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Will city and state tax credits be used to exploit vulnerable workers at the 78 Fountain St project?



78 Fountain St

Callahan Construction Managers has a long and detailed history of subcontracting work to companies accused of safety hazards, wage theft, project delays and neighbor complaints, allege local labor leaders and worker advocates. This is the company on track to be awarded a contract by Cornish Associates and Nordblom Development Company to build a project in downtown Providence, subsidized with nearly $20 million in state and city tax breaks.

The project, at 78 Fountain St, is “a 6-story mixed-use development by the intersection of Clemence Street and Fountain Street in downtown Providence.” 78 Fountain St is currently the location of a cash only parking lot.

ArnoldBuffChace is the founder and managing partner of Cornish Associates, the developer and manager of the ten buildings that make up the Westminster Street Lofts in downtown Providence. Between the Providence City Council and the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, Chace’s new project at 78 Fountain St has been granted nearly $20 million in tax incentives. (See here and here). Cornish Associates did not respond to a request for comment as of this writing.

Callahan Construction Managers hasn’t worked much in Rhode Island since they helped build the Walmart near the train station in North Kingstown in 2011. The mostly build in Massachusetts. The website details a long history of misconduct by companies Callahan subcontracts with, including wage theft. Should Callahan Construction Managers be judged by the actions of its subcontractors? answers,

“Callahan is a general contractor with few direct employees of their own. Therefore, the practices of its regular subcontractors define Callahan’s business model. By lengthening the employee chain, Callahan attempts to distance itself from the situation, but Callahan is ultimately responsible for the consequences of choosing dangerous, illegal and unethical subcontractors. While not all of these actions took place on a Callahan-managed job site, all are attributable to regular Callahan subcontractors.”

A letter, (see below) signed by Benjamin Branchaud and Michael Holmes of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, Michael Araujo of Rhode Island Jobs With Justice and Raul Figueroa of Fuerza Laboral has been sent to a list of politicians, boards and media, including Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation and the Providence City Council.

“It is incredibly disappointing that Buff Chase has reached into the barrel of construction companies and pulled Callahan right from the very bottom,” said Ben Branchaud of the Carpenters. “It doesn’t seem to matter to Callahan that the subcontractors they hire constantly cheat wage laws and undermine the entire industry, and it’s disappointing that Buff Chace doesn’t seem to care, either.”

“Callahan is the poster child for how a company shouldn’t behave,” writes Raul Figueroa. “This company, through the use of subcontractors, has taken advantage of immigrant workers and refuses to assume responsibility for its actions.”

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“Buff has no problem using his tax-paying neighbors’ money to fund his project but has no intention of putting those same neighbors to work,” said Michael Holmes of the Carpenters. “Instead, qualified, local workers are going to sit on the sidelines of a local job, watching out-of-state vans roll up every day and taking food off their tables.

“The most difficult part, for me, is that I know Buff and his entire team love Providence,” said Branchaud. “This is just a terrible way to show it.”

Here’s a petition demanding labor accountability for projects that receive tax credits and public support:

Here’s the letter:

About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.