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Opinion

Opinion

By Gretchen Harrison

Massachusetts employers project lower wage and salary increases, a consistent level of recruitment activity, and moderating health-insurance premium increases for 2020 after navigating a solid but volatile economy during 2019.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) recently published its 2020 HR Practices Report, showing that companies project a 2.77% salary-increase budget for 2020, consistent with the 2.71% actual increase reported for 2019 but down from the 2.86% reported in the 2018 HR Practices Report.

Meanwhile, national salary-increase projections for 2020 have risen slightly from the prior year to 3.3%. Salary-increase trends in Massachusetts have tended to lag national numbers in recent years, and the gap has begun to widen.

How does a state with a 2.9% unemployment rate, a persistent shortage of skilled workers, and an impending demographic cliff show slower wage growth than the rest of the nation? Survey data suggest several reasons.

First, escalating regulatory costs (minimum wage) and non-wage compensation costs (health insurance and paid family and medical leave) are making employers cautious about increasing pay. Companies generally have a set compensation budget, so increases in these ancillary costs may put downward pressure on wages. In addition, the Massachusetts Equal Pay Act may be limiting the degree to which employers are able to offer compensation incentives to ‘superstar’ job candidates.

Members of the AIM Board of Economic Advisers offer additional explanations:

• Wages are already much higher than the national average in Massachusetts, meaning increases represent a smaller percentage of total wages.

• Massachusetts is aging quickly. Older workers are at a steadier place in their careers and see slower wage growth. As they retire, they are replaced by less expensive younger workers. This is a natural drag on overall wage growth.

• The higher-skill workers who dominate the Massachusetts economy get a significant portion of their compensation in non-wage forms like bonuses, commissions, and stock options. Projected recruitment activity for 2020 is expected to be comparable with actual recruitment experienced in 2019, which saw a significant increase over 2018 volumes.

The wage and salary increase projections come as unemployment in Massachusetts remains at record low levels. And while the state economy contracted by 0.2% during the third quarter, analysts say the downturn does not appear to indicate the beginning of a recession, but rather the capacity limits against which the state is bumping.

These include the barriers to labor-force growth presented by an aging population as the departure of Baby Boomers from the regional workforce continues.

Gretchen Harrison is director of AIM HR Solutions.

Opinion

Opinion

By Sue Kline

It’s an autumn afternoon at the Morgan School in Holyoke, and Superintendent Stephen Zrike Jr. is performing what might look like a magic trick, or maybe a minor miracle: he has the quiet, rapt attention of a class full of boisterous preschoolers, who sit in a semicircle with mouths agape and eyes glued on him and what he’s holding in his hand.

It’s not an iPad or a smartphone or a flashy toy or a magic wand — it’s a book. Specifically, it’s The Family Book by Todd Parr, one of four books the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation (HGCF) is gifting to children in Holyoke Public Schools and Springfield Public Schools this year through Stories to Achieve Reading Success (STARS), an initiative to support early reading and family engagement. After the reading and a discussion, the children — smiling wide and with a bit of shock — receive their own individual copies to take home and read with their families.

For these children, these books are magic: they open doors to new worlds, they offer enchanting stories and illustrations that are just as miraculous on the 50th read as on the first, and the books are theirs to keep forever. In today’s digital age, where screens are ubiquitous and you can read a 1,000-page novel on your phone, there is still something special about holding a beautiful book in your hands.

Parent Ashley Garcia is thrilled with the most recent selection, saying, “I absolutely love how The Family Book acknowledges diversity. Sometimes it can be challenging to explain to young children that all families are unique, yet, despite differences, all families are brought together by one thing, which is love. The colorful pictures and simple words make this a perfect gift.”

HGCF introduced STARS, now in its second year, to advance a simple but urgent goal — to help get kids in Holyoke and Springfield reading from a young age. Abundant academic research suggests strong linkages between early reading and later educational success. That makes STARS much more than a program that makes learning more fun and engaging for children and families; it’s an investment in the long-term futures of these students that can pay dividends for years to come.

Patricia Chavez, Holyoke’s director of Early Childhood Learning, notes that “partnering with the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation has been a wonderful opportunity, bolstering the home-to-school connection, something we are always striving toward. Because each book is accompanied with reading tips and ideas for parents, there’s a great opportunity for families to engage.”

STARS gifts four books throughout the year from the established curriculum to 2,400 children in Springfield and Holyoke preschools. The program is a real gem — we’re awed by the extraordinary work being done in classrooms by preschool educators who transmit to youngsters an early love of stories, and very proud that the Harold Grinspoon Charitable Foundation can help extend preschoolers’ positive classroom reading experiences into their homes.”

For more information about STARS and available opportunities to assist in expanding outreach to additional Holyoke and Springfield preschools, e-mail [email protected].

Sue Kline is director of  Stories to Achieve Reading Success.

Opinion

Opinion

By Robert Rio

The climate protesters who took to the streets of Boston earlier this month targeted the wrong people.

If these people really want to impact the climate debate, they should turn their attention outside of a state that is already well on its way to achieving the goals outlined at the State House demonstrations.

Massachusetts has had a law on the books for more than a decade that mandates an 80% reduction in carbon emissions from all sectors (electric generation, transportation, and buildings) by 2050. Admittedly, that isn’t 100%, but worrying about whether Massachusetts meets 80% or 100% misses the larger picture.

There are separate regulations aimed at carbon reduction as well. State policy requires that 80% of electricity be generated using carbon-free sources by 2050. And new proposed regulations by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection will move that requirement to nearly 100% during the same time frame. Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) supports the proposed regulations.

The Baker administration has already finalized contracts for one offshore wind farm, and another one is going through the approval process. These developments will leave the region humming with new turbines.

Additionally, a large hydro power project is being routed through Maine to supply about 18% of Massachusetts’ total power. Without hydro power, our transition to carbon-free energy will be delayed for decades because it would take an enormous amount of additional solar or offshore wind to make up for the loss of carbon-free hydro power.

That leaves transportation, which accounts for the largest portion of greenhouse-gas emissions — 45% and growing.

Gov. Baker has been a leader in addressing transportation-based greenhouse gases and is a visible backer of the 12-state (plus the District of Columbia) regional effort to reduce greenhouse gases in the transportation sector known as the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI). AIM has joined with the administration and several environmental groups to support this effort, and the governor is always looking for more support.

TCI will establish a regional cap on carbon emissions while auctioning emissions allowances. Proceeds from the TCI fee will be sent back to each participating state to improve statewide public transportation and to encourage fuel users to purchase alternative vehicles.

A MassINC poll published this month found that a majority of registered voters in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Virginia strongly or somewhat support their home state’s participation in TCI. Some states, however, are balking at joining TCI. Perhaps the Boston climate activists could take their message to other state capitals to ensure that this critical multi-state effort gets off the ground.

Declaring victory and moving on is tough, but it is necessary to move on from Massachusetts and concentrate efforts in those areas where the greatest changes should be made. The best thing for all of us to do is acknowledge our work favorably and let the rest of the nation know it can be done with the right leadership.

Robert Rio is senior vice president, Government Affairs at AIM.

Opinion

Editorial

Ordinarily, a press release announcing that one of the region’s colleges or universities had maintained its accreditation with the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) would barely register as news.

But this was not the case with the recent announcement that NECHE voted to continue the accreditation of Hampshire College. Or ‘embattled Hampshire College,’ as the case may be, because it seems that this adjective has more or less became attached to the school as it has endured severe economic hardship over the past 18 months or so.

Indeed, maintaining accreditation was hardly a foregone conclusion for this school, which has seen enrollment drop dramatically, putting it in fiscal peril. In fact, for some, it seemed like a long shot.

So NECHE’s vote, which essentially buys Hampshire College two years to put itself on much more solid ground, is a milestone, and, hopefully, the first of many.

The vote is affirmation that the school — which has vowed to maintain its independence, launched a major fundraising campaign, hired a new president and several other administrators, and set ambitious goals for enrollment for 2020, its 50th-anniversary year — is on the right track.

Hampshire and its new leader, Ed Wingenbach, said they had a plan, or a path forward. They told NECHE that it is “ambitious, data-driven, and achievable.” And NECHE, apparently, is in agreement.

But this doesn’t mean Hampshire College is out of the woods. Not by a long shot.

While the school maintained its accreditation, there were some caveats, most of them involving what’s known as “institutional resources,’ or the bottom line. Hampshire’s still isn’t very good, and it needs to get much better.

To that end, the school has set about raising $60 million by 2024; an ambitious capital campaign called “Change in the Making: A Campaign for Hampshire” was kicked off at ceremonies on the campus last week. And while Hampshire is off to a great start — more than $11 million has been raised toward that goal, and the school has some good friends that can help it in this endeavor (alumnus Ken Burns is serving as co-chair of the campaign), that is a very big number.

And, as been noted several times over the past few years, demographics and other conditions are not working in Hampshire’s favor as it works to stabilize its future. High-school classes continue to get smaller, and this trend will continue. Meanwhile, the sky-high price of a college education is prompting many young people and their parents to put a premium on value and return on investment when they search for a school, a trend that further endangers small private schools with large price tags — like Hampshire.

Had the school not maintained accreditation, that would have been a virtual death knell. It’s hard enough to attract students considering the conditions listed above; it’s nearly impossible when a school has lost accreditation.

But the announcement from NECHE is merely the first of several milestones that Hampshire must reach. This will still be an uphill battle, but the school has in essence made it through base camp.

Hampshire College has been given an important lease on life. Now, it must make the very most of this opportunity.

Opinion

Opinion

By Kristen Rupert

Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) and its 3,500 members urge the U.S. Congress to approve the new USMCA trade agreement with Canada and Mexico.

The reason is simple — Canada and Mexico purchase more U.S.-made goods than the next 11 trading partner countries combined. USMCA will help to preserve more than 2 million American manufacturing jobs — at least 15,000 of them in Massachusetts — that rely on trade with Canada and Mexico.

Time is short for Congress to act. The U.S. House and Senate need to pass the USMCA before the year’s end.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said Democrats have inched closer to supporting the deal. They have worked to iron out lingering concerns in weeks of talks with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

The USMCA was negotiated by the Trump administration to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). USMCA strengthens and modernizes intellectual-property rules, sets new digital-economy standards, expands U.S. manufacturers’ access to Canada and Mexico, ensures that U.S. companies can sell their products duty-free into these markets, eliminates red tape at the border, and levels the playing field by raising standards, prohibiting anti-U.S. discrimination, and strengthening enforcement.

AIM is in contact with the Massachusetts delegation in Congress to encourage them to pass the USMCA. Gov. Charlie Baker calls the agreement “strong, fair and flexible.” Among the many products that are traded between Massachusetts and Canada and Mexico are auto parts, medical devices, lab instruments, semiconductors, paper products, and aerospace parts. Most of the manufacturing exports from Massachusetts going to Canada and Mexico are produced by small and medium-sized businesses.

AIM urges employers to contact their members of Congress to emphasize how important the USMCA is to manufacturing companies in Massachusetts. Industry associations, individual companies, and elected officials across the U.S. encourage an immediate vote on USMCA.

Kristen Rupert is senior vice president of External Affairs at Associated Industries of Massachusetts and director of AIM’s International Business Council.

Opinion

Opinion

By Alex Zlatin

A company’s intention in a job interview is to find the person who best fits a particular position. But quite often, the candidate who is hired fails, and usually their exit is related to attitude issues that weren’t revealed in the interview.

That raises the question: are interviewers asking the wrong questions — and consequently hiring the wrong people? Some traditional styles of interviewing are outdated, thus wasting time and resources while letting better candidates slip away.

It still astounds me to meet HR professionals who lack the basic skills of interviewing. In 2019, ‘tell me about yourself’ is still a way to start an interview, and that’s absurd. The only thing you get is people who describe the outline of their résumé, which you already know.

Here are some interview approaches to help HR leaders, recruiters, and executives find the right candidate:

• Make it a two-way conversation. Traditional interviewing focuses too much on the candidate’s skills and experience rather than on their motivation, problem-solving ability, and willingness to collaborate. Rather than making most of the interview a rigid, constant question-and-answer format that can be limiting to both sides, have a two-way conversation and invite them to ask plenty of questions.

• Flip their résumé upside down. Surprise them by going outside the box and asking them something about themselves that isn’t on their résumé or in their cover letter. See how creatively they think and whether they stay calm. You want to see how a candidate thinks on their feet — a trait all companies value.

