Keller at Large
Keller: Pity the poor millennials
On this week’s Keller at Large, Jon Keller warns Dems that they take millennials for granted at their own peril: “They were key to getting President Biden elected, but nearly 60 percent disapprove of his work now. And even Massachusetts Democrats, snug in their seemingly competition-free cocoon, might want to be a bit more wary of their suspicion.”
Today | Department of Revenue is due to report state tax collections for the month of March.
9 a.m. | Attorney General Maura Healey, Education Commissioner Jeff Riley, MIAA Executive Director Robert Baldwin and others host a virtual dialogue about preventing hate and bias in school athletics.
9 a.m. | Gov. Charlie Baker and Treasurer Deb Goldberg speak by phone. The two typically meet or talk at least once a month.
11 a.m. | A funeral at St. Cecilia’s Church is Leominster is held for Marine Corps Capt. Ross Reynolds, who died last month after his Osprey crashed during a training exercise in Norway.
1 p.m. | Health Care for All and Sen. Sal DiDomenico, Rep. David Rogers and the Children’s Health Access Coalition host a virtual briefing on legislation (S 762) that would expand MassHealth coverage to children who are not eligible for it solely because of their immigration status.
2:30 p.m. | Gov. Baker and House and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy celebrate the demolition and remediation of a site that will become the new Benjamin Franklin Cummings Institute of Technology campus in Boston.
What do they want? A union. When do they want it? Now, of course.
Senate staffers announced last night that they had delivered a letter to Senate President Karen Spilka last Thursday requesting that she voluntary recognize their new bargaining unit, the Massachusetts State House Employee Union. If they’re successfully, it would be just the second group of state legislative staff to unionize after Oregon.
The staffers, represented by IBEW Local 2222, said they had signed union cards from well over half of all Senate employees, and are looking to negotiate for “fair and consistent pay grades across Senate offices.” They said they were also motivated by a desire for health insurance that begins on the first day of employment and “a safe workplace free from discrimination and sexual harassment.“
“State House staff are the unseen workforce that keeps our Legislature running,” said Steve Smith, an organizer with IBEW.
The complaints over inconsistent job descriptions and pay scales are not new, and Spilka even commissioned a review by the National Conference of State Legislatures in 2020 of the Senate pay and job classification structure, which was delivered in February.
In a statement Monday night, Spilka said she had asked legal counsel to review the staffers’ request and was committed to making the Senate a “fairer and more equitable workplace.”
The Boston Globe’s Samantha Gross, however, reports that staffers could face legal hurdles to unionization. If Spilka refuses to recognize the union, IBEW officials say they’re prepared to appeal to the Division of Labor and seek legislation, if necessary. An organizing effort is also underway in the House, union officials said.
Some senators were already voicing their support, including gubernatorial candidate Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz: “It’s time for them to have a seat at the bargaining table to advocate for fair wages, benefits, and dignity in the workplace.”
Good Tuesday morning,
I’m not sure if I’m more excited that Opening Day is less than 48 hours away, or this bit of news that Polar’s summer seltzer flavors are out. But I digress….
Speaking of summer, Cape Cod hospitality businesses are beginning to open for the season, but to meet their full potential they’re going to need workers. That’s where the Biden administration comes in.
The Department of Homeland Security announced last week that it would make available 35,000 additional H-2B visas for the summer to help bring foreign workers to places like the Cape for seasonal jobs at restaurants and hotels.
“It still won’t meet demand, but it’s a tremendous shot in the arm,” U.S. Rep. William Keating told MASSterList in an interview.
Keating, a Bourne Democrat who represents the South Shore, Cape and islands, said it’s particularly important that the Biden administration set aside 23,500 of the new visas for returning workers, with the balance reserved for nationals of Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
“These are people who have come here and worked before, many for the same restaurants,” Keating said. “It’s a very short season and restaurants and hotels have to train people. They can spend the first three or four weeks training new people.”
