AFL-CIO Calls Attention to On-the-Job Deaths in Ceremony at State House

Friday, April 29, 2016

Michael Davidson was seeing patients at Brigham and Women’s Hospital when he stepped away to talk with the son of a deceased woman he had treated and the son shot him.

Lawrence O’Leary was on a parking garage under construction at Logan Airport when he fell off the building.

David Sutherland was trying to get from his sinking fishing boat to a rescue boat in the ocean off Gloucester.

Joseph Brady was crossing a road to a lot in Stoughton where he was selling Christmas trees when he was run over.

Lenore Travis was operating a tractor on her small family farm in Lincoln when the vehicle flipped over.

These were just five of the 63 persons who died on the job last year in Massachusetts, according to the Massachusetts AFL-CIO.

Yesterday, the AFL-CIO released its annual report on deaths in the workplace, “2016: Dying for Work in Massachusetts,” in conjunction with a ceremony at noon outside the State House.  The purpose of the event, as reported by the State House News Service, was “to remember those who died or were injured while working in 2015, and to call for changes aimed at creating safer conditions on job sites.”

Fifty-five of the 63 persons who were classified as on-the-job fatalities either died or were killed while working.  The remaining eight persons in that category were firefighters who died from work-related diseases.

The average age of workers killed by injuries in 2015 was 47, and workers in their twenties accounted for 16% of all fatal injuries, the report states, while workers 60 and older accounted for 27% of all fatal injuries.  The AFL-CIO described the construction sector as “one of the most dangerous for workers,” with 18 on-the-job fatalities in 2015.

In addition to Dr. Davidson, a revered cardiac surgeon, five persons lost their lives through violence in the workplace, the report notes:

“…a delivery man and a taxi driver were both robbed, shot, and killed…,” “a sous chef was stabbed with a 12-inch shushi knife by a co-worker; a clerk was found shot in the parking lot of a cell phone store; and a young man participating in a job-ready program was shot and killed by a rival while shoveling snow.”

You may find the report by going to the web site of the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health, and clicking on NEW REPORT: Workplace fatalities in Massachusetts at a five year high.

Anytime we talk about death in terms of numbers and statistics, the individuals who form the data are unavoidably obscured, their deaths become abstractions, and we have difficulty seeing the deceased as the daughters and sons, the brothers and sisters, the mothers and the fathers, the neighbors and friends they were.

I'd like to push back against those tendencies, even if I can do so in only a small way.  I want to put the names alongside the numbers.  These were individual, living souls, not statistics.  Here is every person who died on the job in 2015, as determined by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO.  They're listed with their ages, occupations, place and date of death:     