• Ask open-ended questions. Can this candidate make a difference in your company? Answering that question should be a big aim of the interview. Ask questions that allude to how they made a difference in certain situations at their past company. Then present a hypothetical situation and ask how they would respond.

• Don’t ask cliched questions. Some traditional interview questions only lead to candidates telling interviewers what the candidate thinks the company wants to hear. Interviewers should stop asking pointless questions like, ‘where do you see yourself in five years?’ or ‘why do you want to work for this company?’ Candidates rehearse these answers, and many of them are similar, so that doesn’t allow them to stand apart.

• Learn from the candidate’s questions. The questions candidates ask can indicate how deeply they’ve studied the company and how interested they really are. A good candidate uses questions to learn about the role, the company, and the boss to assess whether it’s the right job for them.

• Don’t take copious notes. The tendency by interviewers to write down the candidate’s answers and other observations is a huge obstacle to building a solid two-way conversation because it removes the crucial element of eye contact.

 

Alex Zlatin is CEO of dental practice-management company Maxim Software Systems.

Opinion

Opinion

By John Regan

Massachusetts is about to undertake the most sweeping restructuring of public-education funding since 1993. What does it mean for employers?

The 3,500 member companies of Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) who depend upon the public schools to prepare the workforce of the future support education reform that contains specific and measurable performance objectives. Anyone who owns or manages a business tracks return on investment, and the investment we make in our public schools and students should be no different.

However, employers do not support the sort of reform being promoted by some advocates who have been calling at rallies for a ‘blank check’ of billions of dollars of state aid with no accountability.

While the National Assessment of Education Progress indicates that Massachusetts has the best public schools in the nation, that same assessment shows significant achievement gaps between white students and black and Latino students. Massachusetts finds itself in the bottom half of states with respect to black-white achievement gaps across almost all grades in reading and math and in the bottom third of states with respect to Latino-white achievement gaps across all grades in both reading and math. The achievement gap matters to employers confronting a persistent shortage of qualified workers in an economy running at 2.9% unemployment.

Reforming the school funding formula will probably cost taxpayers around $1 billion. Employers understand better than anyone the importance of making strategic investments, but they also know that pouring money into a broken system is not the answer. Employer support for education reform hinges on the establishment of clear and measurable standards that will allow everyone to determine whether changes are working for students, teachers, and the Commonwealth.

The evidence is clear that more money does not equal better educational performance. AIM insists the following accountability measures be part of any education funding reform:

• Fully implement the recommendations of the Foundation Budget Review Commission through a multi-year, fully funded revision to the Chapter 70 formula that will achieve adequacy and equity for all students.

• Maintain and enhance the state accountability system to ensure new funds go to those students who need them the most and are used effectively to close achievement gaps, set statewide and district targets for closing those gaps with annual reporting on progress, and collect and report on data related to college and career readiness.

• Add a new Chapter 70 enrollment category for Early College and Career Pathways to enable replication and expansion of these high-school reform strategies.

• Provide significant and supplemental funding for innovation and the implementation of best practices in underperforming schools.

• Enact Innovation Partnership Zone legislation to provide communities with a new tool for empowering schools and educators to address persistent low performance and encourage innovation.

John Regan is president and CEO of Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

Opinion

Editorial

In the U.S., 150,000 tons of food is wasted every day.

This equals about a pound of food per person, or about a third of the daily calories that each American consumes. What may not be totally obvious when we throw out that banana with a brown spot on it, or the slightly mushy red pepper, is that all this food waste contributes to a much bigger problem in America — the waste of about 40% of country’s food production.

This shocking fact shared by the Center for EcoTechnology is a testament for just how serious the food-waste epidemic is.

In addition, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, wasted food is the single biggest occupant in American landfills. The food we throw out affects our lives in more ways than one, including our own financial resources and a bigger carbon footprint.

Thankfully, while food waste remains a huge problem in America and the world, more and more awareness is being brought to this subject, and more action is being taken to significantly reduce this problem. This includes organizations like Lovin’ Spoonfuls, a nonprofit dedicated solely to food rescue and distribution in Massachusetts.

Lovin’ Spoonfuls picks up food from more than 75 vendor partners in refrigerated trucks and serves more than 40 cities and towns across Massachusetts. It focuses primarily on perishable foods like fruits, vegetables, and dairy, which are the most likely to be wasted, and provides meals to more than 30,000 people a week.

Aside from organizations like this, there are simple ways families can do their part to significantly reduce food waste — everything from planning meals for the week before going to the grocery store to freezing foods that won’t be eaten right away. Looking in the refrigerator and cabinets and cooking food already on hand — and saving leftovers for lunch or dinner the next day — are other habits that add up over 128 million American households.

Businesses are increasingly implementing food-waste reduction strategies as well — spurred in many cases by state regulation. The bottom line is, if everyone tries a little each day to help, significantly less food will be wasted and dumped into landfills.

While Massachusetts in general has been a national leader in addressing food waste, it is important that individuals do their part by implementing their own strategies. With the help of organizations like the Center for EcoTechnology and Lovin’ Spoonfuls, we can only hope those shocking food-waste numbers begin to go down in the next several decades.

Opinion

Opinion

By Christine Palmieri

September is National Recovery Month. ‘Recovery’ is a word that gets used a lot in the world of mental health and addiction services, sometimes so much so that I think we can easily lose sight of what it represents. In my role with the Mental Health Assoc. (MHA), I often have the opportunity to talk to newly hired staff about the idea of recovery. We discuss what it means and what it can look like in the context of working with people who have experienced trauma, homelessness, psychiatric diagnosis, and substance problems.

When I ask new staff the question, “what does it mean to recover?” I frequently hear things like “getting better” or “getting back to where you were” or “having a better quality of life.” Although I tell staff there are no wrong answers to this question, secretly I think there are. They’re common and easy, but insufficient.

As with many things, I think it’s easier to talk about what recovery is by defining what it isn’t. For me, recovery isn’t a cure. It isn’t a finish line or a place people get to. It isn’t a goal that can be neatly summarized in a treatment plan. I believe recovery is a process that is unique and intimately personal to the individual going through it. Ultimately, though, I think the answer to the question “what does it mean to recover?” should be “it isn’t for me to say.”

I believe recovery is a process that is unique and intimately personal to the individual going through it.

As providers of services, or as loved ones, community members, and policy makers, I don’t believe it’s up to us to define what recovery means or looks like for people going through it. Each person needs to examine and define what it means to them. For the rest of us, I think the more important question is “what makes recovery possible?” When the question is posed this way, we are able to engage this idea of recovery in a much different and more productive way. This question offers the opportunity to share the responsibility and partner with those we support.

The analogy of a seedling is often used when describing this process of recovery, and one I use when I talk to our new hires about their roles and responsibilities as providers of service. Seeds are remarkable little things. For me, they represent unlimited potential. A seed no bigger than a grain of rice contains within it everything it needs to grow into a giant sequoia. But no seed can grow without the right environmental conditions. No amount of force or assertion of control can make a seed grow. It needs the right soil, the right amount of water, and the right amount of light.

In the same way, within each person who has experienced trauma, homelessness, psychiatric diagnosis, or problems with substances, I believe there lies unlimited potential for growth, and each person needs the right environment for the process of recovery to take place. As providers, loved ones, community members, and policy makers, we very often control that environment. Metaphorically, we provide the soil, the water and the light.

Soil is the place where recovery begins. It offers a place for the seed to grow roots, to gather strength, security, and safety. Soil is what keeps trees rooted tightly to the ground through storms. It is our responsibility to offer environments where people in recovery feel safe and secure, to try out new ways of coping and new ways of managing the difficulties and challenges that life presents to all of us.

Water provides a seedling with essential nourishment. We need to find ways to support people in recovery to discover what truly nourishes them. The work of recovery is hard. It requires taking risks and feeling uncomfortable. We cannot do the work of recovery for anyone else, but we can and should work to help people in recovery find the supportive relationships, meaningful roles, and reasons to do that hard work.

Light provides the energy necessary for growth. In recovery, I believe light is offered through the hope and understanding that every person has within them the potential to live a full and active life in the community, whatever that means for them. As providers, loved ones, community members, and policy makers, it is our role to shine the light of hope for people who have experienced discrimination, loss of power and control, and in many cases a loss of their identity. We hold this hope and offer this light because we know, without question, that recovery, however it is defined, is not only possible, but is happening, right now, all around us.

Christine Palmieri is vice president of the Division of Recovery and Housing at MHA.

Opinion

Opinion

By John Regan

A so-called ‘beach party’ set up recently outside the State House by education funding advocates was a disrespectful and frivolous stunt carried out by people who should instead be focused on the well-being and economic futures of Massachusetts schoolchildren.

The point of the beach party, complete with beach balls and shaved ice with flavors such as ‘accountability slime lime,’ was to excoriate the Legislature for going on summer recess without passing a massive restructuring of the funding formula for public schools.

The fiscal 2020 budget Gov. Charlie Baker signed last month includes a $268 million increase in state assistance for K-12 education, but activists want a multi-year commitment to ramp up education spending and address gaps in the quality of education from one community to another. The beach party was the latest in a series of questionable antics perpetrated by the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance and allies who want billions of dollars in additional education spending with no accountability for results.

In May, Massachusetts Teachers Assoc. President Merrie Najimy posted a photo to Facebook of herself and three other women smiling and clutching fake pearl necklaces with a caption that read, “Alice Peisch, let go of the wealth and #FundOurFuture.”

Rep. Alice Peisch, co-chair of the Joint Committee on Education, often wears pearls, and the prop suggested she could not understand the circumstances of poorer students because she lives in the wealthy suburb of Wellesley.

Members of the teachers union have also been observed at public meetings carrying blank checks to signal their distaste for any measurements to accompany additional spending.

The 3,500 member companies of Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) who depend upon the public schools to prepare the workforce of the future support education reform that contains specific and measurable performance objectives. Anyone who owns or manages a business tracks return on investment, and the investment we make in our public schools and students should be no different.

The stakes in the debate are enormous, beginning with an estimated price tag in the neighborhood of $1 billion. The governor and the Massachusetts Legislature deserve credit for proceeding cautiously on education reform. u

John Regan is president and CEO of Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

Opinion

Bringing the Message Home

When you talk to Kirk Jonah about his son Jack’s death from a heroin overdose and his work to educate and inspire people since that fateful day, you don’t sense anger, frustration, bitterness, or even embarrassment — emotions that are all perfectly understandable and probably there somewhere.

No, all you see is determination, which is exactly what is needed as this region and this country continues to battle one of the worst epidemics in history — the opioid epidemic.

One can argue forever how we got to this point with this epidemic, one that is killing tens of thousands of people a year, and it’s clear there is plenty of blame to go around — from the makers of prescription painkillers to the doctors who prescribe them carelessly, to people young and old who take them irresponsibly. But what’s really needed now, in addition to treatment of those who are addicted, is plain, old-fashioned talk about the need for everyone — from parents to young people — to make smart decisions.

And that’s exactly what Jonah provides.

As the story on page 10 details, Jack Jonah and his family became statistics back in the spring of 2016, when Jack was found dead in his room of an apparent heroin overdose, a tragedy that seemed to come out of nowhere because there were no easily recognizable signs that he was using and abusing the drug.

Those statistics are related to the number of overdose deaths in this country, and statistics related to the number of families torn apart by such tragedies.

But Kirk Jonah was never content to be merely a statistic, and he wasn’t about to let his son become one, either.

Indeed, they have become so much more than that. They have become inspirations and, yes, leaders in the ongoing fight to stem the tide of substance abuse and overdose deaths by bringing others into the fight.

That’s what Kirk Jonah will tell you he does. He brings people into the fight by compelling them to recognize that choices have to be made, and they need to be smart ones.

These decisions involve everything from how and where parents should store their prescription drugs to whether and how young people should tell the parents or other loved ones of someone they know is on a collision course with tragedy about what they know.

This work started with speaking engagements before a wide variety of audiences — from smaller gatherings at schools to a huge audience at Mercy Hospital’s Caritas Gala — and it has expanded to a foundation and fundraising activities. Soon, there will be a movie made about Jack Jonah, his family, and the work to prevent more tragedies like this.

The working title, from what we’ve gathered, is Making Courage Contagious, which is exactly what Kirk — and Jack — have been doing over the past three years.

A key part of Kirk Jonah’s presentations to the groups he addresses is the death certificate mailed to him several weeks after son’s death. It’s a powerful document, especially when one focuses on the words written above the cause-of-death line: acute heroin intoxication.