Keating has been working on the visa issue for some time, and said it has helped that there are people in the Biden administration, including Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and the president himself, who visit the region frequently and understand its economy. Biden, of course, is a repeat visitor to Nantucket, though he tends to travel there in the off-season around Thanksgiving.
The H-2B visa program for non-agriculture workers allows business to sponsor foreign workers for up to six month. The program is typically capped at 66,000 visas for the year, which are released in two batches. This winter the Biden administration increased the cap by 20,000.
WBUR’s Amanda Beland talked with some Cape business owners for a story over the weekend about the difficulties they face finding workers and the choices their being forced to make. The workforce on the Cape typically swells by more than 20,000 over the summer, but Keating said reduced operating hours due to labor shortages not only hurts tourism, but the year-round residents who work in these establishments.
Paul Niedzwiecki, CEO of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, said before the pandemic Cape Cod used about 2,500 H-2B visas (and another 2,500 J-1 student visas), but that number dropped below 1,000 each of the last two years. “The increase in available visas is substantial but it’s impossible to predict what this means for the upcoming summer season because the final award of the visas is based on a lottery system,” Niedzwiecki said in an email.
Keating said he thinks Massachusetts will get a “disproportionate share” of the new visas because of the nature of its seasonal economy. And Cape Cod businesses could use the help.
Aftershocks from Gov’t Center garage collapse could linger
Investigations into the cause of the fatal Government Center garage collapse are ongoing, but the Globe’s Catherine Carlock reports that the damage done might be more than structural. The incident has the potential to not only delay what is supposed to be a transformational project for downtown Boston, but could also lead to spiraling costs for developers with economic consequences.
“Dubbed Bulfinch Crossing, the project is a decadelong effort to transform the hulking concrete garage into a complex of soaring towers and new lab space, and in the process remake a key juncture of downtown Boston…,” Carlock writes. “But just as the potential benefits are massive, so too is the potential for tragedy to prove economically devastating, as delays and other unexpected financial hits mount.”
Wu talks taking on her loudest critics
She’s moved to block protesters from disrupting her neighborhood first thing in the morning, and gone toe-to-toe with North End restaurant owners over outdoor dining. Rather than easing into the job and getting her footing, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu has courted controversy at times by taking on her fiercest critics on their turf – social media. CommonWealth Magazine’s Michael Jonas talked to Wu about her approach in the latest Codcast.
“We should disagree. We should have open conversation. We should protest and demonstrate. Boston is a home of that activism. But there need to be limits, and that doesn’t mean that whenever, wherever people have the right to be in everyone’s faces all the time,” Wu said.
Baker administration will study replacing troubled Springfield courthouse
The Baker administration says it will conduct a feasibility study to look for potential sites for a new court facility in Springfield even as work to remediate mold and other safety issues at the Roderick Ireland Courthouse continues, Jim Kinney of the Springfield Republican reports. The state’s trial court earlier recommended $91 million in fixes to the existing court building after saying it could not find a suitable site for a new facility.
Now we know where she’s going…
……Days after Gov. Charlie Baker announced that his longtime chief of staff Kristen Lepore would be leaving the administration on April 15, Beth Israel Lahey Health announced it had created a new position for the former state budget chief and Associated Industries of Massachusetts executive.
Lepore will join the health care provider group on May 2 as executive vice president and chief administrative officer, a position from which she will oversee human resources, information technology, marketing and communications.
Clearing the air on criminal justice reform
Judiciary Committee Co-Chair Michael Day wrote an accusatory letter to the Baker administration a little over three weeks ago questioning the Republican administration’s commitment to implementing key aspects of the state’s 2018 criminal justice reform law and the 2020 policing reform law. Day, a Stoneham Democrat, identified what he saw as “disturbing instances of noncompliance” with the laws, including what he described as a policy in state prisons designed to skirt protections for inmates held in solitary confinement.
Public Safety Secretary Terrence Reidy responded in turn on Tuesday with a detailed rebuttal.