Acting Fire Lieutenant, Gloucester, 01/13/2015

Carpenter, Boston, 01/14/2015

Cardiac surgeon, Boston, 01/20/2015

Cell phone store clerk, New Bedford, 01/22/2015

Fire fighter, Marshfield, 01/22/2015

Arborist, Berlin, 01/23/2015

Chemical processing machine operator, North Andover, 01/29/2015

Brewery Operator, Lowell, 02/06/2015

Production baker, Medford, 02/09/2015

Snow removal, Boston, 02/11/2015

Tow truck driver, Auburn, 02/11/2015

Logger, Westminster, 02/18/2015

Carpenter/contractor, Canton, 02/22/2015

Auto body foreman, Wayland, 03/08/2015

Office cafeteria manager, Wellesley, 03/14/2015

Fire fighter, Fall River, 03/16/2015

Fisherman, Nantucket Sound, 03/29/2015

Bulk mail driver, Plympton, 04/10/2015

Fire fighter/EMT, Hull, 04/13/2015

Salesman, Spencer, 04/14/2015

Disaster restoration technician, Wareham, 04/15/2015

Welding supply driver, Plympton, 04/17/2015

Farmer, Lincoln, 04/26/2015

Drum technician, Westfield, 05/03/2015

Accountant, Burlington, 05/04/2015

Musician, Westfield , 05/05/2015

Construction dump truck driver, Saugus, 05/13/2015

Maintenance worker, Melrose, 05/30/2015

Fire fighter, Boston, 06/04/2015

Construction worker, Holyoke, 06/10/2015

Iron worker, Somerville, 06/11/2015

Tree worker, Littleton, 06/30/2015

Loader operator, Plymouth, 06/30/2015

Construction company owner, Mansfield, 07/13/2015

Car wash employee, Malden, 07/19/2015

Iron worker, Boston, 07/24/2015

Construction worker, Hudson, 07/25/2015

Paramedic, Springfield, 07/25/2015

Toll collector, Auburn, 07/31/2015

Construction worker, Longmeadow, 07/31/2015

Garage worker, Revere, 08/13/2015

Carpenter, Boston, 08/17/2015

Crane operator, Taunton, 08/17/2015

Plumber, New Braintree, 08/23/2015

Restaurant sous chef, Peabody, 08/29/2015

Construction worker, Taunton, 09/04/2015

Fleet manager, Braintree, 09/15/2015

Commercial truck driver, Lexington, 09/30/2015

Fire fighter, Somerville, 10/04/2015

Motorcycle mechanic, Boylston, 10/16/2015

Fire fighter, Plymouth, 10/20/2015

Mechanic, Newton, 10/24/2015

Master builder, Worcester, 11/04/2015

Licensed electrician, Paxton, 11/04/2015

Deliveryman, Springfield, 11/07/2015

Taxi driver, New Bedford, 11/28/2015

Construction worker, Boston, 12/02/2015

DAVID “HEAVY D” SUTHERLAND - Eel boat captain,
Cape Ann, 12/03/2015

Warehouse worker, Easton, 12/09/2015

Christmas tree salesman, Stoughton, 12/11/2015

Construction worker, Marion, 12/16/2016

Fire lieutenant, Somerville, 12/19/2015

Machinist, Holden, 12/24/2015



Reforming Medicaid May Become Toughest Job Ever for Baker Administration

Friday, April 22, 2016

Anyone who follows politics or government in Massachusetts has seen these numbers. They bear repeating: 
  • Over the past seven years, spending on Medicaid (MassHealth) has increased 65%.
  • Next year, total Medicaid spending is projected at $15.3 billion. 
  • At $15.3 billion, Medicaid will account for 40% of the entire state budget.
Medicaid insures 1.8 million income-qualified citizens.  That’s 26% of the total Massachusetts population of 6.7 million. Source: U.S. Census Bureau.

Medicaid is jointly funded by the state and federal governments.  Of the $15.3 billion due to be expended next year, $6.8 billion will be state money.
As anyone who has ever so much as touched the state budget has said, Medicaid spending is on an unsustainable course.  To keep MassHealth from imploding and plunging state finances into chaos , the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) proposes to transform it  via the creation of Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs).

In the words of EOHHS, ACOs “are provider-led organizations that coordinate care and have an enhanced role for primary care, and are rewarded for value – better cost and outcomes – not volume.”  To put it another way, costs should go down because:

One, all those medical professionals who care for Medicaid patients will work collaboratively to deliver truly needed care in the most effective ways and settings, and

Two, all those medical professionals, gathered under new ACO umbrellas, will not be compensated on the basis of how much care they provide but rather on how effective that care is -- by how they  make people measurably better and healthier.

That's the theory.  Making it the practice will be exceedingly difficult. Twenty-six percent of the population is linked to the status quo and naturally apprehensive of change.  The Gov. Baker administration is the change agent. 

It’s good that Massachusetts is progressive, good that we have a consensus that people who are sick, hurt, disabled, etc., should be cared for regardless of whether they can pay for care or afford medical coverage.  An emblem of civilization, Medicaid needs to be preserved and improved.

Every resident of Massachusetts has a stake in the success of the transition to ACOs, now scheduled to occur in the fall of 2017.

I was glad that, during the recent rollout of this comprehensive Medicaid reform proposal, EOHHS mentioned the importance of curtailing deception and fraud by scammer providers. Scammers comprise a small group, no doubt, but the product of a small cohort of determined crooks is invariably huge.  

EOHHS noted that Medicaid spending on home health care services increased 41% last year and that 80% of that growth was “driven by providers new to the Commonwealth since 2013.”  Definitely fishy.
Not long ago, MassHealth handed to Attorney General Maura Healey info on 12 home health providers it believes are fraudsters.  The most common forms of cheating are billing for services not actually provided or provided at levels below those at which they are invoiced.