Those are words that, as we said at the top, should induce anger, frustration, and embarrassment. What they’ve produced instead is determination — as in determination not to let another parent receive a similar piece of mail.

At this time of crisis and epidemic, that’s what this region, and this country, needs most.

Opinion

Opinion

By James T. Brett and U.S. Rep. Richard Neal

Core to the premise of the so-called American Dream is the idea that, if you work hard over the course of your career, you’ll get to enjoy a secure retirement. Unfortunately, for far too many Americans, that simply is not the case.

Consider this: nearly half of U.S. households with people age 55 and older have no savings for retirement. And almost 50% of private-sector workers — some 58 million people — do not even have access to a retirement plan through their employer, including small-business workers, self-employed workers, and gig workers.

Yet a typical Social Security check covers less than 40% of pre-retirement earnings, and that number is projected to drop to less than 28% within two years. At the same time, people are living longer. According to the World Economic Forum, a baby born in 2007 stands to live to be 103 — 36 years beyond Social Security’s current full retirement age. To further complicate matters, the student-debt crisis is also having an impact, with younger workers putting off saving for retirement because they are struggling to pay off student loans.

So how do we address this problem and ensure that all Americans are prepared for their golden years? There are several steps we can take that would have a tremendous impact.

First, we must continue to preserve tax incentives that encourage individuals to save for retirement. Allowing workers to contribute pre-tax wages to a 401(k) or other qualified retirement plan is a simple and proven way to encourage savings.

Second, it is critical that we take action to increase financial literacy — and that needs to start at a young age. It’s important that young people appreciate how student debt will affect them later in life, that younger workers understand just how much they need to be saving to be prepared for retirement, and that all employees are aware of the various tools available to them to invest in their own future.

… a typical Social Security check covers less than 40% of pre-retirement earnings, and that number is projected to drop to less than 28% within two years.

Finally, we must take steps to expand access to and increase participation in retirement-savings products and plans. In particular, we must make it easier for small businesses to offer retirement-savings plans by eliminating barriers for such businesses to band together in multiple-employer plans, thereby simplifying administration and lowering fees. It is also important to provide incentives for businesses to offer plans with automatic enrollment, and to require them to allow long-term part-time workers to have access to retirement benefits.

Congress must take bold action to bolster retirement savings and ensure that all Americans have access to the tools they need to save for their golden years. This crisis presents an opportunity for leaders in Washington to work collaboratively toward bipartisan solutions. The good news is that there already are bipartisan, bicameral efforts underway in Congress to pass legislation to bolster retirement savings.

The business community and our leaders in government must continue to work together to address and resolve the retirement-savings crisis facing our country. We owe it to the millions of Americans who work hard each and every day to keep our economy growing. We are hopeful that Congress will indeed take action on this important issue in the coming months so that all Americans will be able to realize the dream of a well-earned, secure retirement.

James T. Brett is president and CEO of the New England Council, a non-partisan, regional business association. U.S. Rep. Richard Neal represents Massachusetts’ First Congressional District and is the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Opinion

Editorial

We’ll probably never know how far the talks went between Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts concerning the acquisition of the $2 billion casino in Everett supposedly ready to open any time now.

We’ll just say that we’re glad — and the state should be glad, and the city of Springfield should be glad, and Everett should be glad — that those talks are over, and that MGM will stand pat (yes, that’s an industry term) and not pursue that property.

Had those talks continued and a sale been forged … well, let’s just say we don’t want to go there. And, again, we’re glad the state doesn’t have to. The status quo is working quite well in Springfield, thank you, and if there’s one thing the state and its Gaming Commission don’t need to bring to the picture right now, is question marks — or more question marks, to be more precise.

In case you missed it — and it was hard to miss — word leaked that Wynn Resorts, which is now licensed to operate a casino in Everett under the Encore brand, was in what were called “very preliminary discussions” about a sale of that property to MGM.

Media outlets across the Commonwealth then printed stories laden with conjecture about whether the sale should take place and what might happen if it did. Most of those quoted blasted the concept and projected that it would create something approaching chaos at a time when the state needed just the opposite from its still-fledgling casino industry.

“This isn’t a Monopoly game,” former state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, a key author of the state’s gaming law, told the Boston Globe as news of the talks broke, adding that a sale of the Boston property, which would force MGM to divest itself of the Springfield facility, was far from a slam dunk. Carlo DeMaria, mayor of Everett, went further, saying, “it’s not going to happen.”

Turns out he was right, because amid that wave of negative commentary and gloom-and-doom conjecture, MGM announced that it was playing the hand it was dealt.

Whether that’s the best move for company, we can’t say. But we can say it’s the best move for the state and this region.

MGM is a known commodity, but whichever entity would buy the Springfield casino is not, and while there are plenty of good casino operators out there, we don’t need an unknown commodity at this point.

Especially in Greater Springfield. Communities, businesses, nonprofits, and other constituencies have forged solid working relationships and partnerships with MGM. They haven’t forged them with a casino on Main Street, but instead with a company, one that has come to be a trusted stakeholder in this region.

So we’re glad MGM is not seeking potentially greener pastures in Boston.

But while this threat has passed, we have to wonder about how it materialized in the first place. The fact that Wynn Resorts fought a long, hard, very expensive battle to open a casino in Everett and then explored a sale just as it was set to cross the finish line is a head scratcher, to be sure.

But there is a lot we don’t know about this industry, and maybe a sale makes sense on some levels, especially if Wynn, which desperately wanted into the Massachusetts market, is now intent on getting out.

Just not a sale to MGM.

Now that MGM has backed away, it’s time for the Gaming Commission to determine whether Wynn is still the best fit for the Boston market, and if it isn’t, the state should find another player.

It’s also time to move forward with the next big order of business — sports gambling. As it did with gaming itself, the state is dragging its feet on sports gambling, losing revenue to neighboring Rhode Island with each day that passes.

Thankfully, the state, and Springfield, won’t have to deal with a change of ownership at the casino in Springfield’s South End.

Opinion

Opinion

By John Regan

As the Roman philosopher Seneca observed, “omni fine initium novum,” or, “every new beginning comes from the end of another.” 

As the Associated Industries of Massachusetts prepares to write a new and exciting chapter in its distinguished history, I am reminded at every moment of the wisdom, generosity, and quiet determination with which my predecessor, Rick Lord, has paved the road before me.

Rick never lost sight of where he came from, and he never forgot that trust and respect are the ultimate currency of public policy and service.

To the members of AIM and especially to the board of directors, I gratefully accept your commission to lead this organization, supporting the dreams and aspirations of Massachusetts employers. We must keep as our guiding principle the fact that economic growth remains the only effective method of achieving the social equity that makes our Commonwealth a great place to live and work.

There has never been a more pressing need for businesses to work together with the sort of common purpose that drove 28 visionary companies to create Associated Industries of Massachusetts 104 years ago. AIM welcomes all employers and dedicates itself to serving the needs of the full range of Massachusetts companies working to provide the hope of a better life to our friends and neighbors.

We remain committed to the principals of diversity, equity, and inclusion — on our board, on our staff, and throughout our membership. We assert unequivocally that AIM will be an association in the truest sense of the word, providing an opportunity for everyone — especially those who have historically been ignored — a full voice.

Everything we do at AIM is done to help businesses unlock their full potential. We fiercely advocate for positive public policy that helps to create a strong economy.

We empower businesses with the information, tools, and resources needed to successfully navigate a fast-paced, complex business world. We foster connections, networks, and the flow of ideas between people and businesses.

We believe that business can be a positive force for change in helping to create a better, more prosperous society. And the best part is, we’re just getting started.

This article is adapted from John Regan’s recent address at the Associated Industries of Massachusetts annual meeting, at which Regan stepped into the role of president and CEO.

Opinion

Opinion

By John Regan

Evidence from states that have imposed a surtax on incomes of more than $1 million shows that the policy causes irreparable harm to the economy while generating far less tax revenue than promised. A millionaires tax will cause the same harm in Massachusetts.

Lawmakers have refiled a proposal to amend the state Constitution to impose a graduated income tax, adding a 4% tax (representing an 80% increase in the personal income-tax rate) on all incomes over $1 million. The amendment would dictate that the revenue be spent on transportation and education.

A graduated income tax would eviscerate the small, family-owned businesses that form the heart of the Massachusetts economy. The surtax would take an estimated $2 billion from some 17,000 Main Street businesses and others that pay taxes at the individual rate and who would otherwise use the money to hire additional employers or expand their companies.

These companies are already drowning in more than $1.5 billion in new taxes and fees to pay for a financial shortfall in the Medicaid program and to fund the new paid family and medical leave program.

How do we know that surtaxes don’t work? Because our neighbors in Connecticut just drove their economy off a cliff by raising taxes three times in the past 10 years. Connecticut in 2009 added a 6.5% income-tax bracket for those earning more than $500,000 per year. The state followed up with a comprehensive $1.5 billion tax increase in 2011 to deal with a budget shortfall. A final round of tax increases took effect in 2015.

A graduated income tax would eviscerate the small, family-owned businesses that form the heart of the Massachusetts economy. The surtax would take an estimated $2 billion from some 17,000 Main Street businesses and others that pay taxes at the individual rate and who would otherwise use the money to hire additional employers or expand their companies.

According to information compiled by Pew Charitable Trusts, tax revenue for all 50 states is averaging 6.3% higher than it was at the start of the 2008 recession. Connecticut tax revenue, on the other hand, is only 3.8% higher, despite the three tax increases.

Once the economic heavyweight of New England, Connecticut is the only state in the nation which has yet to recover the jobs lost during the economic downturn. In addition, the state has seen an outmigration of residents since 2013 and the loss of major financial investors. Data from the Internal Revenue Service showed a spike in residents earning more than $200,000 per year leaving the state in 2015, and studies conducted by Connecticut state agencies and commissions have confirmed the loss of higher-income residents to other states.

Income-surtax laws have failed in other states as well. Within three years of Maryland enacting its millionaire tax, 40% of the state’s seven-figure earners were gone from the tax rolls — and so was $1.7 billion from the state tax base.

Similarly, in 2010, Boston College researchers released a report on the migration of wealthy households to and from New Jersey. They concluded that wealthier New Jersey households did in fact consider the high-earner taxes when deciding whether to move to or remain in New Jersey. From 1999 to 2003 — before the millionaires tax was imposed — there was a net influx of $98 billion in household wealth into the state. After the tax was implemented, an increasing number of wealthy families left the state, resulting in a loss of $70 billion in wealth.

Many of the business owners who fled Connecticut, Maryland and New Jersey moved to states that have worked to reduce, rather than boost, taxes, including North Carolina, New Hampshire, Georgia, and Tennessee.

John Regan is executive vice president of Government Affairs for Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

Opinion

Opinion

‘How are they doing?’

That’s the question that seemingly everyone is asking these days, with the ‘they’ obviously being MGM Springfield, the $960 million resort casino complex in Springfield’s South End. Everyone wants to know how they’re doing because this is the biggest business development in this part of the state in who knows how long, the expectations were and are sky-high, and the stakes — for MGM, the state, the city, and the region — are equally high.

And people want to know because, well, it’s not clear just how well they’re doing so far. The revenue numbers, meaning GGR (gross gambling revenues), are not on pace to come close to what MGM told the state they would be for the first year of operation at this facility — just over $400 million. Indeed, over the first six months or so of operation, MGM Springfield was averaging just over $20 million per month. You can do the math.

But beyond the revenues, there are other signs that perhaps this casino is not performing as well as all or most us thought it would and hope it will.

Going all the way back to opening day, the traffic, the lines to get in, the crowds of people downtown just haven’t materialized. Yes, there have been some big days (usually Saturday nights) when it’s difficult to maneuver around downtown Springfield, but not as many as we were led to believe.

Thus the question, ‘how are they doing?’

It’s a difficult question to answer because there are many ways to answer it, and aside from those really qualified to answer that query, no one truly knows.

More to the point, and Mike Mathis said this to BusinessWest for a recent interview, it’s still early in the game when it comes to both gaming in Massachusetts and MGM Springfield, and perhaps much too early to be drawing conclusions about how MGM will fare even this year, let alone in the years to come.

He’s right. These early months can tell us something about how MGM Springfield is going to perform over the long term, but they’re not going to tell us everything. Several of these first months have come in late fall and winter, a typically slow period in this region for both business and tourism.

Meanwhile, MGM Springfield is still very much in the process of trying to figure out what works in this market and what doesn’t, and how to achieve maximum efficiency for this multi-faceted operation. Mathis and others at MGM call this period ‘ramping up,’ and they project it might take three years to get all the way up the ramp.