“From claiming certain regulations were not promulgated when in fact they were several months ago, to ascribing the actions of wholly independent government agencies to the Administration, the letter made several inaccurate claims and this is a welcome opportunity to clear those matters up and reiterate, citing publicly available data, exactly how these important laws are being implemented,” an EOPSS spokesperson said in a statement to MASSterList.
CommonWealth Magazine’s Shira Schoenberg walks through more details of Reidy’s letter.
State business still in ‘optimistic territory,’ index shows
Confidence among Bay State businesses continues to climb modestly but has cooled some over the past year, according to the latest Business Confidence Index from the Associated Industries of Massachusetts. Christian Wade in the Gloucester Times writes more about the A.I.M. index.
But, Katherine Hamilton of the Worcester Business Journal, reports confidence among Central Mass. businesses slipped from last month and fallen below the state average after trending higher for most of the past several months.
The Fauci legend grows
Dr. Anthony Fauci, both the hero and the villain of the COVID-19 pandemic, depending on your perspective, will be immortalized on the campus of Holy Cross with the Worcester college planning to name a science center after the infectious disease specialist, the Globe’s Travis Anderson reports.
Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical advisor to the president, may be a New York City native, but he’s also a 1962 graduate of Holy Cross. President Vincent Rougeau announced Monday that the school would name its Integrated Science Complex after the public health leader.
The rent is too damn high
Who said it couldn’t get much worse? Everyone knows the cost of housing around these parts is out of control, but it might be getting even worse. GBH’s Jake Freudberg writes that “median rents for one-bedroom apartments in Melrose, Cambridge, Waltham and Framingham are up by at least 30 percent compared to last year, with average increases ranging from $550 to $650 more each month…” Freudberg sites a report from the rental listing website Zumper, which also found median one-bedroom rents in Boston up 27 percent.
“The report puts numbers to what everyone has been feeling,” said Rachel Heller, chief executive officer of the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association. “Rent and home prices are rising far faster than incomes, and people across income levels are struggling.”
Looking for a community where prices are going in the other direction. Try Lawrence, Zumper found.
Swiss tech company looking to grow in Boston
Swiss tech company Nexthink is moving into a new Boston headquarters on Boylston Street and it’s CEO Pedro Bados is already talking about expansion, the Boston Business Journal reports. The IT software provider is more than doubling its physical footprint with its new 15,127-square-foot office space, but Bados told the BBJ there is room to grow and the company has plans to double its 80-person headcount in Boston within the next few years.
First-ever Lowell diversity officer resigns, citing roadblocks
Ferdousi Faraque, Lowell’s first diversity, equity and inclusion officer, has resigned her post, saying key partners in City Hall have put up roadblocks to her efforts to develop a more inclusive workplace. Jacob Vitali of the Sun reports Faraque also cited what she saw as a snub from incoming City Manager Tom Golden, who did not refer to her by name during his interview for the post.
Fire rips through Fifield Street three-decker
Two Boston firefighters were hospitalized with minor burns and 17 residents were displaced after a fire tore through a Dorchester three-decker on Monday. The Herald’s Rick Sobey has more details.
Masks in final semester at Holyoke CC
Holyoke Community College students have several more weeks of masking ahead of them after the school administration said Monday it would lift the campus COVID-19 mask mandate on May 20 at the end of the spring semester. Summer classes start May 24, but those wrapping up their studies can look forward to less restricted graduation as the college plans its first in-person graduation since 2019 on June 4 at the MassMutual Center in Springfield.
Not yet: Correia scores seventh delay in reporting to prison
Former Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia has won a seventh delay to the start of his federal prison sentence, with a judge granting him a nearly three-week hiatus to see if a higher court will take up his appeal, Ted Nesi and Tim White of WPRI report.
Meanwhile, the Item’s Allysha Dunnigan reports Lynnfield resident John Wilson is asking a judge for the same deal – to remain out of prison until his appeal of what has been the harshest sentence to date in the Varsity Blues college admission scandal can be heard.
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