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Meetings of the Minds

Korey Bell says Vistage has acted like a board of directors

Korey Bell says Vistage has acted like a board of directors for small companies who don’t have such a body, and has helped with some important issues.

 

Korey Bell had an issue.

It hasn’t been entirely resolved, but he’s making some real progress, thanks to some other business owners he was able to bounce things off.

The issue concerns pricing of the services provided by his company, Westside Finishing, which, despite that name, is based in Holyoke (yes, it started in West Springfield). More specifically, Bell noted that he held the line on prices, despite inflation and soaring costs of labor, material, and just about everything else, while almost all his competitors had raised theirs. He had questions about what to do and when, but needed a sounding board, like a board of directors.

And he had one in the form of a group of area business owners and managers — many of them in various stages of leadership transitions — called Vistage. This is a global entity with chapters across the country that total more than 23,000 members. The group now serving Western and Central Mass., led by business consultant Ravi Kulkarni, is in its infancy stages, having been formed in the spring.

Bell, the second-generation CEO who took over Westside Finishing from his father a few years ago, was one of the group’s first members. He credits the others in the room with being good listeners, solid providers of advice, and, perhaps most importantly, peers who will hold him accountable when he decides to move forward with something.

“We all do things differently, and that’s a refreshing perspective,” he said. “I may be thinking of attacking a problem one way, but at the meeting, some of the other members are able to ask the questions to get you looking at the problem in a different light. You might come into a meeting with a plan, and by the time you leave, you might have turned that plan on its head, but you’re more comfortable with the plan you came up with with the group then you were with your own.”

“You might come into a meeting with a plan, and by the time you leave, you might have turned that plan on its head, but you’re more comfortable with the plan you came up with with the group then you were with your own.”

Will Maybury, chief financial officer at East Longmeadow-based Maybury Material Handling, agreed. Maybury, son of company president and CEO John Maybury, is poised to take the helm at the company in a few years (there is no firm timetable) and he joined Vistage to help prepare him for that moment and learn from those who already have the title he aspires to.

“Where I saw the biggest value for myself is the growth opportunity the group provided me as someone coming into the CEO position,” Maybury said. “I’m able to surround myself with people who have been in the role and get an outside perspective, while also giving myself some personal growth and networking to help me transition into the role.”

Steve Graham, owner of Toner Plastics in East Longmeadow has been a Vistage member for more than a decade now. He’s not a member of the local group — instead he travels to Boston for meetings there — but is a firm believer of the organization’s power to bring minds together to address common problems and issues, and often help create answers.

“You have an opportunity to speak with other people who are in similar positions of leadership at their companies — entrepreneurs, owners, executives,” he said. “And having an advisory board of sorts, or a board of directors, which is what Vistage boils down to for many of us, is extremely valuable.

William Maybury, now in the process of succession planning

William Maybury, now in the process of succession planning

“You sometimes get reinforcement of an idea that you’ve been thinking about, and it’s just enough to push you over the edge to pull the trigger,” Graham went on. “And sometimes … you get a different view of the problem or the issues that you’re seeking to solve, and it pushes you in another direction; it’s extremely motivating for me.”

For this issue, BusinessWest talked with members of the local Vistage group about what they gain from participation, and how the monthly meetings have helped them become better leaders at a time when managing a business, large or small, has become ever-more challenging.

 

That’s the Idea

As he talked about his group and how and why it was formed, Kulkarni told BusinessWest that there was a clear need for such an entity in Western Mass., where there are few groups of this type focused on bringing young CEOs from diverse industries together around a conference room table.

Those that do exist are mostly regional, with Boston being the closest meeting place, and have requirements for membership that ultimately exclude many of the small businesses in this region. Vistage requires companies to have at least 25 employees and annual revenues of at least $5 million, which brings more area businesses into the mix, he said.

As for how it works, Kulkarni said it’s rather simple — when you put a dozen or so high-performing business executives in a room, these meetings of the minds have enormous potential for creating not only meaningful dialogue about the issues of the day — and there are many of them — but give and take that leads to problem-solving.