What makes cheating in home health care especially repulsive is how little one group of front-line workers, the home health aides, are paid for the very hard work they do for the homebound and the infirm and/or the chronically ill. 
In cases of fraud, folks at the top of home health companies take their ill-gotten gains to the bank in recent vintage BMWs; folks at the bottom drive home exhausted in ancient Chevies, hoping the needle won't slide over to empty.  




Blogster's Miscellany: Eight Items Just Begging for More Attention, Comment

Monday, April 18, 2016

1.) Ben deRuyter, a Democrat from Brewster announced this past Friday (April 15) he was withdrawing from the race to succeed Cape Cod state senator Dan Wolf because he wants to spend more time with his family.  I’m sure his family wants to spend more time with DeRuyter, which I can assure you would not be the case if I were engaged in a demanding campaign for public office.  Still waiting am I for the candidate who quits a race because he wants to spend more time contemplating the mysteries of the universe, learning to tie a bow tie, catching up on back editions of The Sunday New York Times, etc.   Hey, suddenly disillusioned candidates, it’s time for more novel excuses.

2.) Speaking of novelty, I thought Noah Berger, President of the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, had an interesting take on the state budget for FY 2017 proposed by Governor Charlie Baker.  Stated Berger, once a top aide to ex-Senate President Tom Birmingham, in a Jan. 27 press release, “This budget continues a pattern that has  been in place since the state cut taxes by over $3 billion between 1998 and 2002: deep budget  cuts in bad times and very little progress in good times.  We continue to put off making the kinds of long-term investments in our people and our transportation systems that would make life better for Massachusetts families and improve the long-term strength of our state economy.”  If Berger is right, our kids and grandkids will pay for our failures to think big.
3.) Speaking of Birmingham, let’s hear it for him and former Governor Mike Dukakis for the Boston Globe op-ed piece (March 14) they co-wrote, calling upon the Baker administration to re-instate the requirement that public high school seniors pass an MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) test on U.S. history before graduating.  That requirement was in the 1993 Education Reform Act, Birmingham’s crowning legislative achievement, but it was scrapped by the Governor Patrick administration just before it was to take effect in 2009.  “When we both were in public service on Beacon Hill,” the Birmingham-Dukakis piece concluded, “we were acutely aware that state budgets are more than line items and spread sheets; they are expressions of our values and priorities as a commonwealth.  Similarly, public education is not just a way to prepare students to be part of the workforce; it must also prepare them to be active civic participants in America’s great experiment in democracy.”

4.) Steve Wynn is what he is: a sharp player in the high-end art market.  Adam Vaccaro, a senior writer at, penned a good piece last month about the one-ton sculpture of cartoon character Popeye by Jeff Koons, which Wynn has owned for a while and intends to install in the lobby of the casino he’s planning in Everett, “Wynn Boston Harbor.”  The headline on Vacarro’s article was: “Why on earth is Popeye the Sailor Man the centerpiece of Wynn’s Everett casino lobby?”  Bob DeSalvo, Wynn’s top guy in Massachusetts, answered, in part, as follows:  “It fits well with the lobby design and what we wanted for the entrance design.  I don’t think all art has to be serious.  This is fun.  This is just a great piece.”  A seriously expensive piece, too.  Wynn paid $28 million for it at auction in 2014.  It was a steal.  According to a 2015 report in the Las Vegas Sun cited by Vaccaro, Wynn turned down a $60 million offer for Koons’s Popeye not long after acquiring it.
5.) Speaking of characters, there were many no doubt who would’ve qualified for their own comic strips among the hundreds cited for boozing during the latest St. Patrick’s Day parade in South Boston.  The Boston Globe reported that public drinking citations “were up dramatically this year, with hundreds more people ticketed for imbibing amid the revelry,” even as drinking-related arrests at the parade were down this year.  “Issuing nearly double the amount of Public Drinking citations compared to last year evidences the challenges we faced in keeping public order at this family event,” said Boston Police Commissioner William Evans.   Sounds like my family’s kind of event, super-sized.

