Tag Archives: Massachusetts

From Pittsburgh to Flint, the Dire Consequences of Giving Private Companies Responsibility for Ailing Public Water Systems

Source: Sharon Lerner and Leana Hosea, The Intercept, May 20, 2018
 
The lead crises in Flint and Pittsburgh have many unfortunate parallels. Residents of both cities unknowingly drank water with high levels of the potent neurotoxin, which has long-term health consequences. The rise in lead levels was preceded in both cases by a miscalculation related to chemicals used to control corrosion in water pipes. And in both places, officials have faced criticism for their inaction and failure to alert the public. The two lead crises have another important thing in common: a private water company named Veolia. The world’s largest supplier of water services, Veolia had contracts with both Flint and Pittsburgh around the time that lead levels rose in their drinking water. And in both places, Veolia wound up in legal disputes over its role in the crises. …

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Pittsburgh’s Water System Is Why We Shouldn’t Run America Like a Business
Source: Jordana Rosenfeld, The Nation, November 30, 2017

Pittsburgh, in an attempt to deal with entrenched infrastructure problems, turned to the private sector in 2012 when it partnered with the French management firm Veolia North America, the same water-management company that would fail to disclose Flint’s lead-contamination problem in 2015. … The organization lauded Veolia for identifying $2.3 million in new PWSA revenue and $3 million more in operating savings, a move incentivized by their contract that stipulated the company could keep 40 percent of every dollar it saved the city. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a glowing account of PWSA’s partnership with Veolia, despite reports that it laid off 23 employees, many of whom were longtime employees with critical institutional knowledge. … But this August, a consulting group hired to assess the organization’s current state announced in a public meeting that PWSA was “a failed organization atop a dangerous and crumbling structure” with “an aging system in demonstrably worse condition than any water utility of its size in the country.” Not only that, water tests showed that since the partnership began, Pittsburgh’s water had been tainted with dangerously high levels of lead. …

Veolia’s US growth hopes run into trouble
Source: Luc Olinga, AFP, September 23, 2017

Veolia’s hopes of taking advantage of municipal privatizations and promised Trump administration public works projects to expand its US presence, are being strained by its role in water crises in Flint, Michigan and other cities. … A push by more US local governments to privatize water systems and promises by President Donald Trump of a $1 trillion public infrastructure investment are seen as opportunities to Veolia to expand. … But Veolia’s operations have not been without controversy, especially in Flint, where a lead contaminated water system became a notorious symbol of American social injustice. Veolia issued a study of the city’s water quality before the scandal erupted but did not flag any issues with lead, an issue it says it was told to exclude from the report since city and federal authorities already were looking into it. … Veolia continues to face numerous investigations and class-action lawsuits connected to the crisis. … Veolia also has run into controversy in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which also suffered from elevated levels of lead in its water system. The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has accused the French company of mismanaging the infrastructure system, including botching a shift in chemicals used in corrosion control. The Pittsburgh authority is in mediation with Veolia, according to two people familiar with the matter, but if that process fails it could result in another protracted court battle. …

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Putting the Public First in Public-Private Partnerships

Source: Gabrielle Gurley, The American Prospect, April 26, 2018
 
… More than a decade later, the Port of Miami Tunnel is the marquee example of a public-private transportation infrastructure partnership. … But the tunnel’s success is deceptive, since the unique factors that converged in South Florida cannot be replicated everywhere. For every Port of Miami Tunnel, scores of ill-conceived projects dot the American landscape. The United States lags behind not only in basic maintenance of existing assets at the end of their life cycles but in building the next generation of roads, bridges, rail, tunnels, and aviation projects. With public funds scarce in a climate of tax-cutting and budgetary austerity, the risk is that the contactor/partner pays the up-front costs but sticks future generations of taxpayers and rate-payers with exorbitant charges. … But states and municipalities can learn to appreciate the differences between partnerships that put the public first and the rip-offs that erode public confidence in government and drain public coffers.