“You sometimes get reinforcement of an idea that you’ve been thinking about, and it’s just enough to push you over the edge to pull the trigger. And sometimes … you get a different view of the problem or the issues that you’re seeking to solve, and it pushes you in another direction; it’s extremely motivating for me.”

Elaborating, he said the hallmark of Vistage groups is something called ‘issue processing,’ a structured, thorough approach to helping members think through the dynamics of a challenge.

“It forces you to push beyond your assumptions and get to the real issues,” Kulkarni explained. “That’s critical to understanding and evaluating your options before making a decision and taking action.”

Such was the case with Bell and his issue with pricing and whether to increase his, which we’ll return to later. As he talked about it, Bell said that while Westside Finishing, a powder-coating operation that handles products ranging from cabinets to hand-dryers, has grown exponentially since his father started it as a one-person show and now boasts 65 employees, it is still, in most all respects, a small company.
“We’re not to the size where I would have a formal board of directors that I, as the president or CEO could lean on, bounce ideas off of, or help me with strategizing and planning for the future growth and development of our business,” he explained. “The members of Vistage are all people who have similar, high-level experience in running and managing a business, but at the same time, they have different backgrounds, very similar to what you would find on a board of directors.”

While Vistage is open to business owners and managers at all stages of their careers, Kulkarni said it is especially beneficial to those going through transition, be it in leadership or ownership.

Such was the case with Dave Boisselle, senior vice president of Operations for J. Polep in Chicopee, which has gone from being family owned to being owned by a large conglomerate, National Convenience Distributors. It’s not a small change, he told BusinessWest.

“When you’re sitting in the room and you’re talking corporate, it’s much different from family,” he said. “Family is family; everyone knows what they have to do, and they can talk to each other a certain way. Corporate is all professional, so you choose your words wisely and explain things in much more detail. It’s a much different structure.”

As for his transition to leadership of his company and how Vistage will ease that process, Maybury said he intends to be a sponge and “soak up as much as he can” at the monthly meetings with the goal of being more ready to take the helm. He said he benefits from being in a room where people at different points in their careers and different business situations, can thus provide different perspectives.

“Some people in our group are getting to the end of their careers and want to pass on some knowledge,” he explained. “I’m at the beginning, and some are in the middle; everyone is different, and that brings a lot of perspective to the table.”

Overall, Vistage provides value to members by bringing leaders of diverse businesses who are facing common issues and challenges together in a room to share what are usually different thoughts and approaches to those matters.

Ravi Kulkarni

Ravi Kulkarni says the Vistage group he leads is diverse and looking to add new members from different sectors of the economy.

“People do things differently in their businesses — they have different ideas,” said Graham. “They may have different ways of financing their business that you haven’t considered, for example, and you make some friends.”

Ryan Clutterbuck, president of Pace Engineering Recruiters in Quincy, which specializes in finding artificial intelligence, robotics, autonomous vehicle and high-performance and quantum-computing engineers, and another member of the local Vistage group, agreed.

“It’s beneficial to have a group of people that you can share ideas within a safe environment, where they’re willing to give you direct feedback,” he told BusinessWest. “You can’t always run your ideas by people below you, so you need a group of peers who can give you honest and direct feedback, and that’s what I get out of Vistage.”

Such feedback is what Bell sought, and received, when he brought his ‘issue’ to the group a few months ago.

“This year has been the busiest year in company history — we’ve set four sales records from January up until now,” he said while setting the stage for the discussion that ensued. “The issue brought to the group was ‘I’m busier than I’ve ever been, my margins are pretty good, but I feel that I may be leaving something on the table … because a lot of competitors had gone up 10-fold from what I’d done as far as price increases since COVID started.’

“I wanted to make sure I was charging a fair-market price for the service that I’m offering and make sure I’m not leaving a lot of meat on the bone,” he went on, adding, without going into much detail about his actual plans, that members of the group were able to help him answer those critical questions and others that were brought to the table.

“You can’t always run your ideas by people below you, so you need a group of peers who can give you honest and direct feedback, and that’s what I get out of Vistage.”

