New England Carpenter is the Voice of Labor Via Local Political Office

It’s not hard to get a feel for the kind of guy Jeff Donahue is: He’s a hardworking carpenter and he’s a hometown politician. He’s successful at both, perhaps because of his conviction that, if something needs to be done, don’t rely on someone else - get in there and do it.

The frame-to-finish carpenter and steward is a member of Local 218, part of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, holding elected positions in both. He’s also in his fourth term as City Councilor and current Council president of Malden, Massachusetts, a large, diverse metro Boston suburban city.

Donahue has established himself as not only the voice of organized labor, but also a resource of pure common sense. In fact, his initial plunge into politics was based on an issue that needlessly threatened his neighborhood. 

“Everyone ends up at the trigger at some point in their life, and this was my turn: They were trying to turn the neighborhood into an historic district, which came with all kinds of conditions. If you couldn’t afford to live by those rules, it could mean losing your home,” he explains.

“There were 92 properties on the list; and 89 were against it. The current councilman was for it. He was a 20-year incumbent, but I beat him by three votes.” 

Donahue’s public service has had a direct influence on more than $1 billion of public and private development. 

He steered a resident hiring ordinance for a multi-school project worth more than $110 million, a plan that would later evolve into a resident hiring ordinance adopted on all public projects in the City. He also was a key player in helping the local YMCA and Massachusetts Department of Education to build new facilities. In both cases, union contractors won the work, but not before Donahue leveraged the law.

For the YMCA, a non-union contractor initially was chosen for the job, but Donahue learned that the Housing Authority would operate a day care facility in the building. Believing that the inclusion of public funds should have triggered public bid/prevailing wage laws, Jeff instructed the city solicitor to ask the office of Housing and Urban Development for a written opinion.

The ruling: The Davis/Bacon Act did apply, and the project had to be publicly bid. A union contractor won the bid.

“I’m committed to doing the homework - you can’t let things fly by,” he said. “We can sit at home and rest on our laurels and hope, or we can get out there, find out about the job and educate people on how it can benefit the local economy.”

Donahue says he’d welcome the chance to mentor other UBC members about local political activism.

“The majority want to whistle through the graveyard, but they need to get involved to help get work. We need work all the time, and if we’re not continually involved and taking a stand, then we’re losing it. I would take that member and show him how to sniff out what’s going on in his area. It’s not rocket science. It’s just knowing where to go for the information. It’s there for the taking.”

His public service life has also provided Donahue with personal development lessons. “Being in office showed me how to slow down, take a step back, and look at everything. When I was younger, I was reactionary and quick with the responses, but now I see that being calm and looking at the whole issue is more effective.”
“We can sit at home and rest on our laurels and hope, or we can get out there, find out about the job and educate people on how it can benefit the local economy.”