WILMINGTON – Derek Briere lives in and manages a 12-step sober house for men. In the spring of 2019, Briere, a member of Laborers’ International Local 429, was working on a job site in Wilmington, “severely hungover and taking unprescribed Percocets” when his superintendent announced a guest speaker was there to talk to the crew about addiction and treatment.
The speaker, Briere recalled Wednesday, was from the Massachusetts Laborers’ LEAN (Laborers Escaping Addiction Now) program.
“He pressed us hard with the fact that we owed it to our families, to our union, and most importantly to ourselves to get better and not die from this disease,” Briere said.
Briere said he left work that day with three things — hope, a pathway out of addiction and the speaker’s business card — and within two weeks was enrolled in a treatment center in New Hampshire.
He shared his story at a virtual event highlighting the launch of the Massachusetts Building Trades Recovery Council, which aims to bring together various union initiatives to help people struggling with addiction, support their recovery, and reduce stigma.
The council’s website lists a weekly schedule of recovery meetings open to building trades union members and dependents. It also provides contact information for specific unions’ recovery leaders and links to other resources.
A Laborers’ Union billboard truck plans to travel to busy job sites across Boston on Wednesday, and highway billboards will also be going up, to inform union members of the site and ways they can connect with help, said Massachusetts Building Trades Council President Frank Callahan.
U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, a former head of the Boston Building Trades Council who has been open about his recovery from alcoholism, said he was first able to access treatment because he had “good benefits from working construction projects in Boston.”
Walsh, who joined the Biden administration in March, said one issue he hopes to pursue in his new role “is strengthening our enforcement of parity in mental health/substance use coverage in health insurances.”
He said the building trades’ new initiative “understands that recovery requires resources, recovery happens in the community, person-to-person.”
“Many of the folks that helped me stay sober and get sober at the very beginning were building trade members. I’d see them at meetings and they’d be there to support me and be there to give me the advice and help I needed to stay on this journey of recovery,” he said. “I’m able to be here as United States secretary of labor because of that support I got. I learned to live my life a day at a time, so whether it was as a state representative or mayor of Boston or secretary of labor or just as a person, having that support to live a day at a time is really important.”
Jillian Higgins, a fourth-year electrical apprentice in IBEW Local 103 who said she has been sober for nearly five years, said she is a “proud member” of her local’s sobriety group, which meets on Sunday mornings. Those gatherings, she said, involve “some of the funniest and wisest people I know who are there to help others find solutions and freedom.”
“This isn’t some gimmick,” Higgins said. “It’s people in recovery helping other people find recovery because that’s what we do. This is life and death.”