This is the essence of issue-processing, said Kulkarni, adding that members ask clarifying questions and, by meeting’s end, have the member in question much closer to moving beyond asking questions and acting. And once this action is taken, these same group members will follow up and hold the members accountable for the actions taken, again, similar to the way a larger company’s board of directors would.

Boisselle agreed.

“When it comes to issue-processing, first members listen and then they ask questions and ultimately give suggestions,” he said. “And you start changing your perspective on how you’re going to do things; asking the questions gets you to start thinking, then the advice comes, and then you connect everything together and decide how to move forward.”

Clutterbuck brought his own issue — one of scalability and the personal mindset to accompany such possible growth — to the group and came away with the feedback he was seeking.

“I’d gone through the roller-coaster of ‘are you building to scale or are you building to get to a certain level and then sustain?’” he said. “So, I brought an issue to the table that was related to more my personal mindset of what should I be doing from a target standpoint and a growth standpoint that’s going to beneficial for both the company and the family and making sure I’m not burning out on either end.

“It certainly helped me reset and get back to the original plan that I had developed for the business and the direction I wanted to go in,” he went on as he recalled this issue-procession session. “It was a good conversation to have, because there’s no one else I can have it with.”

 

Meeting Expectations

Moving forward, Kulkarni said his immediate goal is to recruit more members — “we’re looking for those who are hungry, humble, and smart” — and bring the number of business leaders in the room closer to 12, the desired sweet spot.

Doing so will bring more voices to that table and more processing of critical issues facing area business owners and managers.

These company leaders do not have their own board of directors, but they can share one. And this is the essence of Vistage, summed up effectively and concisely by Clutterbuck.

“They say it’s lonely at the top; I don’t necessarily agree with that, but you don’t have a lot of sounding boards,” he said. “It’s not like you can bring these conversations to your employees or people within your organization because they’re deeply personal. This is a good group of people to have real conversations with.”

 

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Commercial Real Estate Special Coverage

Activity Report

 

Mitch Bolotin, left, and partner Kevin Morin

Mitch Bolotin, left, and partner Kevin Morin stand near the entrance to 11 Interstate Dr. in West Springfield, which recently welcomed a new tenant, Millipore Sigma, which absorbed 27,000 square feet in the office building.

Looking back, area commercial real-estate brokers, managers, and developers said 2021 was a busy year with activity across all sectors and especially the retail side and the white-hot industrial segment of the market. On the office side, there was less movement and more question marks due to COVID-19 and uncertainty about when and under what circumstances workers will return to the office. The expectation for 2022 is for more of all of the above.

Area commercial real-estate brokers, developers, and property managers spoke with one voice when they told BusinessWest that there can be activity in their sector — and sometimes lots of activity — even when the economy is not hitting on all cylinders.

And this fact of life certainly helps explain why most brokers said 2021, year two of the pandemic, was one of the busiest years they’ve seen recently.

Indeed, there were some business closures and companies moving on from their leases, said those we spoke with, and other businesses downsizing for one of many reasons — all of which created movement in the market.

But there were many other forces contributing to this movement, and most of them were positive, said Mitch Bolotin, a principal and vice president of Springfield-based Colebrook Realty Services.

Listing them, he noted everything from low interest rates to the continued growth of the state’s cannabis industry, which has been absorbing industrial and retail space in communities across the region; from the improved health of the manufacturing sector, which has also contributed to the white-hot market for industrial spaces (more on that later), to the continued growth of delivery and warehousing operations, which has created ever more demand for those spaces. There’s has also been a noticeable increase in the amount of entrepreneurial activity in the region, inspired in part by COVID-19, which has created interest in retail space and some of the restaurants that have fallen victim to the pandemic.

“There is going to be some creative reuse of office space, and retail space, in this region.”

“This past year was one of our busiest years, and there was a lot of activity on all ends of the marketplace,” Bolotin said. “We’ve had deals in the retail world, the industrial market has been very active, the office market has been active, and there have been some development deals. We’ve seen it all across the board.”

