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Video Blog | Speaker DeLeo Talks Energy, Economic Development

Posted by Christopher Geehern on May 23, 2016 7:30:00 AM

House Speaker Robert DeLeo touched on energy costs, work force training and economic development during his keynote address to the AIM annual meeting on May 13.  DeLeo said that the House of Representatives shares with AIM a commitment to ensure that the economic growth buoying the Boston area spreads through the commonwealth.

Here is a video of the speaker's full address:

Topics: Speaker Robert DeLeo, AIM Annual Meeting, Massachusetts House of Representatives

AIM Vision Award | BU Researcher Changes Discussion on Brain Injuries

Posted by Christopher Geehern on May 20, 2016 8:30:00 AM

AIM last week presented the first-ever Vision Awards, which honor the accomplishments of companies and individuals who have made unique contributions to the economy and citizens of Massachusetts.

One of the three inaugural Vision Awards wnt to one of most accomplished medical researchers in the country, and also one of the most courageous.

Dr. Ann McKee of Boston University has brought the issue of chronic brain trauma and its effect on athletes and members of the military into the forefront of American consciousness. Her research establishing a link between repetitive head impacts and chronic traumatic encephalopathy – better known as CTE - in former professional football players prompted an extraordinary acknowledgement last month by the National Football League that a connection exists between the sport and degenerative brain disorders.

Topics: AIM Annual Meeting, AIM Vision Award

AIM Vision AwardNuance Communications, Technology Whisperer

Posted by Christopher Geehern on May 19, 2016 7:59:56 AM

AIM last week presented the first-ever Vision Awards, which honor the accomplishments of companies and individuals who have made unique contributions to the economy and citizens of Massachusetts.

One of three inaugural Vision Award honored Nuance Communications of Burlington. Nuance is a global pioneer in voice-recognition and imaging software that bridges the gap between humans and the technology they create. The company is best known for providing the voice recognition technology that underpins many digital personal assistants, including Apple’s Siri, Samsung’s S-Voice and Ford’s Sync.

Here is more...

Topics: AIM Annual Meeting, Massachusetts employers, Technology

New Non-Compete Bill: Progress, But Issues Remain

Posted by Brad MacDougall on May 18, 2016 12:04:51 PM

The Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development on Monday released a non-compete reform bill containing provisions outlined by House Speaker Robert DeLeo in March.

ScalesofJusticeVerySmall.jpgThe measure is the latest iteration of a years-long battle by venture capitalists to ban or limit the use of non-compete agreements in Massachusetts. AIM has so far opposed changes to the non-compete law, believing the non-compete issue is about choice for both individuals and employers who should be free to negotiate contracts of mutual benefit as long as the employee is a part of the process.

AIM supports the following provisions of the Labor and Workforce Development bill:

  • Non-compete agreements could be only one year in duration.
  • Those subject to non-compete agreements would have to be given prior notice of the need to sign the agreement, as well as the opportunity to consult with legal counsel.
  • Extension of the non-compete to a second year should the employee unlawfully take property belonging to the employer.

AIM opposes the following provisions:

  • Imposition of a so called “garden leave” provision requiring that at least 50 percent compensation for the duration of a non-compete period. As one AIM-member lawyer noted, “This is not a law anywhere in the country. Moreover, most Massachusetts businesses are small and could not afford to protect their investments with this type of provision.”
  • Creation of multiple opportunities for a plaintiff or a court to void a non-compete contract. It is critical for a business to have confidence that their non-competes will be held up in court.
  • Non-competes would become invalid for employees who are terminated or laid off. As one western Massachusetts manufacturer noted, “The risk to employer is still alive and well if the terminated employee takes that information and goes to a direct competitor.”
  • A prohibition against courts reforming a contract, a provision that would make it likely that contracts would be voided. It is a long-standing and common practice for a court to reform an agreement rather than set it aside. As one AIM member noted, “The power and ability to reform a non-compete contract is a bedrock principle in equity. It is the primary way for the courts to make a fair and just ruling on the enforcement of a non-compete agreement. The courts take substantial evidence from the parties on an enforcement action, and thus is in the position to assess same and make a ruling which is ‘customized’ to the situation at hand. This a best practice that has allowed for proper and equitable application of non-compete agreements for over a hundred years”
  • Arbitrary rules for selecting the court where a claim may be brought.
  • Exemptions for certain workers for whom a non-compete would be invalid. AIM is concerned that changes announced today to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act will make these exemptions applicable to a broad swath of the work force. One AIM member from Fall River noted, that “In reality, how someone is paid (and how much) has little or nothing to do with what confidential or proprietary business information they may be exposed to. This has a big impact to small businesses.”