6.) I’m pretty sure Lou Mandarini, president of the Greater Boston Labor Council, will not be invited to the next DeLeo family event.  House Speaker Bob DeLeo did not attend the Council's annual breakfast on April 4.  According to the State House News Service, DeLeo’s absence caused Mandarini to declare from the podium: “I think he (DeLeo) lost his way in the snow, sorta screwed him up.  No loss.  Trust me on that, no goddamn loss.”  When some in the audience groaned at such bluntness, Mandarini said, “Well, let’s set the tone.  Can’t make it, take the hit.”   
7.) Speaking of frontal assaults on politicians, did you see the news on the press conference conducted this past Friday (April 15) outside the State House by the folks running the Campaign to Regulate Alcohol Like Marijuana?  The Campaign is for a referendum on the November, 2016, ballot to legalize the recreational use of pot, and it had a big poster at the event featuring side-by-side photos of Governor Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, with a speech bubble over them saying: “Our health policy: Drink more alcohol!”  Campaign spokespersons were hoping to show Baker and Walsh as hypocritical for staunchly opposing legalization while simultaneously favoring more liquor licenses for restaurants and clubs. Even allowing for normal political theatrics, a line was crossed here.  The mayor is a recovering alcoholic who has personally helped hundreds of others beat the bottle; the governor occasionally has maybe one beer at an end-of-day event or weekend get-together.  Both are the definition of sobriety.  Baker’s director of communication, Tim Buckley, later tweeted that the press conference was “pretty much what you’d expect from a few guys looking to get rich selling drug-laced lollipops.”  (I for one hope those pops will be reasonably priced.)

8.) The days could come when they have to slap “Closed for the Winter” posters atop the “Welcome to Provincetown” signs.  According to an article in The New York Times (“Welcome to Provincetown. Winter Population: Dwindling,” 12-20-15), Provincetown, “like many summer havens, is caught in a vicious cycle of economic and demographic change, with a widening divide between the haves and the have-nots that is threatening its future.”  The Times found that “Provincetown is hollowing out” because housing for the non-wealthy and year-round jobs are “increasingly scarce.”  The article continued, “The winter population dropped 14 percent between 2000 and 2010.  Families have left or have avoided settling here in the first place.  The high school closed a few years ago.  And the dwindling population is graying.  The median age of 54.3 is far above the national median of 37.4.  And Provincetown is not even the oldest town on the Cape; that distinction belongs to nearby Wellfleet, where the median age is 62.2.”  Michael Goodman, executive director of the Public Policy Center at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, is quoted as saying, “Cape Cod is running a social experiment about whether you can have a society without children.  While the jury is still out, I’m skeptical.  The sustainability of these communities is a major challenge.”  Note: Ninety-nine out of a hundred times when an academic opines that your community is running a "social experiment," that is not a good thing.




'Millionaire's Tax' Could Shake Off Ghosts of Failed Drives for Graduated Income Tax

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Proposals to implement a graduated state income tax have twice been rejected by Massachusetts voters in my memory, first in 1972 and then in 1994.

The margins of defeat in each case were overwhelming:  67% to 33%, and 70% to 30%, respectively.
This year, there’s a coalition called “Raise Up Massachusetts” and it’s basically pushing a simplified, narrower version of the graduated income tax.  They have a pithy name for it: the “millionaire’s tax.”  

“Raise Up” wants to get a referendum on the statewide ballot in 2018 to impose a 4% surtax on all incomes in excess of $1 million per year.  The ballot question would be part of a legal process that would ultimately encode the surtax through an amendment to the state constitution.
Proceeds from the surtax, estimated to be between $1.3 and $1.4 billion annually, would be earmarked for public education and public transportation projects.

“Raise Up” campaign organizers believe the relatively small number of taxpayers impacted by the surtax will work to their advantage: approximately 14,000 wealthy Massachusetts residents, out of a total population of 6.7 million, would be subjected to it.
When I first heard about it, I figured the campaign was as fatally flawed as its 1972 and 1994 cousins.

A majority of voters will not embrace a plan to soak the rich and put hundreds of millions of new dollars a year in the hands of politicians, I thought.