But there are many reasons for optimism, starting with a change of season and the likelihood that MGM will make far better use of its vast and unique outdoor facilities. There’s also the emerging ROAR! Comedy Club and a multi-year partnership agreement recently inked with the Boston Red Sox that will make MGM Springfield the team’s ‘official and exclusive resort casino’ (replacing Foxwoods in Connecticut) and home to its January Winter Weekend.

Finally, when it comes to the ‘how are they doing?’ question, the most important aspect of the answer relates not to revenues for the state‚ although those are important, but impact on the city of Springfield and the surrounding region.

In the years and then months leading up to the casino’s opening, area officials — and those of us at BusinessWest — said MGM was going to be big piece of the puzzle, not the entire picture. It was going to be a big contributor to the overall vibrancy in the region, but just one of many potential contributors.

Overall, we expected the casino to be a catalyst, not a cure-all, a force that would help put Springfield on the map and help bring people to that spot that on the map.

Maybe all the revenues are not as solid as we hoped they would be, but thus far, the casino is doing most everything we anticipated it might do.

Opinion

Opinion

 By Associated Industries of Massachusetts

Late winter and early spring is high workplace gambling season. College basketball’s March Madness playoff brackets mean many workers will be talking about, gambling on, and even watching the games at work. 

What does workplace gambling look like? Betting pools, online betting, cellphone calls, and texting are some of the common methods employees use to gamble during the workday. All this may lead to a significant reduction in job performance by some employees.

On the other hand, many employers regard employee gambling as a harmless distraction that creates a little excitement, a diversion from the humdrum of the long winter and workday routines. Most employees treat it as a lark that, win or lose, will not impact them very much. In most workplaces, the single-pool proceeds are relatively small dollars, ranging anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars to perhaps a few thousand.

That said, workplace gambling is a big deal and likely to get bigger. The American Gaming Assoc. estimates that employees may bet up to $10 billion alone on the college basketball tournament. And, by the way, sports betting remains illegal in Massachusetts. 

If you are concerned about workplace gambling or feel that your current policies are insufficient, here are some questions to consider:

• Does gambling disrupt the workplace? Is the gambling behavior interfering with production? Are arguments between employees over games and gambling taking place? Is bad blood festering over unpaid debts? Is there a spike in wallet or purse thefts among co-workers? 

• Are you seeing betting take up an unreasonable amount of work time? Are workers leaving their work stations throughout the day to discuss gambling? Are they gathering during work time to discuss betting options?

• Are gambling employees asking co-workers or the company for loans on wages or from 401Ks, or are there delays in repaying debts? 

• Are your supervisors running the gambling pool, raising disparate treatment issues across the business?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, you may want to consider establishing a gambling policy.

There are a number of options:

• Adopt a no-gambling policy. Define gambling or the type of behavior that is restricted. Employers are free to establish such a policy. The key factor, as always, will be how consistently will it be enforced by your supervisors.

• Determine what constitutes appropriate disciplinary action against any employee who violates the policy.

• Consider adopting a limited no-gambling policy. One method would be to prohibit gambling above a certain dollar figure or value. Such a policy would recognize that small-stakes gambling such as a few dollars or a lunch is reasonable and will be tolerated even though it remains illegal under state law. The problem — will employees disclose they are doing it? There is also the question of determining what is a reasonable dollar value threshold and how to enforce it.

While it is unlikely any company would face any serious civil or criminal liability for a small-time gambling pool, if its operation makes some employees feel uncomfortable, it may make sense to end the practice as soon as you become aware of it, or before it gets going. Whatever policy you choose to adopt, make sure it is one that is enforceable for your workplace. 

Opinion

Opinion

By Katie Holahan

Healthcare spending in Massachusetts grew less than a key state benchmark and less than the national average during 2017, but employers and workers are not yet seeing the benefits.

The annual Healthcare Cost Trends Report issued this month by the state Health Policy Commission (HPC) indicates that total per-capita healthcare expenditures in Massachusetts rose 1.6% during 2016, significantly less than the 3.6% benchmark set by the commission. The Massachusetts growth rate also fell below the national rate — 3.1% — for the eighth consecutive year.

But the health-insurance premiums paid by Massachusetts employers and employees increased 5.8% in 2017, leaving the average total premium for employer-based coverage among the highest in the country at $21,000 per year for a family plan and $7,000 for a single employee. These figures do not include out-of-pocket spending such as co-payments and deductible spending, which grew 5.9% in 2017 for commercially insured enrollees.

Premiums for smaller employers increased 6.9% and are now the second-highest in the country, according to the HPC. Fifty-seven percent of employees in small businesses are enrolled in high-deductible health plans.

Part of the reason employers are not seeing more benefit from moderating health spending may be the fact that commercial insurers in Massachusetts pay higher prices to providers than Medicare pays for the same services. For hospital inpatient care, average prices among the three largest Massachusetts insurers were 57% higher than Medicare prices for similar patients. Commercial insurers also paid much more for typical outpatient services, including brain MRIs, emergency-department visits, and physician office visits.

Premiums for smaller employers increased 6.9% and are now the second-highest in the country, according to the HPC. Fifty-seven percent of employees in small businesses are enrolled in high-deductible health plans.

The HPC attributed much of the overall increase health-care expenditures to spending on prescription drugs (4.1%) and hospital outpatient services (4.9%). The commission also found that medical bills can vary as much as 30% from one hospital or medical group to another with no measurable different in quality of care.

The HPC makes 11 policy recommendations to continue health spending moderation. Among the highlights:

• The Commonwealth should focus on reducing unnecessary utilization and increasing the provision of coordinated care in high-value, low-cost settings.

• Policymakers should advance specific, data-driven interventions to address the pressing issue of continued provider price variation in the coming year.

• The Commonwealth should continue to promote the increased adoption of alternative payment methods.

• The Commonwealth should authorize the Executive Office of Health and Human Services to establish a process that allows for a rigorous review of certain high-cost drugs, increasing the ability of MassHealth to negotiate directly with drug manufacturers for additional supplemental rebates and outcomes-based contracts, and increasing public transparency and public oversight for pharmaceutical manufacturers, medical-device companies, and pharmacy benefit managers.

Katie Holahan is vice president of Government Affairs for Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

Opinion

Editorial

Just over a decade ago, BusinessWest launched a new recognition program, Difference Makers. And in many ways, the past 10 years have been a celebration of the many different ways groups and individuals can make a difference in their community, and this region as a whole.

Indeed, those making their way to the podium at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke have included a sheriff of Hampden County, a police chief in Holyoke, the president of UMass Amherst, the founder of Rays of Hope, the director of Junior Achievement, the co-founder of Link to Libraries, the creators of Valley Venture Mentors … the list goes on.

And this year’s additions to that list  provide still more evidence that there are countless ways to make a difference, and they all need to be celebrated:

• Let’s start with the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. This Hatfield-based agency, launched in the early ’80s, is a Difference Maker on many levels, from the 11.6 million pounds of food and 9.6 million meals it provides to area shelters and soup kitchens, to its Coalition to End Hunger, which is raising awareness of the problem, attacking the stigma attached to it, and advocating for those in need. For almost 40 years, the Food Bank has been answering the call.

• The same is true of Joe Peters, a businessman who has always had an influence that has extended far beyond the walls of Universal Plastics. It has extended across Chicopee, the city he grew up and still lives in today, with initiatives such as the so-called ‘sandwich ministry,’ a program he helped start to feed the homeless in that city. And it has extended all the way to Guayape, Honduras, where he helped bring a new ambulance to that hurricane-ravaged village. He has always looked for new ways to step in and change lives for the better.

• As has Peter Gagliardi, the long-time president and CEO of Way Finders. He has spent the past 45 years working in the broad realm of housing and the past quarter-century at Way Finders, where he has greatly expanded the mission and, while doing so, has changed lives and helped change the course of entire neighborhoods through the power of collaboration.

• Frederick and Marjorie Hurst have always been catalysts for positive change within their community, especially through the newsmagazine they created called An African American Point of View, a name that speaks volumes about its mission and importance to the community. It blends community news with often-unsparing commentary, and speaks with a powerful voice, just like its founders.

• The Springfield Museums, as a cultural institution, is a different kind of Difference Maker. For more than 160 years, it has helped bring art, science, history, and memories to visitors from across this region and far outside it, a mission that entered a new dimension with the opening of the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum in 2017. Collectively, the Museums have helped put Springfield on the map and make it far more of a destination.

• Meanwhile, Carla Cosenzi, co-president of the TommyCar Auto Group, has found her own ways to make a difference. First, as a successful business owner and, therefore, role model and mentor to many young women. But also has a warrior in the battle against cancer, the disease that claimed the life of her father, through the Tommy Cosenzi Driving for the Cure Golf Tournament.

As we said, there are no limits on the ways that an individual or group can make a difference here in Western Massachusetts, or in Guayape, Honduras for that matter. That’s what we’ve been celebrating for the past decade, and the celebration continues with the class of 2019.

Opinion

Opinion

By Tom Flanagan

Burnout among the nation’s physicians has become so pervasive that a new paper published by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Harvard Global Health Institute, the Massachusetts Medical Society, and the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Assoc. has deemed the condition a public health crisis.

In a 2018 survey conducted by Merritt-Hawkins, 78% of physicians surveyed said they experience some symptoms of professional burnout.

The paper includes directives aimed at curbing the prevalence of burnout among physicians and other care providers, including the appointment of an executive-level chief wellness officer at every major healthcare organization, proactive mental-health treatment and support for caregivers experiencing burnout, and improvements to the efficiency of electronic health records. 

In a 2018 survey conducted by Merritt-Hawkins, 78% of physicians surveyed said they experience some symptoms of professional burnout. Burnout is a syndrome involving one or more of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and diminished sense of personal accomplishment. Physicians experiencing burnout are more likely than their peers to reduce their work hours or exit their profession. 

“The issue of burnout is something we take incredibly seriously because physician wellbeing is linked to providing quality care and favorable outcomes for our patients,” said Dr. Alain Chaoui, a practicing family physician and president of the Massachusetts Medical Society.  “We need our healthcare institutions to recognize burnout at the highest level and to take active steps to survey physicians for burnout and then identify and implement solutions. We need to take better care of our doctors and all caregivers so that they can continue to take the best care of us.” 

By 2025, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services predicts that there will be a nationwide shortage of nearly 90,000 physicians, many driven away from medicine or out of practice because of the effects of burnout. Further complicating matters is the cost an employer must incur to recruit and replace a physician, estimated at between $500,000 and $1,000.000.

The growth in poorly designed digital health records and quality metrics has required that physicians spend more and more time on tasks that don’t directly benefit patients, contributing to a growing epidemic of physician burnout,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, a Veterans Affairs physician and Harvard faculty member. “There is simply no way to achieve the goal of improving healthcare while those on the front lines — our physicians — are experiencing an epidemic of burnout due to the conflicting demands of their work. We need to identify and share innovative best practices to support doctors in fulfilling their mission to care for patients.” 

The full report is available at www.massmed.org.

Tom Flanagan is Media Relations manager for the Massachusetts Medical Society.

Opinion

Opinion

By Rick Lord

Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) and its 4,000 member companies last week called upon the Legislature and Gov. Charlie Baker to end to the two-year assessment imposed on employers last year to close a financial gap at the state’s MassHealth insurance program for low-income residents.

AIM believes the assessment is no longer necessary because employers last year paid tens of millions of dollars more than anticipated under the levy. Businesses are on track to contribute some $519 million by the time the assessment sunsets at the end of this year instead of the $400 million envisioned under the 2017 legislation.

At the same time, enrollment in MassHealth has fallen as the Baker administration has initiated steps to ensure that only people eligible for benefits receive them. And state tax collections have exceeded targets over the past several months, putting the state on firmer financial footing.

“The conditions that led to the imposition of the surcharge no longer exist. Employers who have paid hundreds of millions of dollars in assessments believe it is fair to look at ending the surcharge in year two,” said John Regan, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs at AIM.

The Legislature passed the assessment in July 2017 minus a set of structural reforms proposed by Gov. Baker to place the MassHealth/Medicaid program on a firm financial footing. The assessment fell most heavily upon companies in which employees elect to use MassHealth rather than the employer-sponsored health plan.

An existing assessment called the employer medical assistance contribution increased from $51 to $77 per employee. Employers also were required to pay up to $750 for each worker who receives public health benefits.