AIM has concerns about other sections of the legislation:

  • The manner in which the proposal captures independent contractors within the definition of full-time employee.
  • The chance that an employer may be precluded from recouping damages or costs associated with a stolen “sales list” if an employee were to voluntarily leave.
  • The requirement that a company reveal certain aspects of a specific trade secret through the court and discovery process. The court process and the manner in which trade and other business interests are protected in court should be given further analysis.
  • The aggressive implementation date of July 1, 2016. Given the significant challenge of changing legal documents, especially given new changes imposed by the defense of trade secret law

“AIM appreciates the approach that Speaker DeLeo has taken in the public policy debate over non-compete agreements,” said John Regan, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs at AIM.

“The Speaker clearly recognizes the need to protect business interests at a time when non-competes are a vital part of protecting investments and ideas created by employers of all sizes and from all industries. As the Speaker has noted in the past, Massachusetts cannot be an ‘invented here and manufactured elsewhere’ commonwealth.”

AIM looks forward to working with members of the Legislature to address these concerns.

AIM members may learn more about the non-compete issue by contacting Brad MacDougall, bmacdougall@aimnet.org.

Topics: Employment Law, Massachusetts employers, Non-Compete Agreements

New Overtime Rules Will Challenge Employers

Posted by Tom Jones on May 18, 2016 9:22:09 AM

The U.S. Department of Labor will issue a final rule today that will soon make more than four million workers eligible for overtime. The measure has profound implications for employers.

Fourpeople.jpgThe new rule doubles the salary threshold—from $23,660 to $47,476 per year—at which exempt or managerial workers become eligible for overtime. Non-exempt (hourly) workers are generally guaranteed overtime pay regardless of their earnings level. The rule will take effect on December 1.

The new salary baseline is slightly lower than the initially proposed white-collar exemption threshold of $50,440.

The threshold level will be automatically updated every three years. According to information released by the White House , the updates to the new minimum exemption will be set at the 40th percentile of full-time salaried workers in the lowest income region of the country.  Based on projections of wage growth, the threshold is expected to rise to more than $51,000 with the first update on January 1, 2020.

Employees earning more than the salary cap will still have to pass the “duties test” - showing that they primarily perform executive, administrative or professional tasks - to be classified as exempt from overtime.

The exemption for highly compensated workers will change from $100,000 annually to $134,004. A highly compensated employee must perform office or non-manual work and be paid total annual compensation of $134,004 or more (which must include at least $913 per week paid on a salary or fee basis) and customarily perform at least one of the duties of an exempt executive, administrative or professional employee identified in the standard tests for exemption.

There are no changes to the outside sales provision or the computer professional exemption. To meet the computer professional threshold, the employer must show that the employee is compensated either on a salary or fee basis at a rate not less than $455 per week or, if compensated on an hourly basis, at a rate not less than $27.63 an hour and the employee must be employed as a computer systems analyst, computer programmer, software engineer or other similarly skilled worker in the computer field performing the duties outlined in the regulations.  

