Category: Economic Development

MassDOT Plans to Consolidate Construction on Longfellow

Last week, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has announced implementation of a plan to re-sequence construction on the Longfellow Bridge by combining Stages 4 and 6 – a measure which the contractor White-Skanska-Consigli (WSC) said would result in faster completion of the project in June 2018, three months earlier than previously anticipated.

This announcement follows a robust public process, which included a stakeholder briefing and two public meetings in Boston and Cambridge in August. MassDOT has begun the multimodal shifts to accommodate the combined stages

Under this plan, WSC will simultaneously rehabilitate the bridge under the MBTA outbound track (Stage 4) and reconstruct the downstream roadway and sidewalk (previously planned for Stage 6). With this modification, the contractor anticipates having all modes of travel in their final configuration by June 2018. Stage 5 will be performed after the combined Stages 4 and 6.

“It’s no secret that the rehabilitation of this historic bridge posed significant challenges in the early stages of construction, but by working with and challenging our contractor to think creatively, we are happy to see a significant time savings and bring this project to completion sooner,” MassDOT Highway Administrator Thomas J. Tinlin said. “This response to challenges faced demonstrates MassDOT’s commitment to delivering the highest quality projects that respond to the needs of all modes and types of travelers.”

State Rep. Jay Livingstone said, “I’m pleased that MassDOT and its contractors continue to look for ways to shorten the reconstruction of the Longfellow Bridge. I fully support MassDOT’s newest plan, which will again shorten the reconstruction by months. MassDOT’s willingness to keep all critical stakeholders fully informed has been extremely helpful throughout the entire process”

State Rep Tim Toomey said, “MassDOT and the Longfellow Bridge contractor are clearly working hard to get the project completed at an earlier date. I appreciate their efforts to consistently provide residents and stakeholders with the latest information about the project, and they’ve been doing a great job at coming back to the community on a regular basis to provide updates and answer questions.”

To accommodate this time saving work, all modes of travel will use the upstream side of the bridge, pedestrians will use the upstream sidewalk for travel in both directions; inbound bicyclists will use the new 5-foot wide designated bike lane on the upstream roadway; and outbound bicyclists will share the upstream sidewalk with pedestrians.

While outbound cyclists may ride their bikes on the sidewalk, MassDOT asks that cyclists and pedestrians use caution and respect the rights of everyone to use public infrastructure in this temporary shared configuration.

Also, MBTA and emergency response access across the bridge will be maintained at all times.

Visit the project Web site to learn more about the Stage 4 ans 6 bike routes and to view the bike route maps for the Boston Approach and the Cambridge Approach.

The Cambridge-bound detour remains in place using the existing signed route from Charles Circle following Charles Street to Leverett Circle, Monsignor O’Brien Highway (Route 28)/Charles River Dam Road and Land Boulevard.

View the Stage 4 and 6 Graphic for travel space configuration along the Longfellow Bridge. Learn more about Stage 4 and 6 in the Construction Updates section of the project Web site.

The Longfellow Bridge restoration project began in 2013. White-Skanska-Consigli Joint Venture is the contractor for the project.

Bill Calls for More Duck-Boat Regulations

Family members of a woman struck and killed by a duck boat on Beacon Hill in April joined three lawmakers Wednesday to advocate for legislation that would impose new safety regulations on the vehicles.

“This was a preventable accident,” said Ivan Warmuth, father of 28-year-old Allison Warmuth was struck and killed by a Boston Duck Tours boat while riding a moped near the intersection of Beacon and Charles streets on April 30. “My daughter did nothing wrong,”

Allison’s mother, Martha Warmuth, added, “It’s obvious that these vehicles are unsafe, so to continue to have that situation with distracted drivers is a real problem.”

The legislation, sponsored by State Senator William Brownsberger, and State Reps. William Straus and Jay Livingstone, would require duck-boat operators to equip their fleets with blind-spot cameras and proximity sensors. The bill would also prohibit drivers from operating sightseeing vehicles while narrating tours or providing other information or entertainment. If passed, the legislation would be enacted next April.

“I very much hope we can act on this very quickly,” Brownsberger told the State House News Service on Tuesday. “It’s a simple bill… and it’s a public safety issue. I hope we can wrap our minds around it.”

