Tag Archives: Massachusetts

Federal Labor Lawsuit Accuses LAZ of Failing to Pay Overtime

Source: Robert Storace, The Connecticut Law Tribune, September 15, 2017

A Georgia man has filed a prospective collective action lawsuit claiming Connecticut-based LAZ Parking company violated federal labor laws when it failed to pay for overtime. The federal lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. district court claims Hartford-based LAZ Parking regularly does not pay assistant managers overtime in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. …

… The company has been the target of several lawsuits including at least one class action. Most recently, LAZ agreed to pay $5.6 million to settle a lawsuit with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. LAZ was accused of failing to detect and stop the theft of millions of dollars in cash belonging to the MBTA. Separately, the parking company agreed to pay $1.1 million to Massachusetts to settle allegations it failed to implement contractually-required revenue controls and auditing tools at 13 MBTA parking lots. LAZ is also a defendant in a February 2017 class action claiming the ParkChicago app resulted in false parking tickets. That suit is still pending. And, in 2010, LAZ paid $46,000 to settle a U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission religious discrimination lawsuit. …

Pro-charter school group pays $425,000 for failing to disclose donors in Massachusetts ballot fight

Source: Shira Schoenberg, Masslive.com, September 11, 2017

An advocacy organization that gave more than $15 million to a Massachusetts ballot campaign to lift the cap on charter schools has agreed to pay $426,500 to settle allegations of campaign finance violations. The Office of Campaign and Political Finance alleged that Families for Excellent Schools contributed money to the ballot campaign in a way that was designed to hide the identity of its donors. The organization denies any wrongdoing. This is the largest settlement ever collected by Massachusetts’ Office of Campaign and Political Finance….

… Under the settlement, Families for Excellent Schools paid the state of Massachusetts $426,500 – the total amount that the organization had in cash as of Aug. 21. It registered as a ballot committee and filed a retroactive campaign finance report disclosing its donors. Its affiliated organization Families for Excellent Schools is barred from campaigning in Massachusetts for four years. According to the campaign finance report, many of the major donors to Families for Excellent Schools worked in the financial industry for various investment management firms. Most, though not all, of the donors, were from Massachusetts….

Related:

Baker: Back to drawing board on charter schools
Source: Andy Metzger, Sentinel & Enterprise, November 10, 2016

Rejected by the voters in his bid for an expansion of charter school access, Gov. Charlie Baker said Wednesday he will explore other means of reducing the gap between the achievement levels of white students and students of color. Speaking a day after Question 2 went down, with 37.8 percent in favor and 62.2 percent opposed, Baker mulled extensions to the school day or models similar to a Springfield partnership where schools within a public school district have authority over making their own hiring, scheduling, budgeting and curriculum decisions. … The Republican governor had backed the ballot question, which would have allowed for up to 12 additional charter schools per year beyond statutory caps, asserting that charters “have been in many cases the single biggest thing that have closed the achievement gap.” A popular Republican governor who was elected by a 40,000-vote margin two years ago in a predominantly Democrat state, Baker campaigned for Question 2 and against Question 4, legalizing marijuana. … While Question 2 had immense financial backing, spending $24 million compared to opponents’ $14 million, local school committees, mayors and teachers unions mobilized against it. Despite the roughly $10 million spending advantage, the question was defeated by a substantial margin. Only Question 3, which mandates protections for farm animals, had a more lopsided margin. A town-by-town map of results published by WBUR-FM shows opposition was widespread and nearly unanimous through cities and rural towns. A string of support in a prosperous part of Metrowest stretches from Lincoln to Sherborn, while other towns supporting the measure include Nantucket, Cohasset and Manchester-By-The-Sea. …

Massachusetts Ballot Measure on Charter School Expansion Fails
Source: New York Times, November 9, 2016

Voters in Massachusetts rejected a $26 million effort to increase the number of charter schools in the state, delivering a blow to that movement and a victory for the unions that also spent heavily trying to defeat it. The measure lost, 62.6 percent to 37.4 percent. … There was little dispute from either side that the existing 78 charter schools have performed well. But the state caps how much money communities can send to charter schools, and nine communities, including Boston, have hit the cap or can open only one more school, and thus have long wait lists. The battle turned to the question of equality: Would bringing more charters help close the achievement gap for minority children in those cities? Or would it drain money from traditional public schools and create a tiered education system? … Polling suggested the question would be answered mostly along partisan lines, with Republicans like Gov. Charlie Baker supporting expansions and Democrats like Senator Elizabeth Warren opposing them. …