Evan Plotkin, president of Springfield-based NAI Plotkin, agreed, noting that some of the movement on the retail side and office side has been as a result of COVID and its ill effects, but there has been positive movement as well, especially on the industrial and multi-family residential sides of the ledger, where the laws of supply and demand have forced prices higher as competition for available properties escalates.

There has even been some movement in the office market, said those we spoke with, but overall, this is the category still clouded by question marks. Large question marks.

Indeed, while all those we spoke with expressed the opinion (and we’ll paraphrase) that many workers now toiling remotely will eventually return to the office because employers realize there is more and better collaboration and more productivity when a team is in one place, there was also something approaching general consensus that things won’t be like they were before the pandemic.

And this means that some office space — just how much comprises one of those question marks — must be repurposed.

“There is going to be some creative reuse of office space, and retail space, in this region,” said Ken Vincunas, president of Agawam-based Development Associates. “I don’t know want it’s going to be or who is going to do it, but the malls and some office buildings are going to turn into something that no one foresaw, something they weren’t designed for.”

Paul Stelzer, president of Holyoke-based Appleton Corp., which currently manages more than 2 million square feet of property in the region, agreed.

Citing a movement to convert large amounts of office space to lab facilities in Boston, Cambridge, and Worcester to feed a biotech sector ravenously hungry for space, he said this might be one possible course for Western Mass. … if it can attract workers for that sector.

“We need to look at how we can maybe take two floors of a building that might never be leased again and convert to some type of bio, some type of medical, some type of related spaces,” he said, “because when you talk about quality of life, we have an incredible quality of life here in Western Mass., and I think there’s some desire for people not to be going up and down a 30-story elevator every day or taking the subway to work.”

For this issue, BusnessWest talked at length with area brokers and property managers about the current scene and what they project for the future, both short- and long-term.

 

Moving Story

As he talked about the commercial real-estate market and the year that was, Bolotin said there was considerable movement across the region — and in all sectors.

And he pointed to properties Colebrook handled in 2021 — and is still handling in many cases — as evidence. The portfolio includes:

• The leasing of 27,000 square feet at 11 Interstate Dr. in West Springfield to Millipore Sigma. The company, a life-sciences R&D firm and subsidiary of Merck, was in a small office in Wilbraham and expanded into the space;

• The sale of the industrial property at 2024 Westover Road in Chicopee, one of many such properties that saw considerable interest, went fast, and sold for a good price;

• The successful leasing of the property at 95 Elm St. in West Springfield, formerly home to United Bank. The large office complex is home to a broad mix of tenants, including Tandem Bagel;

• The sale of 100 Water St. in Holyoke, a large former mill complex, to GFI, one of the many cannabis companies that now call Holyoke home;

• The sale of 5 South Maple St. in Hadley, once a PeoplesBank branch, a sign of continued movement in the retail market;

• The sale of the former Troy Industries property on Capital Drive in West Springfield; and

• The sale of the 68,368-square-foot, fully leased warehouse space at 87-147 Avocado St. in Springfield to Woodrow Studios LLC, a deal that closed roughly a month ago. “That’s an example of an industrial investment property that had a strong amount of activity,” Bolotin said.

Collectively, these transactions speak to those many forces mentioned earlier — everything from the cannabis sector to tremendous growth of warehousing, distribution, and delivery businesses to growth within the manufacturing sector — that made 2021 one of the busiest years the company has seen recently.

“And 2022 is shaping up to be more of the same,” he told BusinessWest. “There’s a lot of demand, a lot of positive activity; we see the market being resilient, and, overall, there is a good deal of optimism.”

Plotkin agreed, citing his company’s portfolio of activity in 2021 as more evidence of what has been happening, even with some sectors struggling to fully recover from the pandemic and its many side effects.

Paul Stelzer

Paul Stelzer

“We need to look at how we can maybe take two floors of a building that might never be leased again and convert to some type of bio, some type of medical, some type of related spaces, because when you talk about quality of life, we have an incredible quality of life here in Western Mass., and I think there’s some desire for people not to be going up and down a 30-story elevator every day or taking the subway to work.”