But the more I think about it, the more I think the surtax could come to pass.
Reading what Senate President Stan Rosenberg had to say this past Monday, April 4, at the Greater Boston Labor Council breakfast, helped nudge me further in that direction.

“We need to rebuild the middle class in America and Massachusetts,” Rosenberg said.  “We can’t do it without the investment in education and transportation and housing and energy, and it’s going to require us to shift the paradigm and change people’s minds that they can and should support a change in the constitution to allow us to change the tax system so that those who earn the most pay the most.”

The Senate now has working groups on education, transportation and housing.  These groups are setting the stage for what Rosenberg and many of his colleagues hope will soon be a fruitful debate in the legislature, and beyond, on establishing the 4% surtax.  The housing working group released its report in March.
“When we have the education plan and we have the transportation plan, we’re going to have all the elements we need to be able to go out and argue for the fair share tax plan,” Rosenberg said Monday, according to a State House News Service article on the Labor Council breakfast.  “Fair share tax plan” is the preferred nomenclature at the State House for the millionaire’s tax.

I imagine there are a lot of wealthy and almost-wealthy Massachusetts residents who are ready to dismiss Rosenberg as an out-of-touch ultra-liberal with no appeal beyond the geographic bounds of his district.
That’s how folks used to dismiss Bernie Sanders, the septuagenarian socialist from little Vermont, too.  Last time I looked, Sanders had won six of the last seven state Democratic primaries.

I happened on a quote in a recent (3-21-16) edition of The New Yorker that, in just a few blunt words,  captured why Sanders has become so incredibly popular with young people, the millennials.
Ben Tolchin, who serves as Bernie’s pollster, told the author of the article, Ryan Lizza, that millennials support Sanders “because their generation is so fucked, for lack of a better word, unless they see dramatic change.  What’s their experience been with capitalism?  They have had two recessions, one really bad one.  They have a mountain of student-loan debt.  They’ve got really high health-care costs, and their job prospects are mediocre at best.  So that’s capitalism for you.”

I see those colleges in and around Stan Rosenberg’s district, including UMass Amherst, his alma mater, and think how easy it would be for him to get hundreds, maybe thousands, of student volunteers on the millionaire’s tax bandwagon this fall, should he make a serious effort to do so.  Like Bernie’s acolytes, they ‘d form a formidable ground force.


Bill to Tax Vacation Home Rentals Is Alive but Not Quite Kicking

Monday, April 4, 2016

Attention, Massachusetts vacation home owners who earn money renting your properties!  An Act Providing for Local Aid Enhancement is showing signs of kinetic energy.

On March 17, the legislature’s Joint Committee on Revenue gave a favorable report to a newly redrafted version of the bill, which would establish a new category of residence for taxation purposes known as a “transient accommodation.” It would also empower the Commonwealth to collect a 5% tax on the rental fees of properties so defined, and give cities and towns the option of levying an additional 6% tax on the rentals.
An Act Providing Local Aid Enhancement, numbered House Bill 2645, defines a transient accommodation as “any vacation, leisure or short-term rental accommodation offering occupancy in exchange for rent, including but not limited to an apartment, single or multiple family housing, cottage, condominium, time-share unit or any furnished residential accommodation within any area zoned for residential or commercial use that is not a hotel, motel, lodging house, or bed and breakfast establishment.”  The definition excludes hotels, motels, lodging houses and bed and breakfasts because the bill otherwise provides for the continuation of existing state and local-option taxes on these properties.

A single favorable committee report does not a new law make. It is merely Step 2 of a long lawmaking process.   Step 3, the referral of the bill to another committee, has not happened, even though it’s a relatively simple move.  Many other bills reported out favorably on or about March 17 have already been sent to new committees.
Because this is a year when legislative elections will be held in the fall, the legislature is required by its own rules to end formal sessions for the year on the last day of July.  After that, the legislature will meet infrequently, and only in informal sessions.

So HB 2645 has four months to get through the legislature.  Odds are it will not make it to the finish line.
Sponsored by Rep. Sarah Peake of Provincetown, the bill has only four co-sponsors: Rep. Peter Kocot of Florence, a village of Northampton, in the Pioneer Valley; and Senators Dan Wolf of Harwich, on Cape Cod, Jamie Eldridge of Acton (Middlesex County) and Michael Moore of Millbury (Worcester County).  The number of bill sponsors is not a foolproof indicator of its chances of becoming law, but generally a bill fares better the more sponsors it has.    

