Thousands of union construction workers stepped away from their job sites this week amid fears of being exposed to the novel coronavirus.

Members of the North Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters did not show up for work Monday morning at major construction projects across Massachusetts after union officials issued a stay-at-home order.

"As the number of COVID-19 confirmed cases and deaths has dramatically increased, it has become apparent that working on construction sites in Massachusetts is abnormally dangerous," wrote Thomas Flynn, executive secretary-treasurer of the carpenters' union.

The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 35 followed suit, issuing a stay-at-home order for its members starting today. In letters to their members, the business managers of both unions said that current working conditions are not safe and do not allow for proper social distancing as the coronavirus continues to spread.

The action is in defiance of Governor Charlie Baker’s decision to move ahead with major construction projects amid the pandemic. Only days ago, the Massachusetts Building Trades Council, which represents 75,000 members across the trades, warned Baker that he should shut down all but emergency work for the rest of April.

Baker in March closed all "non-essential businesses" across the state but made an exception for certain construction projects, including new housing and infrastructure work.

While many construction projects have now come to a halt, the union is making an exception for critical infrastructure, including the new ICU unit at St. Luke's Hospital in New Bedford that is now under construction, according to an industry publication. 

Construction of the new Durfee High School in Fall River has stopped as a result of the walk-off, the Herald-News is reporting.

Enter your number to get our free mobile app