On the industrial side, the company handled the sale of a large property in South Deerfield being leased by Yankee Candle, and Plotkin said it continues to receive calls from companies actively seeking warehouse or light manufacturing space with highway access in Springfield and surrounding towns.

On the retail side, it handled a number of transactions, from the former Hafey Funeral Home in Springfield to the former Manchester Hardware store in Easthampton to the Golf Acres recreational facility in Westfield. It is also negotiating the sale of a large shopping center in Pittsfield. There has been less activity on the office side, but the company did handle the sale of 480 Hampden St. in Holyoke to Girls Inc., among other deals, and has handled several leases and a few sales for companies reorganizing or downsizing space.

Overall, the two sectors seeing perhaps the most activity are retail and industrial, said those we spoke with, with cannabis impacting both in a positive way, although there are other factors as well.

Pat Goggins, president of Goggins Realty in Northampton, said the cannabis sector has certainly helped that city’s downtown, one that has seen several stores close due to the retirement of long-time owners, but also complications from COVID. But there have been other types of entrepreneurial activity, including some new restaurants and clothing stores.

Overall, he said it was certainly a much more “nervous time” in Northampton a year or so ago as vacancies started piling up in and around the downtown in a way that hadn’t been seen in decades, and there was uncertainty concerning when and under what circumstances those vacancies would be filled. Now, with many of those storefronts leased or under contract, including the Silverscape Designs property, there is far more stability.

“We’re making some nice progress in the level of activity that we’re seeing downtown, and it’s something that more closely mimics what we had been accustomed to,” he said, adding that, while there are still some vacant storefronts to be addressed, the overall tone is much more positive than it was a year or 18 months ago.

Plotkin agreed, noting that, overall, while retailers are seeing increasingly higher volumes of online sales, most of them still need a bricks-and-mortar presence, and this is contributing to ongoing movement in that segment of the market.

Ken Vincunas says the market for industrial properties is white hot

Ken Vincunas says the market for industrial properties is white hot, with immense competition for available properties pushing prices higher.

“They may shop for something online, but they want to go to the store to try it on,” he explained. “And that’s why I believe retail will remain strong.”

But it is the industrial market that is seeing the most activity, said Bolotin and others — and it would see considerably more if there was inventory.

At present, there isn’t much, said Vincunas, noting that what exists generally goes quickly and at high prices, which makes this category much like the residential real-estate market (see story on page 6).

“The industrial market has very little inventory, and for the few things that come up, there are a lot of takers, and the pricing has increased significantly, because people have products that people want, they’re making money, and they need that new building,” he said. “There’s been a lot of demand, things don’t stay on the market for long, and prices are way up.”

“There’s a lot of demand, a lot of positive activity; we see the market being resilient, and, overall, there is a good deal of optimism.”

As just one example, he cited the former home of Work Opportunity Center in Agawam, an 18,000-square-foot industrial space, which was under contract just a few weeks after it went on the market. Many other properties have moved in similarly quick fashion, and at prices — and here’s another parallel to the residential housing market — that have prompted buyers to also become sellers.

“We’re actually selling properties, which we hardly ever do, because the pricing is so high that you have to take some chips off the table and reposition the properties you want versus the ones that are in your past,” Vincunas said, noting that the company is in the process of selling a multi-tenant property in Chicopee.

“The price seemed right, and we thought it maybe it was time to change that in for something else,” he explained, adding that many property owners are thinking along similar lines to take advantage of the white-hot market.

 

Space Exploration

As noted earlier, it’s the region’s office market that has perhaps struggled the most, and it’s the one confronting an uncertain future.

Vincunas, whose company manages several office facilities, including the Greenfield Corporate Center, said the past 23 months have been a struggle on many levels, especially as companies find new ways to do business, with many employees working remotely.

Like others we spoke with, he believes employers will eventually bring workers back the office, for reasons involving productivity, communication, efficiency, and other factors, and when that day comes, the market will see a surge in activity.