… The Trump administration’s version of an infrastructure initiative relies heavily on private financing, which may or may not materialize. … But the Trump framework is only an exaggeration of recent trends. At best, new fiscal pressures can lead public officials to get creative, seeking private partners who may bring superior engineering, financing, and legal expertise, and better attention to maintenance and operations. But private-sector involvement does not automatically mean a better outcome. Citizens and public officials often forget that the private sector’s prime motive is profit, not philanthropy. If a firm cannot clear a good return on an investment, either the deal will not materialize or the terms will be onerous to the public. Public debates can be marred by false expectations, and confusion or obfuscation of what distinguishes a good partnership from a rip-off. …

Wastewater company to pay state $1.6 million to settle spill

Source: Sarah Betancourt, Associated Press, April 10, 2018

A wastewater treatment firm agreed Tuesday to pay $1.6 million to settle a lawsuit with Massachusetts for a spill in which more than 10 million gallons of raw sewage flowed into state-owned woodlands in Plymouth and Plymouth Harbor. The settlement by Veolia Water North America Northeast is believed to be the largest ever paid for violations of the state’s Clean Waters Act, officials said. Attorney General Maura Healey said the company failed to properly maintain a piping system that carried wastewater from customers to the treatment facility in Plymouth, causing a spill from December 2015 to January 2016. Veolia also allegedly discharged hundreds of thousands of gallons of untreated wastewater into Plymouth Harbor in three separate incidences in 2012. … Veolia continues to operate the Plymouth wastewater plant. Plymouth has a separate suit against Veolia North America that contends the company also is responsible for a 2015 sewage spill that officials claim impacted the town. The Attorney General’s office also has a separate lawsuit against Plymouth, filed in 2016.

Home care registry bill on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk could lead to lawsuit

Source: Shira Schoenberg, MassLive, November 15, 2017
 
A bill creating a registry for home care workers is back on Gov. Charlie Baker’s desk, to the dismay of home care workers who are considering a court challenge.  “This legislation exposes these essential frontline direct care workers to enormous privacy and due process violations,” wrote advocates for the home care workers in a statement.  The bill, H.3821, would require home care workers who work for state-contracted agencies to include in a database their name, home and mailing addresses, gender, job title, and training or certifications. The information could be reported to labor unions, home care worker agencies and private organizations that have state contracts to connect people with elder services. …

Pay gap creating crisis in human services sector, agencies say

Source: Worcester Business Journal, October 11, 2017
 
Fourteen months after the signing of a law calling for equal pay across gender lines, representatives from human services agencies asked legislators for help closing a different sort of pay gap. Mark Schueppert, the general counsel and vice president of human resources for the Needham-based Justice Resource Institute, said some of his organization’s staff works in the same building as state employees who are doing similar jobs but earning more money, resulting in “literally dozens” of workers leaving for state jobs in the last three years. … Schueppert asked the committee to back a bill filed by Rep. Kay Khan, its House chair, and Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry that aims to eliminate the pay disparity between state workers and their counterparts at private, community-based human services nonprofits. ….

Lawmakers, union leaders want MBTA privatization reigned in

Source: Metro, October 3, 2017
 
The MBTA privatization debate may change course after lawmakers urged their colleagues Monday to start rolling back the privatization powers they granted the T after the disastrous 2015 winter.  After winter storms suspended the MBTA’s train service more than once, lawmakers gave Gov. Charlie Baker three years to fix the T without the constraints of the Taxpayer’s Protection Act, called the Pacheco law. That law requires private contractors to prove cost savings and no service reduction before any state service can be outsourced.  Since the law’s suspension, the MTA has outsourced cash handling and equipment management operations and is considering privatizing bus maintenance at three garages. …

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Quincy officials to speak against privatization of Quincy T facility
Source: Sean Philip Cotter, The Patriot Ledger, September 22, 2017

As the prospect of privatizing services at the MBTA maintenance garage in Quincy approaches, two Quincy officials plan to speak in a state Senate hearing against the prospect. State Sen. John Keenan and state Rep. Tackey Chan will speak Oct. 4 before a hearing of the Senate Committee on Post Audit and Oversight, letting their concerns about privatizing the operations of Quincy’s and similar garages. The T’s request for proposals for contractors to take over up to three garage’s operations are due on Wednesday. If the T wishes, the contractors could begin operations around the start of the new year, according to the request for proposals the agency issued in July. …

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.” …

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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….

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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. …

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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. …