As one of its co-sponsors, Livingstone said he would support this legislation to keep the city’s streets safe.

“Tourists come from all over the world to quickly and safely take in what the city has to offer through sight-seeing vendors,” Livingstone wrote in an e-mail. “That safety cannot be achieved without the driver’s complete focus on the road. I commend Senator Brownsberger for filing this legislation to ensure that sightseeing vehicle drivers keep all of their focus on safe driving so that patrons can keep all of their focus on the historic and unique sights of our city.

Representative Jay Livingstone Releases FY2017 Budget Priorities Letter

This morning, Jay sat down with House Committee on Ways & Means Chairman Brian Dempsey regarding his priorities for the FY2017 budget. Among those priorities were line items pertaining to Early Childhood Education, Expansion of a Special Education Circuit Breaker program, Raising the Enhanced Community Options Program for Seniors, Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation funding, and line item increases to the Department of Mental Health and the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services. Below is the letter in full.

While Jay has chosen to prioritize these line items, this is not an exhaustive list of the programs he plans to support in the budgetary process. He looks forward to working with his colleagues to advocate for other line items after the release of the House Ways and Means Budget.

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Massachusetts Senate OKs bill that would ensure equal pay

Associated Press
By Steve LeBlanc

BOSTON (AP) — The Massachusetts Senate unanimously approved a bill Thursday that would ensure men and women earn equal pay for comparable work.

The legislation would prohibit employers from discriminating based on gender when it comes to wages and other compensation. The bill defines comparable work as jobs requiring similar skills, effort and level of responsibility.

The bill would allow variations in pay if the difference is based on a true merit system that measures earnings based on production or sales, on geographic location or education, or on training or experience related to the job.

Employers also would no longer be able to ban employees from discussing or disclosing information about their wages or other employees’ wages.

Companies that violate the proposed law could be fined up to $1,000, and employees who believe they’re discriminated against could go to court to recover unpaid wages.

Supporters point to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics which they say show a woman working full time in Massachusetts earns 82 cents for every dollar a man earns.

‘‘Women working hard to support their families deserve fair pay, and this bill is an important step to close this unacceptable gap,’’ said state Sen. Karen Spilka, Democratic chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and a sponsor of the bill.

Critics say lawmakers are well-meaning, but misguided.

Massachusetts High Technology Council spokesman Mark Gallagher had urged the Senate to reject the bill.

‘‘The legislation is a classic example of a well-intended proposal that is highly likely to result in unintended consequences,’’ Gallagher said in a written statement.

He said the bill would make it difficult and risky for employers to reward any worker — female or male — through commissions and other merit-based or performance-based compensation systems. He cited what he said was the high burden of proof employers would have to meet to justify higher pay for some workers.

The law could end up discouraging an employer from paying more to a woman employee who is performing at a higher level than a male counterpart, he added.

Top statewide Democratic officials, including Attorney General Maura Healey and state Treasurer Deb Goldberg, support the bill.

Asked about the bill earlier this week, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker said it’s already illegal under state law to discriminate on pay based on gender.

‘‘I certainly believe that anything we can do to make sure that Massachusetts continues to be a place where no matter who you are you believe you’re getting a fair shot with respect to employment is a good thing,’’ he said. ‘‘But the devil often times is in the details with this stuff.’’

The bill now heads to the House.

Democratic House Speaker Robert DeLeo said he’s always favored equal pay for equal work, but still needs to look at all the provisions of the bill.

Legislators organize blitz of equal pay legislation in nearly half the states

By Lydia DePillis

Sometimes, state-based legislative change seems to be an incremental thing, with bills trickling through state houses across the country so slowly that a casual observer wouldn’t notice — which is often what backers of such campaigns would prefer.

And then there’s the supernova approach. That’s what a coalition of progressive and women’s empowerment groups are trying this week around the issue of equal pay, advancing bills in nearly half the states at once — from Alaska to Kansas — in a bid to elevate solutions to America’s nagging gender pay disparity at a time when little seems likely to happen in Congress.

“We decided that because legislators have been asking for it, let’s try to make a coordinated effort around this to try to nationalize the issue,” said Nick Rathod, director of the State Innovation Exchange, a three-year-old network of progressive state legislators.