Employers may request a waiver from the fees if they prove a hardship. Of 246 such waiver requests, administration officials said they have allowed 99.

Gov. Baker originally proposed a $2,000-per-employee assessment upon companies at which at least 80% of full-time worker equivalents did not take the company’s offer of health insurance, and that did not make a minimum contribution of a $4,950 annual contribution for each full-time worker. That proposal encountered significant opposition from the business community.

AIM member employers are proud to lead the nation in providing healthcare coverage to their employees. Sixty-five percent of Bay State companies offer health-insurance coverage to their workers, compared with 56% of employers nationwide. A full 100% of Massachusetts employers with 200 or more employees offer coverage. 

Employers stand ready to work with policymakers to make long-term structural reforms to both the MassHealth program and the commercial insurance markets to make the financing of healthcare for Massachusetts residents sustainable.

Rick Lord is president and CEO of Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

Opinion

Editorial

UMass Football has a new coach — now former Florida State Offensive Coordinator Walt Bell.

What the program doesn’t have, at least from our vantage point, is a clear path out of what seems to be some very thick weeds. Indeed, the program, which moved into what’s known as the FSB, the Division 1 Football Bowl Subdivision, in 2012, seems to be mired in quicksand, with poor records, seemingly poor support from fans, and a distinct lack of any light at the end of the tunnel.

A new coach might help, but we believe the problems run deeper than that — deep enough to prompt discussion about whether this move to the FSB can someday achieve the lofty goals set years ago.

And that’s where we need to start, with those goals.

They were broad, and included a winning program that would bring prestige, revenue, and perhaps even some top-shelf students to the campus in Amherst.

Thus far, the move to the FSB has achieved little if any of that. On the revenue side, for example, after losing money in 2016 and 2015, university athletics finished in the black in 2017, to the tune of roughly $500,000. But those numbers pale in comparison to the major football powerhouses, and as expenses continue to rise, we wonder how long university athletics, and especially the football program, can operate in the black.

Meanwhile, far from attracting new fans, the program seems to be alienating alums and supporters, first by playing home games at Gillette stadium (a strategy that was thankfully shelved, for the most part), and then by putting together schedules of games against opponents that no one knows or cares about.

Indeed, as a member of the Mid-America conference for a few seasons, UMass played the likes of Buffalo, Bowling Green, Central Michigan, Toledo, and Akron. And, now, as an independent after leaving the MAC in 2015, the Minutemen play teams like Charlotte, Georgia Southern, Liberty, and Florida Atlantic. None of these teams resonate with alums and residents of the region, and they won’t, even if UMass plays them for the next 20 years.

Yes, Georgia, Boston College, and Brigham Young University were on this year’s schedule (BYU was even a home game), but the respective scores were 66-7, 55-21, and 35-16.

OK, this is not a sports publication, and this bit of commentary is not about how bad the UMass defense was. Well, maybe it’s a little about that, and the defense was really bad, giving up almost 43 points a game.

No, it’s a business publication, and in most all respects, UMass football isn’t a sport, it’s a business — a business that has yet to find its way and probably needs a new strategic plan, in addition to a new CEO (head coach).

But determining which direction to go in is difficult. One can make a logical case that maybe the best course for the university is to go back down a division and put some traditional, or at least geographic, rivalries back on the schedule — teams like New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Maine, and maybe Harvard and Holy Cross, if those schools are so inclined.

But going backward isn’t an appealing option.

Still, going forward at this pace doesn’t appear to make sense, either. To really be successful within the FSB, the school will have to continue to make the huge investments in facilities needed to attract top players.

And we wonder out loud whether it will be worth it. After all, the school continues to rise in the USA Today rankings and overall prestige as a research university, and it would be very fair to say that none of that upward movement has anything whatsoever to do with the football program.

Like we said, UMass football has a new coach. What is doesn’t appear to have is a sense of direction regarding the future.

It’s definitely time to get one.

Opinion

Opinion

By Jennifer Connelly

There’s no doubt that talking, in some form, is one of our favorite pastimes. But within our close circles of family, some things that are important to talk about between generations are not being discussed at all — critical things like money and how to manage it.

More than 75% of kids report that their parents don’t discuss money and personal finance with them, probably for several reasons. For parents struggling with their own personal finances, they may not feel educated or financially empowered enough to be a mentor, or they may not have time. It may take a small crisis such as misusing a credit card or phone plan for a parent to recognize certain financial basics are a must in the short term. But still, they may not fully realize how important ongoing and broad financial education is to preventing increasing financial struggles, protecting against cycles of financial instability and poverty, and maximizing a child’s chance for financial success.

So it’s not surprising that last year, a much-touted global study by the Organization for Economic Development Corp. showed that one in five teenage students in the U.S. lack basic financial literacy skills, lagging behind 14 other nations. But most young people will face significant financial decisions before their 20th birthday. And the number and complexity of financial decisions they’re faced with is growing all the time: student loans, credit-card options, insurance, mortgages, investing, and entrepreneurship, to name a few.

Student loans may be the first major financial decision many young people face. In 2018, the U, S. Department of Education reported that student loan debt in the U.S. was over $1.4 trillion. In Massachusetts, 60% of college students graduate with debt averaging over $31,000, and default rates are significant.

Also, the increased use of costly, ‘quick-fix’ financial options by young people — such as payday loans, pawn shops, and rent-to-own stores — is concerning.

The consequences of overwhelming debt and poor financial decision making can be grave, including lack of ability to pursue educational, job, and residential opportunities; bad credit resulting in a lifetime of higher interest rates; job loss; bankruptcy; extreme psychological stress; and physical and emotional strain. However, most states do not require schools to teach young people much about the financial world they will face and the skills they need to engage and succeed economically. 

Personal financial-literacy education (PFLE) includes the basics of financial products, the influencers and consequences of financial decision making, and the necessity of personal financial planning. The call for all students to be taught this crucial preparatory subject is growing louder, often coming from young people themselves who often say they wish this had been taught in their school.

The logic and effectiveness of teaching high-school students PFLE is solid: financial literacy leads to better personal-finance behavior. Many studies demonstrate people with higher levels of financial literacy make better personal-finance decisions. A 2014 study commissioned by the Federal Reserve showed that mandated personal-finance education in high school improved the credit scores and reduced the default rates of young adults. And it is well-established that those who are financially illiterate are less likely to have a checking account, rainy-day emergency fund, or retirement plan, or to own stocks; they are more likely to use payday loans, pay only credit-card minimums, have high-cost mortgages, and have higher debt and credit-delinquency levels.

Government and business leaders perennially focused on the state’s fiscal and economic health should care that financial illiteracy is currently the norm. Also, for all the talk in Massachusetts about addressing economic inequality, practical, viable solutions are in short supply. Requiring PFLE is a win for everyone.

Jennifer Connelly is president of Junior Achievement of Western Mass. This commentary is supported by the agency board’s officers, Albert Kasper, Phil Goncalves, and Nicole Denette.

Opinion

Opinion

By Cheryl Fasano

Workplaces that welcome the talents of all people, including people with disabilities, are a critical component in efforts to build an inclusive community and a strong economy. In my role as president and CEO of MHA, I see the impact that doing meaningful work can have on those we serve. Our participants include people with developmental or intellectual disabilities, people dealing with the life-changing effects of a stroke, people struggling with their mental wellness, and those with other disabilities.

This topic is timely because October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. This annual observance educates the public about disability employment issues and celebrates the many and varied contributions of America’s workers with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Disability Employment Policy leads the observance nationally, but its true spirit grows from local communities through the individual determination of people who overcome barriers and do meaningful work. It also grows from the vision of employers who provide access and reasonable accommodations so persons with disabilities can contribute to their organizations and our economy as part of the workforce.

As a local, nonprofit provider of residential and support services, MHA works with people who are impacted by mental illness, developmental disabilities, substance use, and homelessness. For those whose disabilities are not so severe and medically challenged, MHA does its part to ensure that participants who want to work are ready to work. Consider two examples.

Erik, who suffered brain injury as a child, works at the CVS store in Ludlow. He has a job coach who guides him, but Erik does the work himself — as he has consistently and reliably more than 20 years. Work is part of his identity, and he will tell you he is proud to have a job. Erik resides at an MHA residential home. Our staff ensures he is well rested, eats a healthy breakfast, and is dressed in his work clothes and ready for his shift at CVS.

After Allen sustained a serious injury, he was prescribed opioid pain killers. He became addicted, and when couldn’t get more pills, as too often happens, he resorted to heroin. An overdose left him with acquired brain injury, but with support from MHA, he is making steady progress. In time, he may be able to ‘graduate’ from residential care and live independently. That is the goal. One step toward that goal is a job. Allen is just a few short weeks away from starting to work again, something he has not done in recent years. He is ready to work.

MHA also has participants who work for nonprofits as volunteers, serve meals at Lorraine’s Soup Kitchen, and clean at East Longmeadow Public Library and the Zoo in Forest Park. While they are not paid, they do meaningful work. They also make social connections, learn transferable skills, and contribute to organizations that gain from having committed, loyal, pleasant, and productive workers.

MHA encourages local businesses to consider offering employment opportunities to those we serve. Our program participants are ready to work — are you ready to hire? If your organization can provide an opportunity for someone who is ready to work, contact Kimberley Lee, MHA’s vice president of Resource Development and Branding, at (413) 233-5343 or [email protected]

Cheryl Fasano is president and CEO of MHA.

Opinion

Editorial

Sept. 17 was a huge day for Springfield and this region. It was, as they say, a ground-breaking moment, both literally and figuratively.

As for the literal part of that equation, ground was broken for the $14 million Educare early education school to be constructed adjacent to the Brookings School, on land provided by Springfield College, and operated by Holyoke, Chicopee Springfield Head Start. This is the 24th Educare School to be built in the United States and the only one in Massachsetts. This was a typical ground-breaking ceremony with a host of local and state leaders, including Lt. Gov. Karen Polito.

As for the figurative part, this development is potentially ground-breaking on a number of levels. Educare represents what is truly cutting edge when it comes to practices in early education, and Educare Springfield represents an enormous opportunity for city residents to help break the cycle of poverty that has existed for decades.

Educare, which represents a national collaboration between the Buffett Early Childhood Fund, Ounce of Prevention Fund, and hundreds of other public-private partners across the country, offers an early education model designed to help narrow the achievement gap for children living in poverty. This model, which involves a full-day, full-year program for up to 141 children from birth to age five, incorporates embedded and ongoing professional development of teachers, intensive family engagement, and high-quality teaching practices, and utilizes data to advance outcomes for students in the program.

In other words it focuses on all three of the critical elements involved on the early-education process: Children, their families, and their educators. And all are equally important.

The students? Their participation in this program is obvious. Study after study has shown the importance of early education in setting young children on a course for life-long learning and providing them a far better chance to stay on that course. The year-long, all-day model translates into a more comprehensive — and more impactful — learning experience.

As for families, they are also an integral part of the early education process. Parents must become invested in the process and in their child’s education, and the Educare model ensures that this is the case.

And the educators? They are often the forgotten piece in this equation. Historically underpaid and seemingly underappreciated, early education teachers have a vital role in putting young children on a path to life-long learning. Ongoing professional development is an important component in this process.

Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation, a long-time supporter and advocates for early education, played a lead role in making the Educare center a reality. But there were many other supporters as well, including the the Gage Olmstead Fund and Albert Steiger Memorial Fund at the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts; the MassMutual Foundation; Berkshire Bank; MassDevelopment; MassWorks Infrastructure Program at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development; the Early Education and Out of School Time Capital Grant Fund through the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care in collaboration with the Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation (CEDAC) and their affiliate, the Children’s Investment Fund; the George Kaiser Family Foundation; Florence Bank; Capital One Commercial Banking; and anonymous donors.

All these businesses and agencies understand the importance of early education, not only to the children and to the families, but to the city of Springfield and the entire region. As we’ve said on many occasions, early education is an education issue, but it is also an economic development issue.

And that’s why this is a ground-breaking development for this area, in all kinds of ways.

Opinion

Opinion

By Kathleen Scoble

This November, voters will make one of the most critical decisions regarding the future of patient care in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts when they vote on Question 1, which would institute government-mandated nurse staffing levels at all hospitals statewide. On the surface, it might appear that using legislation to set registered-nurse-to-patient ratios would benefit patients, nurses, and hospitals, but that is not the case.

