Major Business And Labor Groups Helped Craft Baker Reopening Plan
By Mike Deehan
June 8, 2020
The opening of retail stores, outdoor restaurant seating and other businesses on the first day of Phase 2 of the state’s economic reopening plan marks a major accomplishment for the advisory board Gov. Charlie charged with revitalizing the state’s locked-down economy, as well as the numerous business groups and advocacy organizations that lobbied the 17-member team to get permission to welcome back the public.
In the weeks prior to the March 18 start of Phase 1 of the plan, the Reopening Advisory Board co-chaired by Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito and Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy, met remotely with 50 interest groups. A spokesman for the advisory board said the panel received over 4,500 online submissions from businesses and other groups that were reviewed by the team, but declined to make any available to WGBH.
The team met with many of the leading business groups that regularly lobby the administration and lawmakers. Large groups like the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Massachusetts Business Roundtable and the Massachusetts Competitive Partnership were included in the first rounds of meetings.
Smaller chambers of commerce from Worcester, Western Mass., the North Shore, South Shore and South Coast were also heard from and advice on seasonal workers was sought from the Cape Cod Chamber of commerce and 1Berkshire.
Besides experts from the state’s Health and Human Services office and Department of Public Health, the advisory board sat down with the Massachusetts Medical Society, Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association, Massachusetts Dental Society and human services labor unions SEIU 1199 and SEIU Local 509. That feedback lead to the reopening in Phase 2 of many medical procedures and facilities not deemed essential at the height of the pandemic.
“The process that was rolled out in terms of bringing services back into the hospitals, we feel like the guidance is pretty strong and we’re going to continue to monitor that guidance,” Massachusetts Region Executive Vice President for SEIU 1199 Tim foley told WGBH News.
Foley said the union was vocal about getting more personal protective equipment to home health care givers and to health care facilities, like nursing homes, where its members work.
“The need to have a labor management committee to come up with that process to ensure the safety of the patients and the workers, to have an adequate supply of personal protective equipment,” Foley said. “You have to have 14 days supply infection control processes in place.”
Not all labor unions were happy with the Advisory Board’s process. Though the panel met with the Homebuilders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts, Associated General Contractors of Massachusetts and the state’s leading real estate industry group, the Massachusetts Building Trades Council says their advice to the board about giving construction workers protective gear was ignored.
“The executive order must be amended to include strong worker rights to refuse unsafe work when adequate PPE or safety protocols are not provided, with no loss of pay. It must also be amended to provide strong whistleblower protections for workers who report hazardous conditions and non-compliance,” Building Trades Council president Frank Callahan wrote in a statement about Phase 2.
In the statement, Callahan said the letter submitted by the union on May 28 was not responded to.
Hotels, motels and most retailers’ doors are open to the public again, with strict capacity limits and sanitization protocols in place. Before launching the reopening plan, Baker’s team met with the Massachusetts Lodging Association, hotel worker union Unite Here Local 26 and the Retailers Association of Massachusetts.
Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said the panel’s health experts were interested in how all retail stores could learn from the experience of grocers and other stores deemed essential that had to react to the crisis without closing.
“Learn to take those same standards, lower occupancy, face coverings, hand sanitizers, CDC sanitation implementation throughout the facility, and apply that to any type of retailer. They could work in a grocery store and work in a bookseller,” Hurst said.
Retailers successfully petitioned Baker’s board to allow for more online and order fulfillment before Mother’s Day in May, but stores weren’t the only sector to receive special dispensation from Baker. After other states reopened golf courses early on, the golf lobby, the Alliance of Massachusetts Golf Organizations, met with Baker’s team the week of Monday April 27, according to Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development records. Golf courses were allowed to reopen, with restrictions, May 7.