patrick DeIulis said work on St. Mary’s High School and the Boys and Girls Club are 50 percent completed. 

DeIulis said workers and subcontractors are outfitted with protective gear and sanitizer is available. 

“We take safeguards and precautions but a construction site can be pretty chaotic. We will keep working as long as things don’t change. Whatever we are asked to do, we will comply,” he said.

Construction industry organizations are also trying to stay abreast of coronavirus updates and educate their members in the same way other employment sectors are attempting to provide updated information. 

Associated General Contractors (AGC) of Massachusetts in its updates has worked to answer questions, including: “If an employee has COVID-19 symptoms, what should an employer do?”

Meninno took steps paralleling AGC’s advice by sending his sick employee home. The industry organization’s advice includes — “Ask the employee who he/she was in ‘close contact’ with. Inform all employees who were in close contact with the employee to self-quarantine for 14 days, without revealing the identity of the infected employee.”

“Employers should communicate with their workforce early and often.  If someone tests positive, inform employees without revealing the identity of the infected employee. Communicate as well with those who may have been in ‘close contact’ with the infected employee.”

Emma Follansbee, associate attorney with the law firm, Mintz, provided the AGC guidelines.

Meninno said he will do his best to keep his workers paid while they are on the job or if job sites eventually get closed. He knows coronavirus is “a fluid situation” for businesses. He also knows there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

“There is no doubt we will rebound from this and be stronger,” he said.