Analysts believe the new overtime rules may prompt companies with exempt employees earning less than the proposed threshold of $47,476 per year ($913 per week) to reclassify those people as hourly workers. That change not only presents potential morale issues for employees who may consider the reclassification as a demotion, but also raises a host of issues for employers:

  • Payroll practices education (punch a clock, overtime rules)
  • Individual time management and work stopping at a set  time
  • Educating management on their staff and legal aspects of exempt versus non-exempt status
  • Rewriting job descriptions / salary structures
  • Career path changes
  • Effective workload levels – hiring incremental temps, part-time, full-time
  • Curfew on after-hour emails by non-exempt staff
  • Any benefits/bonus eligibility impact
  • Calculating travel time between locations or when required to report to an alternative location by a certain time
  • Calculating time for required travel on non-work days

Employers can start the process of adjusting to the new rule by asking some of the following questions:

  • Do you have any highly compensated employees under proposed threshold of $134,004?
  • Do your exempt employees affected by this proposal currently work more than 40 hours per week?
  • Do your exempt employees affected by this proposal work remotely all or part of the time? If so, you’ll need to effectively track hours to ensure all hours are accounted for and paid.
  • Have you tracked exempt employee workload within the 40 hour work week? If a conversion to an hourly employee is required, do you have metrics to substantiate a 40 hour workweek?
  • Have you addressed any budget or impact on pricing as it relates to any increased labor costs?
  • Have you initiated planning for automatic increases to the exempt salary threshold beyond 2016?
  • Have you considered the increase in number of hourly versus exempt employees and any union organizing concerns?

Register for the AIM Overtime Seminar

Topics: Employment Law, Human Resources, Fair Labor Standards Act

AIM Vision Awards | GE Electrifies State Economy

Posted by Christopher Geehern on May 17, 2016 8:47:02 AM

AIM last week presented the first-ever Vision Awards, which honor the accomplishments of companies and individuals who have made unique contributions to the economy and citizens of Massachusetts.

The first of three 2016 Vision Awards went to to General Electric, which altered the economic development landscape of Massachusetts when it announced in January that it would relocate its corporate headquarters in Boston.

GE will bring roughly 800 jobs to Boston and create a GE Digital Foundry for co-development, incubation and product development with customers, startups and partners. The company also brought a $25 million gift for the Boston Public Schools. Here is their story...

 

Topics: AIM Annual Meeting, Massachusetts employers

2016 Gould Award | Putting Some Good Will into the Job Market

Posted by Christopher Geehern on May 16, 2016 7:18:26 AM

Associated Industries of Massachusetts presented the annual Gould Education & Workforce Development Award to Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries of Boston Friday for helping thousands of people of all abilities break into the employment market and contribute to the Massachusetts economy.

Most people know Goodwill for its retail stores that sell everything from gently used clothing to home furnishings. Not enough know that those stores are the face of a sophisticated job training and placement organization.

Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries helps more than 8,200 people prepare for jobs each year – 7,700 people through Boston Career Link, the one-stop career center it operates, and another 560 people through its job training, including the First Step Job Readiness Program and the Human Services Employment Ladder Program.  Take a look.

Speaker Pushes Statewide Economic Growth

Posted by Christopher Geehern on May 13, 2016 2:59:38 PM

The Massachusetts House of Representatives shares with Associated Industries of Massachusetts a commitment to ensure that the economic growth buoying the Boston area spreads through the commonwealth, House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo told the AIM annual meeting today.

DeLeogood.jpg“For the past two years, extending the circle of economic prosperity from Boston to each corner of the commonwealth has been a chief priority of the House. I’m proud to say that through economic development bills, trips around the state, and a recently launched initiative called the Bay State Business Link, we are making gains,” DeLeo told more than 750 executives gathered at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel.

DeLeo noted that he last keynoted the AIM annual meeting during the height of the recession in 2009.

“I’m proud to say that in the past seven years we have overcome adversity and set a foundation for sustainable recovery,” he said.

 “In the House, we embrace our legacy of creating workable, practical solutions. Our goal is to create sustainable legislation that will result in positive long-term consequences. From workforce training; to economic development bills that focus on diverse regions and industries; to education; to our nationally-heralded gun safety legislation: we are known for pairing bold ideas with commitment to collaboration.”