If approved, the law would require every hospital to adopt rigid registered nurse-to-patient ratios at all times — without consideration of a hospital’s size or location, and regardless of individual patients’ specific care needs. If this legislation is enacted, the impact will be devastating to hospitals, to the quality and safety of patient care, and to the much-respected role of the professional nurse.

Legislating nurse-staffing ratios is an illogical, unproven approach to providing nursing care to hospitalized patients. In essence, this practice broadly assumes that professional nurses and their nursing leadership are incapable of determining and providing the levels of nursing care required by the patients in their care at any given day or time. It also assumes that lawmakers know better how to care for patients than the professionals to whom these patients entrust their lives.

A far deeper concern is that, if nurse staffing ratios are enacted, nurses will be rendered powerless to step in and do what they know is right — what they know is needed — in caring for patients. A nurse will not be permitted to exceed the legislated nurse-staffing level by assuming the care of another patient arriving on the unit, even if the nurse determines that it is feasible and necessary to do so. How can that be considered safe or high-quality care?

Professional nurses are prepared and committed to coordinating and providing the care of seriously ill patients. I hope to give voters the assurance that nurses do not need a government-regulated staffing ratio to provide excellent care. As the dean of a long-standing and well-respected nursing program, I can confidently report that nurses are educated to be flexible, quick, and competent thinkers, and are capable of independent decision making based on the immediate situation and the circumstances presented.

Finally, it is projected that legislating staffing ratios will drive up costs, which would force hospitals to make deep cuts to critical programs, close patient-care units, and in some cases close down. This legislation could be especially devastating for communities with small hospitals, especially in rural locations where resources are less accessible. Patients in these areas might be forced to travel farther and wait longer for medical care. Again, how can that be considered safe or high-quality care for the citizens of the Commonwealth?

Your vote on this is critically important. I ask you to join Massachusetts nurses, hospitals, and leading healthcare organizations in opposing this costly and unproven proposal. Please vote no on Question 1.

Kathleen Scoble, Ed.D., MA, M.Ed., RN, is dean of the School of Nursing at Elms College.

Opinion

Editorial

What’s in a name — or a brand?

Sometimes, very little, especially when it comes to government agencies, state or federal offices, or administrative programs. Changes in names and titles undertaken to eliminate confusion and generate progress rarely succeed in those missions.

We don’t believe that will the case with the state’s decision to rebrand, if you will, its many workforce-oriented agencies under the umbrella name MassHire. For example, the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County is now the MassHire Hampden County Workforce Board; CareerPoint in Holyoke is now the MassHire Holyoke Career Center. Springfield-based FutureWorks is now the MassHire Springfield Career Center; you get the idea.

There are 29 career centers and 16 workforce boards across the state, and they are now all unified under the MassHire brand, replacing what were 45 different names.

It sounds like a simple bureaucratic initiative perhaps designed to save money. But it’s much more than that; it’s an effort to simplify matters for job seekers and employers alike and bring more focus and energy to what is easily this state’s biggest and most vexing ongoing issue when it comes to business and economic development — creating and sustaining a large and effective workforce.

Rebranding to MassHire won’t solve all the problems, but it will make the system that’s been created — and it is a very good system, to be sure — far more user-friendly and reduce a great deal of confusion about where employers, employees, and job seekers should turn for help.

And a good deal of help is needed when it comes to each of those constituencies.

For employers, these are very intriguing times, as we’ve noted on many occasions and in several different ways. The economy is chugging along and doing very well in most respects. Many companies across a number of sectors are in a growth mode, but they are challenged — as in severely challenged — to find talented help that will enable them to achieve that growth.

Rebranding to MassHire won’t solve all the problems, but it will make the system that’s been created — and it is a very good system, to be sure — far more user-friendly and reduce a great deal of confusion about where employers, employees, and job seekers should turn for help.

It’s a numbers game, and it’s reaching a critical stage as unemployment rates continues to fall, even in urban markets such as Springfield and Holyoke, where they have been consistently higher than the state and national averages. In fact, in many states, and in this one, according to most accounts, we’re at what’s known as full employment.

That’s a technical term to describe a situation where, by and large, everyone who needs a job, and is qualified to hold one, has one. Full employment is a good thing, in most respects, but it’s also a dangerous state, because employers are under more duress as they look to fill their ranks.

Meanwhile, this situation is made much worse by the huge numbers of Baby Boomers that are retiring each year.

The phrase you hear most often these days, whether it’s the manufacturing sector (that’s probably where it’s heard most) or healthcare, or even financial services, is that candidates ‘lack the skills’ companies require. The career centers and workforce boards were created to help people acquire those skills and make them workforce-ready.

But because each one had a different name, there was often confusion about just where employers and employees should turn to get the help they needed.

As we said, rebranding to MassHire is not, by itself, going to solve the many workforce challenges facing this state. But it is a big step forward in many respects.

What’s in a name? In this case, plenty.

Opinion

Opinon

By Suzanne Parker

Politics affects nearly every aspect of our daily lives. But for some groups, including women and girls, what happens politically has a disproportionate impact on their health, safety, and well-being.

Many of the issues heavily debated right now — the economy, healthcare, gun control, and education — carry tremendous consequences for those most vulnerable and with the least amount of political power due to factors such as gender, age, race, and ethnicity.

This is why it’s so important for girls to be civically engaged as early as possible. Through the Girls Inc. ‘She Votes’ initiative, girls realize the power of their voices, learn about the structure and role of the U.S. government, and are inspired to lead and become future female leaders.

Through ‘She Votes,’ girls research candidates, hold mock debates, meet with elected officials, visit polling places, and even help register voters.

Building a more equitable society means educating and empowering girls to be actively involved in civics and the political process. Three key reasons why it matters right now:

1. Starting early means greater likelihood of voting

We know there is a relationship between youth civic education and their political engagement and future voting. When we help young people understand early on why voting is important, how the political process works, voting rights, and their local government, they build a lifelong commitment to being civically engaged. During the 2014 midterm elections, only 12% of eligible 18- to 21-year-old college or university students voted.

2. Women are still very underrepresented in public office

Women remain underrepresented among state governors, in Legislatures, and in local office. Women of color are further underrepresented as elected officials. While women make up more than half the U.S. population, they are represented by a Congress made up of 80% men. Educating girls and young women about this reality can empower them to change it. A government cannot represent the will of the people unless it reflects their diversity.

3. The 2018 midterm elections

On average, voter turnout is about 60% in a presidential election years, but only 40% during midterm years. Yet Congress (as well as local leaders) determines many of the policies that impact our daily lives. With a number of key issues affecting women and girls on the legislative agenda, this year’s election will play a critical role in determining whether girls in this country have the rights and opportunities they need to grow up healthy, educated, and empowered.

At Girls Inc., we believe the recruitment of women into political and other forms of leadership must start with girls. We encourage area residents and business leaders to use this year’s election season to engage and empower the girls in your lives — and make sure you vote, too.

Suzanne Parker is executive director of Girls Inc. of Holyoke; [email protected]

Opinion

Editorial

With MGM Springfield dominating the 24-hour news cycle like nothing that came before it in local business history, it’s sometimes easy to momentarily forget about all the other positive, even transformational things going on within the local economy.

We said ‘momentarily,’ because this issue should help readers put the new casino aside for just a moment and appreciate, again, the depth and diversity of the region’s economy and all it takes to make this region as special as it is.

Specifically, we’re talking about the Healthcare Heroes for 2018. And there’s plenty to talk about.

Healthcare Heroes is a recognition program created by BusinessWest and its sister publication, the Healthcare News, and launched last year to shine a bright spotlight on a sector that is sometimes overlooked. Indeed, BusinessWest has other recognition programs — Forty Under 40 and Difference Makers — but, historically, those working within the broad realm of health and wellness have not been well-represented by those programs, making it clear that something distinct for that sector was needed.

One of the goals with Healthcare Heroes was to create a vehicle for relaying some of the many amazing stories taking place within this industry, stories that convey energy, compassion, innovation, forward thinking, and, above all, passion — for finding ways to improve quality of life for those that these people and agencies touch every day.

It was that way in 2017 with the inaugural class of Heroes, and it’s the same this year with the winners of seven carefully crafted categories. The stories are many things, but most of all, they’re inspiring, which was yet another goal of this program. Each story is different, but the common denominator is the passion brought to what they do.

That’s what Mary Paquette brings to her role as director of Health Services at American International College. She has completely transformed that service, once one of the lowest-rated in surveys of students, into one of the highest.

It’s also what Celeste Surreira, winner in the ‘administration’ category, brings to the Soldiers’ Home in Holyoke every day. She’s spent most of her long career in healthcare working the emergency room, but made this dramatic career shift because it represented a chance to be on the front lines dealing with the larger issues emerging in healthcare today.

And it’s what Dr. Matthew Sadof has brought to his pediatric practice for decades now. A passionate advocate for the underserved and the marginalized, he has dedicated his career to healing patients and — through his work with the Community Asthma Coalition and other initiatives — making the Springfield community a better, healthier one.

Peter DePergola II is the Hero in the Emerging Leader category, and fittingly so. He has emerged as not only a leader but a true pioneer in the field of bioethics. There are many facets to his work, especially those incredibly hard talks he must have with patients, families, and healthcare providers about end-of-life issues.

Speaking of pioneers, that term also applies to Robert Fazzi. He likes to say he’s spent his entire career — nearly a half-century of work — in the ‘helping professions,’ culminating in his work with company, which, for 40 years, has been on the cutting edge of developments in the home-care and hospice sectors.

That phrase cutting-edge also applies to the winner in the Innovation category, TechSpring. Launched more than three years ago, this venture, in the words of its co-founder Christian Lagier, exists at the intersection of healthcare and technology, and has forged unique collaborative efforts between innovators, healthcare providers, and even patients to bring new developments to the market.

Lastly, in the category called Collaboration in Health/Wellness, a large, powerful collaboration led by the Western Mass. Training Consortium and the Opioid Task Force of Franklin County and the North Quabbin Region has been changing — and saving — lives through a host of innovative initiatives.

Together, and also individually, these stories are powerful — powerful enough to take your eyes off the new casino for a minute and understand just some of the many other awesome things taking place in this region.

Opinion

Opinion

By Cheryl Fasano

Last year alone, drug overdoses killed 72,000 Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that record number reflects a 10% increase from the year before. In Massachusetts alone, there were more than 2,000 deaths due to overdose in 2017. It’s an epidemic that we, as a community, must fight.

Gov. Charlie Baker recently signed into law new legislation that expands opioid-addiction treatment in Massachusetts. The new law has been described as “the most aggressive and progressive” in the country, and, given the crisis of opioid abuse in the Bay State, this approach is most welcome.

One aspect of the law that Mental Health Associates (MHA) believes deserves special recognition is a new set of standards and an established credentialing process for recovery coaches. A recovery coach is someone who has received specialized training to provide guidance and support for people who are just beginning their recovery and are especially vulnerable to relapse. Importantly, a recovery coach also has lived experience with addiction and is in long-term recovery.

When it comes to getting clean and staying clean, a recovery coach has ‘been there’ and ‘gets it’ in a way only someone who has experienced addiction understands. A recovery coach is a critical resource for an individual in recovery.

“You’ve got to find some way to help people stay in the game and stay clean once they get clean,” Baker said. “Creating a credentialing framework and making it possible for services to be reimbursed [by insurance] is a huge part of how we ultimately win this fight.”

MHA applauds the governor and state Legislature on the passage of this crucial new legislation. It makes us even more hopeful for the people we are helping through our recovery-support programs, which, for years, have included the very type of recovery coaches state law now recognizes and standardizes with regard to training and credentialing. The law’s provisions should help make the services of a peer recovery coach available to more people struggling to overcome their addiction.

So, overall this is great news, but it doesn’t mean we are in the clear. To win the war against opioid addiction, we must fight every battle relentlessly. We must improve education so people of all ages understand the life-threatening risks involved with opioids.

We must help people struggling with addiction to get the help they need to get clean and stay on their road of recovery. By working collaboratively, we can challenge the opioid epidemic and prevail — but we can’t let up.

Cheryl Fasano is president and CEO of Mental Health Associates.

Opinion

Editorial

‘Palpable.’

That’s an adjective that means, among other things, that something is noticeable, perceptible, or tangible.

People all over the region have been using that word in reference to what’s happening in downtown Springfield as the buildup to MGM Springfield’s opening reaches its climax. They’re deploying the term with regard to the excitement level, the energy, and the anticipation for what is to come.

They’re right to do so, because all of those things are clearly noticeable and tangible. And while it’s more so in the downtown area, there are similar feelings in neighboring cities and across the region for that matter.