Pat Goggins

Pat Goggins

“We’re making some nice progress in the level of activity that we’re seeing downtown, and it’s something that more closely mimics what we had been accustomed to.”

In the meantime, this will remain a tenants’ market, with many of the companies looking to downsize or just reduce their monthly rent expenditure finding landlords willing to make attractive deals, another trend that is expected to continue into 2022 and perhaps beyond.

As for the longer term, those we spoke with said that some (again, how much remains to be seen) of the traditional office space in the region will need to be repurposed, and it is incumbent upon those who own and manage it to start looking at viable options.

Stelzer noted that biomed is simply one of many possible alternatives.

“We have to do a really good job moving forward of cataloging what we have available, what we can pivot, what’s available for us, what the economic-development agencies can push,” he said, “because the days of the 200-person call center or 300-person call center are probably gone.

“So we have to turn around and figure out where people have to congregate, and lab space is one of them,” he went on. “There’s also an incredible demand for social services and mental-health space, which is partly driven by COVID and partly driven by the large amount of funding available for it; you may see some of these nonprofits that would typically be in a class B space or in space that doesn’t work as nicely for them taking the plunge and coming downtown or coming to a class A building; they can afford to do it, and demand for their workers is high.”

Stelzer said he’s already seeing such movement at one of the properties managed by Appleton, the Technology Park at Springfield Technical Community College. One of its major tenants, Liberty Mutual, has moved out of most of its space in the park (47,000 square feet) — part of a larger movement to have employees work remotely — and new tenants that have moved in include Mental Health Associates and Clinical & Support Options.

Since almost the very beginning of the pandemic, Plotkin has noted that, in this region, where the office market has traditionally had a comparatively high vacancy rate, the additional stress from COVID will force some property owners to think outside the box and find new uses for their square footage.

For the building he co-owns, 1350 Main St. in Springfield, and others, he has proposed housing or perhaps a hybrid concept, what he calls a “remote-work hub,” a facility in which people would live and work.

“There would be a living space, something like a dormitory, but done in an upscale way, with a lot of amenities,” he explained. “And then you have a work hub. The idea is to have a living space and then a floor where you can lease an office, so you’re not working at your kitchen table.”

Whether the remote-work hub is the answer remains to be seen, he went on, adding that, from his view, it’s clear that something — and something imaginative — needs to happen within the office market, especially in downtown Springfield.

“We have to look at the half-million square feet of vacant office space that we have and examine how we repurpose and reposition that,” he went on. “We also need to look at what kind of help we need from MassDevelopment and the state to incentivize business owners — people like me — to take a building like 1350 Main St. and convert half of it to co-living space.”

 

Bottom Line

Looking ahead to the rest of 2022, those we spoke with said that COVID makes it difficult to project exactly what will happen. Stelzer equated the landscape in the sector to “shifting sands,” and said that, until the ground stabilizes, more uncertainty will prevail.

Overall, the experts are predicting more of the same for the foreseeable future, meaning this will continue to be a tenants’ market in the office realm, and the laws of supply demand will create more movement in the industrial and retail segments of the market.

And it means more hard thinking — and some action — when it comes to deciding what can and will happen within the office market.

In other words, it’s shaping up to be another busy year.

 

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Law Special Coverage

What Can Business Owners and Managers Expect in 2022?

This past year was a busy one on the employment-law front, with a number of new measures and mandates for employers to follow and some emerging trends, such as unionizing activities, to watch. As the new year dawns, these matters will continue to be at the forefront, and obviously bear watching.

By John S. Gannon, Esq. and Meaghan E. Murphy, Esq.

Last year, we saw legislators and employers trying to pivot from COVID-19 safety measures to more traditional labor and employment-law issues. However, with the Delta and Omicron variants wreaking havoc across the globe, businesses and lawmakers are once again looking for ways to stop the spread of the pandemic. Here are some labor and employment highlights from 2021 that are sure to impact employers in 2022.