On the menu of policy ideas that a state legislature might decide to take on, equal pay is relatively low-hanging fruit. It polls well — most people say they want everybody to receive the same compensation for similar work — and there are several options for how to address it, from simply increasing penalties for violations of existing laws to requiring minimum salaries on job postings, so that women and people of color can’t be lowballed.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a slam dunk. The biggest challenge, lawmakers say, is getting their colleagues to agree that the gender pay gap is still a problem, more than 50 years after Congress passed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which banned discrimination on the basis of sex. Despite that and many similar state laws, women often aren’t even aware they’re being paid less than men for similar work, much less willing to go through the hassle of a lawsuit— as many people realized when the Sony e-mail hack revealed that actress Jennifer Lawrence was paid much less than her male co-stars.

“Part of the issue with current equal pay law is that it was enough to get the brashest discrimination addressed, but it’s not enough of a deterrent to get companies to get their house in order to begin with,” says Lisa Maatz, vice president of government relations at the American Association of University Women, which has made equal pay laws its number one priority. “Right now it’s cheaper to take the lawsuits.”

That’s why several states have been moving further in recent years. The effort started with Minnesota, which passed a law in 2014 requiring state contractors to ensure that their employees receive equal pay not just for holding the exact same job, but also jobs of “comparable worth,” such as janitors and housekeepers, or parole officers and child protective services workers. Last year, California followed up with a law extending that requirement to all private sector employers.

Out of the 24 or so bills that are being introduced across the country this week, some have been tried in previous sessions, and others are breaking new ground. They also offer a range of tools, ranging from conservative — simply boosting protections for people who discuss salaries at the workplace — to more aggressive. A bill in Massachusetts, for example, would prohibit recruiters from asking prospective hires their salary histories, so that being underpaid early in one’s career doesn’t permanently impair one’s earnings potential.

At the same time, that measure also grants companies an affirmative defense in court if they have already implemented a credible policy aimed at eradicating gender-based pay disparities. “Often, when these bills are proposed, there’s an accusation that it’s just to generate litigation,” says the Massachusetts bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jay Livingstone, a Democrat. “If a company undertakes a real review, and fixes the problem, there won’t be anything to sue over.”

Perhaps for that reason, the Boston Chamber of Commerce came out in strong support of the bill, calling it a “thoughtful collaboration” between lawmakers, business leaders, and the attorney general’s office. “Wage inequality not only affects businesses, it also has a negative impact on families and the overall Massachusetts economy,” said Chamber president James Rooney, in a statement issued Wednesday.

Business support isn’t always so vocal. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce opposed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act — which passed in 2009 — as well as the Paycheck Fairness Act, a more comprehensive measure that hasn’t yet passed. But conservatives and business interests don’t have to be opposed, either. The American Legislative Exchange Council, the State Innovation Exchange’s much older counterpart on the right, says it doesn’t have a set policy on equal pay laws like it does on things like environmental regulations and the minimum wage.

That’s why Oklahoma Rep. Jason Dunnington (D) thinks his bill has a chance, even in a state that’s as red as can be — with a legislature that’s as male dominated as any. In trying to build support among his male colleagues, he says he tries to make a personal appeal.

“Each of them has a mother or a daughter or an aunt or a grandmother or a niece,” Cunnington says. “Do those women in their life not deserve the opportunity for wage equality? That kind of hits them where it matters.”

Bills are also being offered in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Washington, Vermont, Virginia, Utah, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Ohio, New York, New Jersey, Nebraska, Missouri, Maryland, Louisiana, Kansas, iowa, Hawaii, Colorado, Arizona, and Alaska.

Now, there’s not much academic research on the impact of equal pay laws. Other research suggests that the gender pay gap has narrowed over the years for other reasons, including rising female education rates and greater female workforce participation. And some scholars have suggested that what’s really necessary to close the rest of the gap is changes in the structure of jobs to make taking time off to have kids — the last remaining insurmountable gender difference — less of a disadvantage.

But the AAUW, and other groups coordinating this week’s blitz of legislation, think government tools are still necessary to raise women’s pay to what it should be — even more so than priorities like paid parental leave, which many are also pursuing.

“When you have that kind of equality and economic stability, so many other doors open up, in terms of consumer clout, even political clout,” Maatz says. “When you can really get to that equal pay element, you really start to level the field.”