This is a good feeling, one we haven’t felt around here in a long time — or ever, really. People don’t know what’s going to happen on August 24 and the days to follow, but the sense is that something transformational will occur. And, like we said, when have we seen that lately?

BusinessWest attempts to capture these sentiments — and this palpable energy and excitement — in a special section. In it, we talk to area business and civic leaders, business owners who have become MGM vendors, area residents who will now put on an MGM nametag every day, and other constituencies. The common denominator in each case is genuine excitement about what is already happening and what will happen in the weeks, months, and years to come.

At BusinessWest, we share the excitement because we’ve not only been recording this all-important development for the past seven years or so, but we’ve talked directly with people who have, well, seen their lives changed because of this.

A few months back, we talked with many young people who were all looking for some kind of opportunity, job-wise or career-wise, several years ago, and came to MGM, either by walking in the door of their small office at 1441 Main St. or wandering to the MGM booth at a job fair. One thing led to another, and they wound up joining the company and playing important roles in bringing MGM Springfield to this day.

We’ve talked with more young people, and some who are not so young, who have joined the MGM workforce as dealers, cashiers, and chefs. And for some, the job represents much more than a job.

And we’ve talked with people like Dennis King, president of King Ward Coach lines who have seen the trajectory of their company changed in a profound way by earning a contract with MGM.

In each case, the emotions are real and the excitement (here comes that word again) is palpable.

But beyond individuals and companies, we’re excited for the region. In a few days, people will be getting into cars, buses, vans, and limos and telling people they’re heading to Springfield, Massachusetts. That’s not something they were likely to say 20, 10, five, or even two years ago.

Yes, it took a casino to get them here, but once here, they’ll have a chance (hopefully) to maybe see all the other great things we have in this region. Before, unless they were coming to the Big E (and in most cases, they were just coming for the Big E) they never had a chance to do that. Springfield has always been on the map in a literal sense, but now, it’s really on the map, and, more importantly, people will find it.

In a few days, people will be getting into cars, buses, vans, and limos and telling people they’re heading to Springfield, Massachusetts. That’s not something they were likely to say 20, 10, five, or even two years ago.

There’s talk that a few businesses in downtown Springfield will actually be closed on August 24. The thinking is that traffic will be heavy, parking spaces will be hard to come by, and it might just be easier to give everyone the day off. The fact that it’s a Friday in late August probably made the decision a little easier.

But still, businesses closing for a day because their employees would likely have a hard time getting to work and then finding a place to park? That should tell you something.

It tells us that something special is happening. And everyone can sense it; the word, again, is palpable.

Opinion

Editorial

Talk about a good problem to have.

There are so many women running for the Merrimack-Valley-based congressional seat being vacated by the retiring Niki Tsongas that women’s advocacy groups don’t really know what to do.

In the past, they would know exactly what to do — endorse the one woman who might be running for the post amid a crowded field of men.

This year, though, they have to choose which woman to endorse, and there were five of them at one point. Like we said, that’s a good problem to have. Actually, it’s a great problem to have, and women’s advocacy groups across the region, the state, and the country, are now facing it.

Indeed, women are running for political offices of all kinds, and at all levels, in record numbers, according to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. In fact, people are calling this the ‘year of the woman,’ and with very good reason.

It’s a stunning development in some ways and a very positive one on many levels. Sparked by the #MeToo movement as well as by the ineffectiveness of leaders in Washington to accomplish much of anything, women are stepping off the sidelines and into the political fray, if you will.

And it’s about time.

Indeed, while one can argue the degree to which women have broken through the glass ceiling in business — some would say they have; others would contend that they still have a ways to go, especially when it comes to seats on corporate boards — there is no debating that when it comes to politics, the ceiling remains.

There has been some progress over the years, but the governing bodies in this country are still dominated by men — white men to be more specific.

And while many of them represent their constituents well, it just makes sense that governing bodies are more effective — and address the wants and needs of all people — when they are truly diverse.

And that means more women.

Throughout history, women have been involved in politics, but in most cases, that meant working on behalf of men seeking office. There’s nothing wrong with that, but in many cases, these women were selling themselves short. They were working for someone they thought could listen, act on what they were hearing, and lead effectively. And if they wanted to find someone who could do all that, all they need do was look in the mirror.

But, quite obviously, they needed to do more than that. They needed to find the courage — because that’s what’s required — to put themselves out there, defend their views, and be willing to handle the personal attacks and all the other forms of mud that are part and parcel to running for office.

This year, thousands of women are finding that courage, and it is certainly the most positive development — politically speaking — that we have seen in some time.

Not all these women will win office, obviously. But that’s a secondary consideration at this point. They are winners simply because they are running, and the country wins as well.

Opinion

Editorial

As the final countdown to the Aug. 24 opening of MGM continues, many in this region are circling that date and wondering just what life in downtown Springfield and beyond will be like.

And much of the speculation is somewhat negative in tone, focusing on such things as increased traffic, difficulty with finding parking spaces, longer and more difficult commutes, and how all of the above might keep people from coming into Springfield to do business.

Maybe some of that will happen — to one degree or another — especially in the first days and weeks that the casino is open for business. But even if it does, we choose to view these as only positive developments for this region.

Positive because these are all signs of vibrancy, indicators that a community or region is on the rise, qualities of a very healthy economy.

We’ll take them over the alternative any day of week.

And around here, we’ve had the alternative every day of the week — except when the I-91 viaduct was being rebuilt or the Big E is open for its annual 17-day run — pretty much for the past 40 or 50 years or so.

So this will be a welcome change. Sort of.

Again, people around here are used to breezy commutes. With rare exceptions, they don’t know what traffic jams are. They can’t relate to what their friends in Boston, New York, Chicago, or Atlanta are talking about. And unless Northampton is the destination, people around here have no problems whatsoever with finding cheap (often free) and very plentiful parking.

And they like it that way. It’s one of the reasons people come to live here. It’s quieter, there’s less traffic, and you don’t have to leave home an hour before work starts to commute 20 miles or even 10 miles, as some people do in Greater Boston.

But none of those things we like are indicative of a healthy, vibrant region, at least from an economic standpoint. Being able to breeze through Springfield at almost any hour other than 5-6 p.m. — which we can all do most weeks — is just not a good thing.

Ask anyone who lives in Boston, Cambridge, New York, or even Northampton, and they will tell you that traffic on your streets, parking shortages, and people complaining about how hard it is to get in and out of your city are all good problems to have. Really good problems to have.

They’re all signs that your community is relevant, which, for a long time, this region hasn’t been.

Think about it. Whenever there’s something happening in downtown Springfield, be it a college commencement at the MassMutual Center, induction ceremonies for the Basketball Hall of Fame, or a random Friday night when there’s something going at all the venues downtown — the MassMutual Center, Symphony Hall, and CityStage — people will complain about the traffic and congestion, but they don’t really regret it.

In fact, they’ll usually say something like ‘it’s good to see that many people downtown,’ or ‘Springfield was really hopping tonight … it took me a half-hour to get out of downtown.’ They’re not exactly happy, but they know there’s a good reason for their unhappiness.

People in the Northampton, Amherst, and Hadley area know this feeling well. Traffic on Route 9 can be very heavy at times (most times, in fact), but the businesses along that route and the communities themselves wouldn’t have it any other way. People know when it’s going to take forever to get over the Coolidge Bridge; it’s part of life there.

Will such traffic become part of life in downtown Springfield? Maybe. We might be in the minority here, but we hope so, especially if it’s traffic that will spread the wealth well beyond the casino, which it is likely to do.

We don’t have a crystal ball, certainly, and there has never been a resort casino in this region, so we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen here. But we think the expected changes will be for the better.

Again, they beat the alternative, which is all many of us have ever known.

Opinion

Opinion

By Robyn Alie

This summer, the Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS) will launch a multi-year campaign to promote public awareness of the link between the health of the environment and the health of our patients. 

Recent polls have shown stark differences between the public’s understanding and scientists’ understanding of the relationship between humans and the environment. They also show that the public’s understanding is heavily influenced by politics. 

For example, while studies show that 97% of scientists believe global warming is occurring and related to human activity, a Gallup poll conducted in March found that only 64% of the public believes this. Among Democrats polled, 89% agreed with scientists, compared to 35% of Republicans. Overall, however, a record-high percentage of Americans — 45% — think global warming will pose a serious threat in their lifetime, and 43% — including 91% of Democrats — report being fairly or greatly worried. 

The upcoming campaign is a directive of the MMS house of delegates, which adopted policy recognizing the “inextricable link between environmental health, animal health, and human health, and the importance of scientific research in informing policies that protect human health from environmental toxins.” Delegates directed the society to initiate a public-health campaign promoting public awareness of pollutants and their impact on human health.

The MMS committee on public health recommended the policy, noting recent federal actions. These actions included heavy cuts to the federal programs that study and monitor potential environmental toxins, and legislation that would promote industry representation on environmental advisory boards and limit the types of scientific research, including epidemiologic studies, that could guide EPA policy.

The campaign is an opportunity for physicians to help clarify the issues and promote safer policy and behaviors, said Dr. Louis Fazen, a member of the MMS committee on public health. It will primarily use the MMS Facebook and Twitter channels and website as a cost-effective means of disseminating simple information designed to raise awareness of the links between environmental health and human health. Physicians and others can find more information and a link to the campaign at massmed.org/environment. u

Robyn Alie is manager of Health Policy and Public Health for the Massachusetts Medical Society. This article first appeared in Vital Signs, an MMS publication.

Opinion

Editorial

Normally in this space, we have nothing but high praise for Gov. Charlie Baker and his administration.

Indeed, since taking office in 2015, he has proven to be an effective, entrepreneurial governor, a good friend to the business community (for the most part), and a great friend of Springfield and the surrounding region.

The governor is fond of saying — and we mean fond, because he tells this story every chance he gets — that, while Mayor Domenic Sarno didn’t support him in that 2014 race for governor, one of his first visits after winning that election was to Springfield City Hall to find out what he could do to help.

And help he has, on fronts ranging from economic development to workforce development; from promoting entrepreneurship (his administration is very fond of Valley Venture Mentors and its efforts, for example), to simply helping to promote this region and some of its businesses (he likes the Student Prince so much they named a burger after him).

And it’s not just Springfield. Last week, the governor and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito were both on hand to announce a $21 million award to Westfield State University to bring its Parenzo Hall into the 21st century and make it a true resource for the school and the region.

Albano’s appointment to the Board of Review … is a real slap in the face to everyone who has worked so hard to pull Springfield out of its decline. The governor, who may or may not have been directly involved in this appointment, probably doesn’t realize that, but he should understand that rewarding the former mayor — and that’s what he’s doing, make no mistake about it — represents really bad optics and equally bad policy.

Like we said, the governor has been a good friend to this region.

Which makes his administration’s recent appointment of former Springfield Mayor Michael Albano to a six-figure job as a member of the Board of Review at the Department of Unemployment Assistance a real head-scratcher.

Albano, as most everyone knows, was essentially the architect of Springfield’s precipitous decline into finance-control-board management more than a decade ago. His administration was defined by incompetence and corruption, with several of his appointees being sent to prison.

Springfield’s brand suffered a terrible hit, and it has taken years of hard work, considerable assistance from two governors (Deval Patrick being the other), and a good amount of luck in the form of MGM Springfield, CRRC, and other recent arrivals, to pull the city back from the depths and to a point where optimism prevails and the sky is the proverbial limit.

Albano’s appointment to the Board of Review won’t impact any of that, obviously, but it is a real slap in the face to everyone who has worked so hard to pull Springfield out of its decline. The governor, who may or may not have been directly involved in this appointment, probably doesn’t realize that, but he should understand that rewarding the former mayor — and that’s what he’s doing, make no mistake about it — represents really bad optics and equally bad policy.

We think it’s great that Albano wants to continue working and has been energetic in his pursuit of employment that will bolster the sizable pension he already receives. Indeed, he ran for sheriff of Hampden County, and thankfully lost, and has applied for a host of jobs, including director of the Cannabis Control Commission.

However, that doesn’t mean the governor and his staff have to skip over the dark paragraphs on Albano’s employment history and reward incompetence.

Overall, the governor just doesn’t seem to take appointments of this nature as seriously as he does other matters. Remember, soon after he was elected, he decided that the best, and apparently only, qualification needed to assume one of the jobs with the Mass. Office of Business Development was to be a Republican who fought hard but lost a race for the state Senate or House of Representatives.