John Gannon

John Gannon

Meaghan Murphy

Meaghan Murphy

Employer Vaccination Mandates

In September 2021, President Biden signed several orders requiring federal employees, federal contractors, and most healthcare workers across the country to be vaccinated against COVID-19. He also instructed OSHA to develop an emergency temporary standard directing private employers with 100 or more employees to implement COVID-19 vaccine mandates or require weekly testing for their unvaccinated employees. These mandates have been challenged in courts around the county, with varying results. For example, in early December, a federal court in Georgia issued a countrywide stay of the federal-contractor vaccine mandate.

The OSHA ‘shot-or-test’ rule was similarly blocked by one court late last year, but a few weeks later, a different court ruled in favor of the Biden administration and reinstated the emergency standard. It appears the U.S. Supreme Court will have to sort all of this out, and we expect they will rule on these issues early in 2022.

“Unionization campaigns at some of the country’s largest companies have been heating up.”

Here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, state mandates are in place for employees working in long-term care and assisted living, certain home-care workers, and executive-level state workers (including law enforcement). Legal challenges to the vaccine mandates were filed in Massachusetts courts, but to date all of them have failed.

 

Accommodations to Vaccination

In October, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released guidance making it clear that all employers, regardless of size or industry, can require that employees receive the COVID vaccine. There is one big caveat: federal and most state laws require employers to provide reasonable accommodations for religious beliefs, disabilities, or pregnancy-related reasons. These are commonly referred to as medical and religious exemptions. Employers that are considering a mandatory vaccination program should have policies explaining how these exemptions work, as well as exemption forms ready for employees to fill out.

 

Biden Administration’s Support for Unions

In June, President Biden appointed Jennifer Abruzzo as the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) new general counsel. She quickly made clear her (and the new Democratic administration’s) pro-labor stance on various issues through a series of memoranda issued by her office. Not surprisingly, Abruzzo has vowed to undo much of the NLRB’s activity under former President Trump, which tended to be pro-business.

Unionization campaigns at some of the country’s largest companies have been heating up. Employees at a Starbucks in Buffalo, N.Y. voted to unionize. Starbucks has agreed to sit down at the table and bargain with the union. This is the first time organized labor has gained a foothold in one of Starbucks’ U.S. locations, but it certainly does not seem like it will be the last. Employees at Starbucks in several other states, including Massachusetts, Washington, and Arizona, are also seeking to unionize.

In addition, employees at an Alabama Amazon warehouse recently voted not to unionize, but the union trying to organize those employees alleged that Amazon intentionally interfered with its union-organizing efforts. In one of its biggest actions under President Biden, the NLRB announced that Amazon had committed to allow more room for employees to conduct union activity and to send an e-mail directly to current and former employees to inform them of their labor rights. It is the clearest example to date of how Democratic officials in this administration will seek to use federal power to help employees organize.

 

Paid Family and Medical Leave

Starting Jan. 1, 2022, most Connecticut employees will be able to take paid time off to attend to personal and family health needs. Under the program, employees are entitled to 12 weeks of paid-leave benefits, and up to 14 weeks if an employee experiences a serious health condition that occurs during a pregnancy.

This program is similar to the Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave program, which went live at the beginning of last year. The Department of Family and Medical Leave published data stating that the department approved 43,440 applications between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2021. Benefits totaling $167,915,781 were paid out during this time. This was before employees could take PFML to care for family members, which became available on July 1.

 

Employee Mobility: Tackling the Labor Shortage

A record 4.4. million Americans quit their jobs in September 2021. The high quit rates were commonly dubbed the ‘Great Resignation,’ and made it clear that Americans are switching jobs for better pay, starting their own businesses, or continuing to struggle with child care and school schedules.

As the pandemic lingers, it’s likely that the quit rates will remain high for the next several months. As a result, employers will need to raise wages and/or offer more lucrative benefit packages to attract and retain talent. Businesses should also consider offering employees who do not physically need to be in the office every day some sort of a hybrid work-from-home schedule, a model that has dramatically increased in popularity over the last year.

 

John Gannon and Meaghan Murphy are attorneys at the firm Skoler, Abbott & Presser, P.C., in Springfield; (413) 737-4753; [email protected]; [email protected]

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