Continue reading

MBTA union blasts Baker’s privatization plan

Source: Christian M. Wade, Gloucester Times, August 14, 2017
 
Union workers at the MBTA are pushing back against Gov. Charlie Baker’s plans to privatize bus maintenance, saying it will cost jobs and compromise safety.  Hundreds of workers rallied Thursday outside the MBTA’s Lynn garage, where they blasted Baker’s support for hiring private companies to take over bus maintenance.  “Gov. Baker has chosen to gamble with the taxpayers, the safety of riders and the livelihoods of these hardworking men and women,” said Michael Vartabedian, who heads the International Association of Machinists Local 264, a union representing 120 MBTA bus maintenance machinists. “We won’t let core public services like MBTA bus maintenance be dismantled and destroyed.” …

Senators, reps urge T: Negotiate with your workers instead of privatizing
Source: Nicole Dungca, Boston Globe, April 20, 2017

The state’s congressional delegation is urging the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to negotiate with a machinists union in hopes of preventing dozens of jobs from being outsourced.  In an April 17 letter to Governor Charlie Baker and the state’s transportation secretary, Stephanie Pollack, the legislators called on the MBTA to negotiate with the International Association of Machinists Local 264 less than a week after the agency’s board approved a budget that could privatize dozens of jobs. …

Related:

State Inspector General looking into MBTA deals
Source: Matt Stout, Boston Herald, Thursday, April 13, 2017

The state’s independent Inspector General has launched a “proactive” review of at least one of the MBTA’s newly outsourced contracts, bringing the first outside scrutiny to the T’s privatization efforts since the lawmakers granted it a waiver from the Pacheco Law. Inspector General Glenn Cunha’s office said the “interim analysis” — which is not required by law — will be led by a unit specifically created in 2009 to monitor MassDOT, the MBTA and its various programs. Cunha’s office declined to say which contract it’s scrubbing, but it will focus on one of two: a five-year, $18.7 million contract with Brink’s Co., to take over the T’s so-called “money room”; or a five-year, $28 million contract with Mancon to run a parts warehouse.

MBTA officials hope to can save $26 million in bus maintenance costs
Source: Nicole Dungca, Boston Globe, March 6, 2017
 
Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority officials said Monday they want to solicit bids to privatize several of their nine bus garages to save about $26 million annually, a prospect that prompted dozens of union supporters to pack the agency’s weekly board meeting.  The MBTA spent about $132 million on bus maintenance during the 2016 fiscal year, and officials estimated that outsourcing the work to private companies could save $26 million annually, officials said.   Brian Shortsleeve, the MBTA’s acting general manager, said the agency must be “ruthless” in becoming more efficient. He has previously pointed to the MBTA’s bus maintenance costs as much higher than those of similar agencies. … The MBTA didn’t release a timetable for the bid process, but it has suggested it would make the change before the next fiscal year. … Officials are focused on privatizing four dilapidated garages in the Boston area, which are staffed by about 120 workers. … Officials also hope outside companies will find ways to cut about $5 million in costs at the Everett bus garage, and about $6 million at the Cabot Garage in South Boston, which will soon be used only for new buses. Workers at Cabot have also been “challenged” to bring their costs down to private-sector levels, Shortsleeve said. … If approved, the outsourcing would mark one of the largest privatization efforts under Governor Charlie Baker’s administration, which had pushed for more flexibility in outsourcing public jobs. The MBTA is already privatizing its cash collection and warehousing departments. MBTA officials have said that the threat of privatization has spurred union officials to reduce worker costs. In December, the MBTA’s largest labor group, the Boston’s Carmen’s Union, agreed to give up a bargained raise and cut wages for future workers to protect thousands of jobs from being outsourced. …

Continue reading

LAZ Parking says three ‘dishonest’ employees stole parking lot money from MBTA

Source: Gintautas Dumcius, MassLive.Com, July 31, 2017

Three “dishonest” employees were responsible for the alleged theft of millions in MBTA parking lot cash, LAZ Parking’s president said in a statement Monday. The statement from the president and founder of LAZ Parking, Jeffrey Karp, came after Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey announced the firm agreed to pay $5.6 million to settle allegations over the theft. Employees at the firm, contracted to manage the MBTA’s parking lots, “skimmed millions of dollars in cash” from MBTA parking facilities in the Greater Boston Area, according to Healey’s office. … In announcing the settlement, Healey’s office said the firm did not use revenue controls, which were required in its contract with the MBTA. The public transit agency canceled the contract with LAZ in May 2017. …

