Polar Park, the new stadium for Minor League Baseball’s Worcester Red Sox, is an IBEW Code of Excellence project that’s being built by a diverse group of members from Worcester, Mass., Local 96 and Boston Local 103.
     Credit: Lynne Damianos, ©2020 Damianos Photography

A strategic partnership between two IBEW locals in Massachusetts helped union electricians win work on a minor league baseball stadium while also promoting the brotherhood’s longstanding values of diversity and excellence.

Worcester, Mass., Local 96 apprentice Esmerelda Saez installs a telephone/data conduit at the new Polar Park baseball stadium.
Credit: Lynne Damianos, ©2020 Damianos Photography

“We got this very high-profile job thanks to a joint effort, a regional approach, with Boston Local 103,” said Worcester, Mass., Local 96 Business Manager Thomas Maloney. The job is Polar Park, the 10,000-seat new home of the Worcester Red Sox. “It’s a key component in the redevelopment of our home city’s Canal District.”

As a result, up to 60 IBEW members from both locals were hard at work installing the electrical and telecommunications systems on the project in recent months, with the number varying based on workload and scheduling demands. Maloney also noted with pride that when the new ballpark opens in April, it will have been built with a significant percentage of women and minority electrical workers, some-thing that falls in direct alignment with the goals of the union’s “IBEW Strong” equity and inclusion initiative.

“We have a lot of diversity on this job,” Maloney said, noting that he and Local 103 Business Manager Lou Antonellis have always aggressively worked toward increasing the number of veterans, women and people of color into the ranks of both local unions. “We want to make sure every-one has an opportunity,” he said.

“IBEW Strong helps our union represent the interests of every single one of our members, no exceptions,” said Inter-national President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “It’s a natural outgrowth of what this union has stood for since its beginning, making sure that no one who joins our ranks ever feels less important than any-one else, for any reason.”

The Worcester Red Sox—or WooSox, for short—are a Triple-A affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox. Since the 1970s, the affiliate had been based in Pawtucket, R.I., and in recent years, the team’s owners explored several scenarios aimed at keeping the team playing there. When none proved satisfactory, in 2018 the owners announced that they would be moving the team 35 miles north to a brand-new ballpark in Worcester.

But it was by no means a lock that electrical work on the new stadium would go to the IBEW, Antonellis said. “Public works projects in Massachusetts are not guaranteed to be union projects,” he said. “We compete with nonunion contractors a lot, especially outside of Boston.”

So, when the team’s move and new stadium were announced, Maloney said, “we immediately started lobbying City Hall. We wanted that work.”

“We had to win it,” Antonellis added, “to get that IBEW flag planted in Worcester.”

Worcester, Mass.-based Polar Beverages bought the naming rights to the new home of the minor-league Worcester Red Sox. Stadium rendering courtesy of the Worcester Red Sox.

Combining both locals’ resources ultimately helped the IBEW gain the work, although despite the two business managers’ best efforts, the job failed to achieve a project labor agreement. Nevertheless, it was still “a great, hard-fought win for the union,” Antonellis said, “as well as a huge shot in the arm for the city.”

In the summer of 2019, construction began on Polar Park (Worcester-based Polar Beverages bought the naming rights to the new stadium) and continued steadily, even through a harsh but entirely normal mid-Massachusetts winter.

“Our electricians didn’t get on site until March, though,” said Maloney— right as the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. On March 10, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency, and work on the stadium took a six-week pause.

When construction on Polar Park resumed, new safety protocols and guidelines encouraged workers to wear PPE and practice social distancing on the job. Since then, IBEW electricians have been safely installing Polar Park’s electrical systems, including primary power and distribution, an emergency backup generator, telecommunications and audio-visual systems, scoreboards and fire alarms.

Maloney also noted that Polar Park is a Code of Excellence project. The Code represents the IBEW’s commitment that its union electrical workers will perform the highest quality work using superior skills and training and exercising industry-leading safe work practices.

“Our electrical workers always give 100% effort to deliver on the promise of productivity and safety,” he said. “The Code puts that promise in writing, assuring our employers that our highly trained men and women will perform at their highest levels.”

Maloney said the project continued to run just ahead of schedule, with Polar Park set to be ready to accommodate up to 10,000 fans—if COVID-19 rules permit it—for the WooSox’s scheduled opening day in April. Maloney expects a surge in hiring, and over-time, as that day approaches.

“Central Massachusetts is growing, and we’re excited to be a part of that growth,” he said.