HB 2645 imposes a new tax and could quickly become controversial in ways its proponents would not enjoy.  In recent years at least, tax bills have encountered formidable resistance on Beacon Hill. Skeptic No. 1 has been Bob DeLeo, Speaker of the House.
In the next four months, many other, more pressing matters will demand the attention of the House and Senate.  The state budget for Fiscal Year 2017 has to go through the sausage factory, for example, and a bill on funding new charter schools is already boiling on Beacon Hill’s front burner.  Every day that goes by, the window for action on HB 2645 -- and on hundreds of other viable and semi-viable bills – will shrink.

And even if the bill were to make it through both branches, it’s hard to see Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, signing it into law.  Baker’s first instinct is to strive for better use of available public dollars rather than taking more dollars from the public.   
There are some  reasons not to bet just yet on the demise of HB 2645:

Sarah Peake is a serious, dedicated lawmaker, and a well-respected member of the House.  The same goes for Dan Wolf in the Senate.
Wolf, the visionary founder of Cape Air, a regional airline, is leaving the Senate when his term expires after the first if the year.  My guess is he’d love to get HB 2645 on the books as he goes out the door because it’s the kind of thing that municipal officials on the Cape are eager to benefit from. The bill would put a lot of new money into town coffers -- and keep delivering the green till kingdom come. 

The enactment of HB 2645 would be an historic accomplishment for Wolf, and for Peake, too, of course.  The chance to make history is a powerful motivator.  
Also consider:

Peter Kocot is the House chair of the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight.  As a committee chair, he’s considered a member of House leadership, meaning he has influence well beyond that of the rank and file legislator.
Senate bill co-sponsors Eldridge and Moore give the bill potentially wider appeal and credibility because they represent districts far from the vacation hot spots of Cape Cod, Cape Ann and the Berkshires, where “transient accommodation” rentals contribute substantially to the local economies.

Given the large number of towns that could reap windfalls from HB 2645, there’s a large cohort of elected and appointed officials, as well as numerous civic leaders and municipal employee union members, who could be mobilized quickly to lobby for it.  Legislators have to pay attention when folks from home come calling at the State House.
How I feel about HB 2645 varies.  One day, I sympathize with the municipalities and their endless money woes.  Talk to any mayor or town manager and, after a few minutes, they’ll almost always tell you the same thing: there’s never enough money to address all of the needs in their community. 

The next day, I find myself sympathizing with the owners of those vacation homes who’ll have to do the drudge work of obeying the new law: the collecting of the taxes from renters, the paying of the taxes to the town, the record-keeping, the costly consultations with accountants and lawyers, etc.  HB 2645 will make the lives of those who own vacation homes more complicated if they want to keep renting them.
I sympathize, too, with the renters, to whom the landlords will pass the tax. It’s kind of a selfish concern: my wife and I have been renters on Cape Cod off and on through the years.  We don’t like paying taxes any more than the next couple.  However, I must admit: a rental tax probably would not keep us from renting again on the Cape. 

If you’re coming up with $2,300 a week for a four-bedroom house so that all your kids and grandkids can go on vacation with you, you can probably find an additional $253 to cover the rental tax ($115 state tax plus $138 local option tax).  It works out to roughly $36 extra per day for one of the best experiences life has to offer.
Last August, after returning from a two-week stay in Harwich, and perhaps in the grip of an early form of Feeling the Bern, I wrote a post on the vacation home rental tax.  If the legislature was going to implement such a tax, I suggested the law have a proviso requiring a portion of the proceeds to be used for the benefit of low-income Massachusetts families.  My idea was to subsidize seaside vacations for families that otherwise would never be able to enjoy those soul-nourishing days of breathing salt air and swimming in warm salt water.  Should you wish to read that post, please go to:

UPDATE:  After receiving a favorable report from the Joint Committee on Revenue in March, HB 2645 was referred to the House Committee on Ways & Means.  The legislature adjourned for the year on July 31 without acting on it, whereupon the bill died.