Amherst TM takes action on elementary schools

Source: Scott Merzbach, Daily Hampshire Gazette, May 4, 2017

Town Meeting unanimously agreed to $15.5 million as the town’s share of a $31.3 million budget for the Amherst-Pelham Regional Schools and $22.5 million budget for the elementary schools. … The budgets also include money to bring the food service program back in-house, which Hazzard said will mean better tasting, less processed, more organic and locally sourced foods. …

SAVED: School Committee votes to keep nutrition services in-house

Source: Bryan McGonigle, Wicked Local Georgetown, May 4, 2017
 
In a striking twist of irony, Georgetown’s school cafeteria workers spent School Nutrition Employee Week – meant to honor and highlight their value to the community – fighting for their jobs.   … After three hours of discussion and debate, the School Committee unanimously voted to keep the district’s current program and not outsource food services to Whitsons Culinary Group – a national school lunch and catering corporation. … Under the Whitsons proposal, most employees would be invited to stay and work for that company at the same hourly rate. But benefits would only be offered after a 90-day probationary period – meaning employees would have to wait 90 days to get something they currently have.   And benefits would only be offered to full-time employees, with 30 hours a week being the full-time benchmark. Only a couple of employees currently work 30 hours or more, however, so most would not even qualify.  “The jobs they hold now will be gone, and they will be replaced, only with an offer to do the same job for less,” Jim Durkin, representative from the AFSCME Council 93, said to the committee. “Less money, less paid time off, a reduction in retirement benefits through the loss of pension eligibility, and a loss of eligibility for health insurance for them and their kids.” … If improvements aren’t seen and participation doesn’t rise, the committee will likely send out another RFP for outsourcing the program next year.

Pittsburgh Tries to Avoid Becoming the Next Flint

Source: Kris Maher, Wall Street Journal, April 30, 2017

As its soot-filled skies cleared, this city built on the steel industry gained a reputation as one of the nation’s most livable places. But it now has another environmental issue to contend with: It is one of several major American cities with lead levels in drinking water above the federal limit.  A total of seven U.S. water systems, which each serve more than 100,000 people, had lead concentrations above the federal action level of 15 parts per billion in recent months, according to Environmental Protection Agency data. They include Portland, Ore., and Providence, R.I., which both exceeded the limit at least one other time in the past five years.  Since the lead crisis in Flint, Mich., cities have been under greater scrutiny from regulators and pressure from residents to reduce lead in drinking water. In most cases, there is no easy fix, and more cities are looking at the costly prospect of replacing vast networks of pipes buried under streets and private property. …

Related:

Flint And Pittsburgh Have More In Common Than Lead In Their Water
Source: Donald Cohen, The Huffington Post, March 10, 2017

… Around the same time, the city’s water utility was laying off employees in an effort to cut costs. By the end of the year, half of the staff responsible for testing water throughout the 100,000-customer system was let go. The cuts would prove to be catastrophic. Six months later, lead levels in tap water in thousands of homes soared. The professor who had helped expose Flint, Michigan’s lead crisis took notice, “The levels in Pittsburgh are comparable to those reported in Flint.” The cities also share something else, involvement by the same for-profit water corporation. Pittsburgh’s layoffs happened under the watch of French corporation Veolia, who was hired to help the city’s utility save money. Veolia also oversaw a change to a cheaper chemical additive that likely caused the eventual spike in lead levels. In Flint, Veolia served a similar consulting role and failed to detect high levels of lead in the city’s water, deeming it safe. … On Wednesday, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto announced the city would provide filters for drinking water, which is the right thing to do. But he’s also considering partnering with another for-profit water company to clean up Veolia’s mess. … For-profit water corporations will always have a financial incentive to cut service, shrug off maintenance, and fire employees. When they’re in charge, the high costs of doing business are passed on to residents: privately owned water systems charge 59 percent more than those that are publicly owned. …

Activists press Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority to oppose any privatization of its public assets
Source: Bob Mayo, Pittsburgh’s Action 4 News, February 24, 2017

Some activist groups and residents of neighborhoods affected by Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority problems are urging the PWSA board to oppose any fix for water authority problems that would involve privatizating the water system. During public comment at the board’s meeting Friday, they also criticized the PWSA over recent health and safety issues, including chlorination concerns that led to a boil water advisory and ongoing concerns about the detection of lead in the water of some customers. …