He should take these matters more seriously. And that’s especially the case here.

Springfield would like to put Albano and his corruption-riddled administration behind it. This appointment certainly doesn’t help it do that.

When it comes to appointments like this, it’s not just whether a candidate is qualified that matters. Sometimes, there’s a message being sent when someone gets a job like this. In this case, it’s the wrong message.

Opinion

Editorial

Westfield city officials and leaders with Westfield Gas & Electric, the city’s municipal utility, unveiled a new marketing campaign recently called ‘Go Westfield.’

The slogan might not fall into the categories of ‘highly imaginative’ or ‘cutting-edge,’ but the campaign itself is a worthy initiative and an example of what more cities and towns in this region need to be doing — building their brands.

This is a tricky subject for some industry sectors and especially municipalities — ‘why are they spending money to hype the city when there are roads that need paving and sidewalks to be fixed?’ is an often-heard refrain.

Westfield’s story is a very good one. It has ample land on which to build, a turnpike exit of its very own, an airport, a municipal utility offering attractive rates and high-speed Internet service, a downtown that’s coming back after years of decline, Stanley Park, a great ice rink, a state university, and much more.

But brand building is as important an exercise for municipalities as it is for businesses in every sector. If you have a good story to tell and you want to grow your business — or if you want to bring more businesses and residents to your city, as is the case here — you need to tell that story.

And Westfield’s story is a very good one. It has ample land on which to build, a turnpike exit of its very own, an airport, a municipal utility offering attractive rates and high-speed Internet service, a downtown that’s coming back after years of decline, Stanley Park, a great ice rink, a state university, and much more.

‘Go Westfield’ will tell that story through a new website, a promotional video, and some advertisements in regional outlets and industry journals. As with any branding campaign, one never knows what the results will be, but it’s safe to say that this proactive step is far better than trying to let the city sell itself.

Meanwhile, the campaign provides another example of the important role played by the region’s utilities, and especially the municipal utilities, in economic development.

Energy costs are among the many important items to be considered when a business looks to relocate — or expand within its current location — and the Westfield G&E, like its counterpart in Holyoke, continues to play a key role in helping the community attract and retain companies and jobs.

There’s a reason why Coke continues to pound the airwaves with ads even though everyone knows that brand. The same with McDonald’s, Ford, and Geico. If you want to grow your brand, you have to promote it and keep it in the public eye.

“It’s critical that we communicate our strengths,” Westfield’s mayor, Brian Sullivan, said at the unveiling.

He’s right about that, and there are lessons there for all area cities and towns.

Opinion

Editorial

As you read this, the countdown clock at MGM Springfield is inside 50 days.

Which means that, in essence, the nearly $1 billion project that has dominated the local landscape, literally and figuratively, for the better part of seven years, is essentially done. Just as Union Station is done and the massive I-91 reconstruction project is done.

And soon, there will be a number of other initiatives in the proverbial ‘done’ pile, including Stearns Square, the innovation center, Riverfront Park, an extensive renovation of the Basketball Hall of Fame, and others, with the acknowledgement that ‘soon’ is a relative term.

That’s a lot of things to get done, and the city should be proud of all that has been accomplished and how the landscape has been dramatically altered for the better — much better.

The question of ‘what now?’ has been tossed around for a while now, and while such talk might be a little premature — after all, it will take some time for MGM Springfield, Union Station, and other initiatives to really be done and have those facilities fully assimilated — but in most ways, it isn’t.

There are certainly things the city has to do to as part of that assimilation process and as part of building off the momentum that’s been generated. That list includes everything from creation of new market-rate housing in the downtown to a remaking of Tower Square into something much more vibrant and relevant, to some aggressive marketing of the city and its comeback story.

And in some ways, work on all those initiatives is already underway.

But Springfield has another big and important challenge facing it, and that is to revitalize many of its proud neighborhoods — to take the progress beyond downtown, if you will.

This is, in many ways, more difficult than any of the projects undertaken thus far, and that’s with the acknowledgement that it took 40 years or more to revitalize Union Station and for the largest development project in the city’s history (MGM) to revitalize the South End.

That’s because rejuvenating neighborhoods like Old Hill, Mason Square, the North End, and the South End are difficult undertakings, especially in these changing times and continued rough going for most old manufacturing centers, like Springfield.

There has been some progress made, though the efforts of local, state, and national initiatives and the of work nonprofit agencies ranging from DevelopSpringfield to Wayfinders, from Revitalize CDC to ROCA. But many of Springfield’s neighborhoods still rank among the poorest in the state, and progress has come very, very slowly.

This isn’t exactly a news flash, but Springfield’s neighborhoods are truly the city’s next big challenge. If this community is to make a real comeback, the good news has to extend beyond Main and State streets.

For the comeback to spread to those neighborhoods, there must be opportunites — or more opportunities, as the case may be — for employment, home ownership, and new-business development. As we said, there has already been some progress made on these fronts, but more extensive efforts are required in order to keep these neighborhoods from being left behind.

A few paragraphs ago, we referred to Springfield’s proud neighborhoods. You almost always see that adjective used in that context, and for a reason. Residents of these areas are proud of their neighborhood, although in many cases, they’re proud of what they once were, not what they are now.

Creating far greater use of the present tense when it comes to these neighborhoods and ‘good times’ is clearly the next big challenge for Springfield.

Opinion

Editorial

Sports all-star games have been enduring somewhat of a public-relations crisis in recent years.

Indeed, the NFL’s game, now played the week before the Super Bowl, has become almost a farce, with players opting not to play, fans opting not to show up, and viewers opting not to tune in. The NHL and NBA games, meanwhile, have become circus shows where no one plays defense, and in the latter case, the game is actually upstaged by the slam-dunk contest the night before. Major League Baseball still has the best game, but that league, too, has struggled to make the so-called midsummer classic captivating and relevant, especially to younger audiences.

No, it’s not the best of times for these games.

But the narrative is a little different with the American Hockey League and its decision to play next year’s game in Springfield. Here, the story isn’t about the game, the gimmicks, or the weekend’s supply of festivities that may or may not work.

Instead, it’s about what the game means to the city and its hockey team, and what it symbolizes in terms of what comes next. All of that came together late last month when the logos for the event and the official corporate partner, Lexus, were unveiled.

Don’t forget, 27 months or so ago, this city didn’t even have a hockey team. And when a group of area business people came together, bought a franchise, and brought it to Springfield, there were many who doubted whether this franchise would fare any better than the one that just departed for Arizona.

To say those doubts have been dispelled would be a huge understatement. The team has become one of the best business stories of the past few years, and BusinessWest chose the team’s owners and managers, collectively, as its Top Entrepreneurs for 2017.

But the AHL All-Star Game coming to the City of Homes next February is not just about the Thunderbirds and the remarkable work done by President Nathan Costa 2018 40 Under Forty’s top honoree to revitalize hockey in Springfield and make the team part of the fabric of the community.

It’s also about the city’s resurgence and the arrival of MGM and its $950 million casino, MGM Springfield, which will serve as presenting sponsor of the all-star game. MGM now manages the MassMutual Center, and it no doubt played a prominent role in effectively bringing Springfield into the discussion when it comes events like this All-Star Game.

To say that it wasn’t in those discussions for the past decade and more would be another understatement. It is now, because of its resurgence, the team’s incredible surge, and MGM’s ability to help put on a good show.

And this combination bodes extremely well for the city moving forward. The game came to Springfield as a result of effective partnerships and strong teamwork, and these potent forces can bring more shows and meetings and conventions to this city and this region.

As we said at the top, all-star games have suffered some bad press and some tough times lately. In many respects, the games are no longer a big deal.

This is a notable exception, and one the city should be proud of.

Opinion

Despite the occasional major project landing in the region — that casino opening is only two months away — the Pioneer Valley’s economy is still driven far more by the myriad small businesses that dot the landscape.

That’s why it’s important to give entrepreneurs the tools, inspiration, and resources they need to make the risks they take in launching their enterprises worthwhile.

Our story on page 40 is always a fun assignment — our annual writeup on the winners of the Valley Venture Mentors Accelerator Awards. This year, we sat down with the entrepreneurs behind the three top winners, who received, through this program, significant funding for their projects, but, just as important, key guidance and support in taking their businesses to the next level.

Because those enterprises deal in such critical matters as clean water, continuing medical education, and equipping low-income youth to write their own entrepreneurial stories, that next level, as you’ll see by reading these accounts, may turn out to be life-changing for many — and even world-changing,

Then there’s our page 26 story on Click Workshop — perhaps a less splashy story, because no one is handing out giant checks. Rather, they’re handing over monthly payments (rather reasonable ones, at that) to participate in a community of 98 small (mostly solo) businesses that share resources and network in a refurbished former warehouse in downtown Northampton.

One of the region’s growing number of co-working spaces, Click is supporting economic energy in its city while also boosting the profile of another type of entrepreneur: the local artists and musicians to whom it offers exposure and a place to promote their creations.

These two articles may seem unrelated at first, but they both speak to the importance of creating a supportive community of entrepreneurs who understand that the success of each contributes to the success of all, by establishing Western Mass. as a place where ideas can turn into viable businesses.

“You have a lot of ups and downs. The wins are big wins — they’re really high highs,” said Barrett Mully, one of the VVM Accelerator Award winners. However, “it’s just so intangible at times, it’s like you’re feeling your way through the dark a little bit.”

Programs and organizations that support the region’s startup culture are making that journey a little bit brighter.

After all, countless entrepreneurs are taking calculated gambles every day that have nothing to do with a casino. When those risks pay off, everyone benefits.

Opinion

Opinion

By Tom Jones

The recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding the use of arbitration agreements to prohibit class-action lawsuits generated widespread cheering in the business community. But employers would be well advised to hold their applause.

That’s because this Supreme Court decision is unusual in that it does not draw a bright line making it clear what employers may or may not do. It simply opens the door for employers to pursue mandatory arbitration as an option.

Most importantly, the decision does not allow employers to use arbitration agreements to escape the “onerous” aspects of legally established remedies.

The court has made clear that, while arbitration involves a change of forum from the courts to the private arbitration arena, and an elimination of class actions, it does not change workers’ substantive rights. Arbitrators must apply the same law that a court would apply and award the same substantive remedies for proven violations.

Employees will still be able to file a claim for non-payment of wages, sexual harassment, or other adverse consequences at work. They just won’t be able to do it as a class action.

The best advice to employers any time they face a new legally justified option is to take time to weigh the options before moving ahead.

The Supreme Court ruled that companies may use arbitration clauses in employment contracts to prohibit workers from banding together to take legal action over workplace issues. The vote was 5 to 4, with the court’s more conservative justices in the majority. The court’s decision could affect some 25 million employment contracts.

Writing for the majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch said the court’s conclusion was dictated by a federal law favoring arbitration and the court’s precedents. If workers were allowed to band together to press their claims, he wrote, “the virtues Congress originally saw in arbitration, its speed and simplicity and inexpensiveness, would be shorn away, and arbitration would wind up looking like the litigation it was meant to displace.”

The ruling does not necessarily invalidate Massachusetts law on the topic of arbitration. For example, a Massachusetts case from a few years ago centered around an arbitration waiver agreement that prohibited plaintiffs’ recovery of multiple damages in any arbitration proceeding — a provision that directly conflicted with the Massachusetts mandatory treble damages law.

In 2013, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) declared the waiver of multiple damages in the arbitration agreement unenforceable, ruling that the FAA (Federal Arbitration Act) did not preempt the SJC from holding that waiver of multiple damages in these circumstances is void as contrary to Massachusetts public policy.

Given that arbitration is really a procedural strategy, there are many questions you should consider before adopting a change in your company’s practices. Some questions to ask yourself as a company include: how will arbitration be a benefit to us? How much will it cost to use it? What is the potential cost vis-a-vis the likely benefit? Will we be better off as an employer with such a policy in place? If so, how? How often do we get sued? What issues do we get sued for? Wages? Discrimination? If or when we do get sued, what is our success record under the current rules?

Consider that, in discrimination cases filed at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD), the agency found “lack of probable cause” (i.e. the case was dismissed) in 87% of the cases filed, according to its most recent annual report. Are you likely to do any better with an arbitrator?

One other thing to keep in mind is that federal and state administrative agencies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or MCAD, are not bound by private arbitration agreements; they are able to sue over statutory rights where private claimants may not bring a case.

Before jumping on the bandwagon of arbitration, you need to engage in due diligence to see if it makes sense for your company.

Tom Jones is vice president of Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

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