Continue reading

Saugus School Committee supports privatizing cafeteria staff

Source: Neil Zolot, Wicked Local, April 19, 2017

The School Committee unanimously voted to send a proposal from food service provider Whitsons Culinary Group to the town Purchasing Department officer that includes provisions for privatizing the cafeteria staff.  Bids for a Request for Proposals were due back by March 13 from companies looking to  manage and operate the food service program from this July 1 to June 30, 2018. … After the vote, AFSCME Council 93 Assistant Director of Legislation, Political Action and Communications Molly Maloney told the School Committee members they showed “a complete lack of respect” to the employees and union members.  At the outset of the April 13 meeting, Maloney asked the School Committee to delay approval of the food service contract in order to be able to fully review and process information she provided.  “I have prepared a packet of information for all of you with stories where privatization of food services has failed,” Maloney said. “This is a large packet of information and because AFSCME has not been granted an opportunity to review the bid submission from Whitsons, I am requesting that you delay approval.” …

Related:

Saugus school cafeteria workers concerned about possible privatization of food service program
Source: Mike Gaffney, Saugus Wicked Local, April 6, 2017

As the School Committee prepares to review a request for proposals for the management and operation of the Saugus Public Schools food service program, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union is raising concerns over a potential move to privatize the school cafeteria workers.  Bids were due back by March 13 from companies looking to manage and operate the food service program from July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018. Whitsons Culinary Group, which currently manages the Saugus Public Schools food service program and oversees 18 cafeteria workers who are school system employees, was the only company to bid for the contract. … Jim Durkin, the director of legislation, political action and communication for AFSCME Council 93, said the union’s concern is that school officials appear to want a private company to take over the entire food service operation — including the workforce.

… Last summer the New England School Development Council completed a review of the district’s food service program that recommended cutting staff, replacing the food service director and instituting new menus as just a few of the strategies to combat waste and increase student participation. … Markland emphasized that nowhere in the report did NESDEC recommend privatizing the cafeteria workers. She also questioned the logic of awarding a bigger contract and more responsibility to a company, Whitsons, that was criticized by NESDEC. … Cafeteria workers in other school districts that privatized the food service program have seen their salaries slashed by as much as 30 percent, Durkin said. … Durkin questioned why the school lunch program is looked at from a profit/loss standpoint when it was established because research shows that students learn better when they have a healthy meal in their stomachs. …

Expanding the Fight for Education

Source: Michael Fiorentino & Jessica Wender-Shubow, Jacobin Magazine, March 24, 2017

Except for some pockets of suburban activism around standardized testing, education policy debate in recent years has centered on cities. In places like Chicago and Boston, grassroots coalitions of teachers’ unions and community organizations are struggling to wrest control of their public schools back from the privatization program backed by hedge-funder owners and their lackeys. Suburbs have distanced themselves from those debates. Even in the recent successful campaign against charter school expansion in Massachusetts, the suburban districts often limited their arguments to protecting their funding. In Brookline, Massachusetts, however, the discussion around schools has been changing. A campaign for fair contracts has drawn attention to how corporate education reform is seeping into the day-to-day operations of affluent schools. …

… More striking has been Brookline’s growing awareness of the composition of its school committee, which is dominated by employees of Bain Capital’s pro-charter, pro-privatization venture philanthropy arm, Bridgespan. Bridgespan’s flagship “Billionaire Dollar Bets” eschew local democratic oversight of family intervention and community development, preferring to enlist billionaires to address poverty directly. Meanwhile, wholesale economic and political dispossession of marginalized communities continues. …

Haverhill contractor settles allegations of overbilling MBTA, prevailing wage violations

Source: Eagle-Tribune, February 25, 2017
 
A New Hampshire-based general contractor with ties to Haverhill and one of its subcontractors have agreed to pay more than $420,000 for submitting false and inflated payment requests in connection with their construction of the Assembly Square Station on the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s (MBTA) Orange Line in Somerville, Attorney General Maura Healey announced Friday.  S&R Construction Enterprises, its president Stephen Early of Haverhill, subcontractor A&S Electrical and its manager Gregory Lane agreed to resolve allegations they violated the Massachusetts False Claims Act by knowingly submitting false and inflated pay estimates to improperly front load payments under their contracts. In addition, S&R Construction, based in Newton, New Hampshire, and A&S Electrical are barred from bidding on and accepting new public contracts in Massachusetts for five years and one year, respectively. …