DeLeo’s remarks followed the presentation of the inaugural AIM Vision Awards for contributions to the Massachusetts economy to General Electric Company of Boston, Nuance Communications of Burlington and noted brain researcher Dr. Ann McKee of Boston University. AIM also presented the John Gould Education and Work Force Development Award to Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries of Massachusetts.

AIM Board Chairman Daniel Kenary announced in his annual remarks that the AIM Board of Directors has approved a restructuring that will allow AIM’s human resources operation to accelerate its growth, while the larger organization recommits itself to being the best public policy advocacy group in the nation.

AIM HR Solutions, formerly known as the Employers Resource Group, will become its own business center with the goal of building on annual revenues of $2.1 million. AIM HR Solutions will help employers wrestle with the complexity of managing a work force and comply with an ever- growing maze of employment laws.

“The change is intended to allow our managers to push full throttle on two business units that are already remarkably successful.  There isn’t an association anywhere in the world that would not give its right arm to have these two businesses. Your Board of Directors is excited about the possibilities this change will create,” said Kenary, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of The Harpoon Brewery.

Kenary also suggested that AIM is at a crossroads born of an increasingly volatile political environment that is challenging employers to articulate a positive and compelling vision for the role they play in the larger society. He called for employers to adopt an “entrepreneurial populism” under which they engage with the political process in their home communities.

“The late House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s maxim that ‘all politics is local’ has never been truer that it is today. And if all politics is local, the employer community represents a sleeping giant with enormous potential to drive sound public policy from the bottom up,” Kenary said.

Topics: Massachusetts Legislature, Economic Development, Massachusetts House of Representatives

Employer Confidence Flat in April

Posted by Christopher Geehern on May 3, 2016 9:27:41 AM

Massachusetts employers appear to be taking the same wait-and-see attitude about the economy that the Federal Reserve cited in its decision last week to leave interest rates unchanged.

BCI.April.2016.jpgThe Associated Industries of Massachusetts Business Confidence Index remained essentially flat during April, falling 0.3 points to 56.2. The reading remained 2.9 points below confidence levels registered a year ago, but still well above the 50 mark that denotes an overall positive economic outlook.

The ambivalence is consistent with a recent run of mixed economic signals.

The U.S. economy grew at its weakest pace in two years during the first quarter as consumers slowed their spending and businesses substantially cut back on investments.

Massachusetts, meanwhile, grew at a much faster annualized rate of 2.3 percent.

“Even as employers continue hiring and the stock market recovers from early-year turmoil, tepid growth indicates that the economy is still being held back by apprehension and caution,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“The good news is that Massachusetts employers – including manufacturers - remain confident overall in the prospects for their own companies and in the future direction of both the Massachusetts and national economies.”

The AIM Index, based on a survey of Massachusetts employers, has appeared monthly since July 1991. It is calculated on a 100-point scale, with 50 as neutral; a reading above 50 is positive, while below 50 is negative. The Index reached its historic high of 68.5 on two occasions in 1997-98, and its all-time low of 33.3 in February 2009.

The index has remained above 50 since October 2013.

Virtually all the sub-indices based on selected questions or categories of employer declined slightly during April after rising the previous month. The notable exception was the Manufacturing Index, which rebounded 1.4 points to close some of the gap that recently developed between the manufacturing and service sectors.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, lost 0.2 points to 57.3 in April, down 1.3 points from the year earlier. The U.S. Index of national business conditions declined 0.3 points to remain narrowly in optimistic territory at 50.5.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, gained 0.3 points to 55.2 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, fell 0.8 points to 57.3.

“Employers have now been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than about the national economy for 72 consecutive months and the first-quarter growth numbers, along with the recent expansion announcements by General Electric, Alnylam and others will buttress certainly that optimism,” said Paul Bolger, President, Massachusetts Capital Resource Company, and a BEA member.

“The convergence of a vibrant knowledge economy and a well-developed financing infrastructure leaves Massachusetts in an enviable position as the larger national economy looks for direction.”

The three sub-indices bearing on survey respondents’ own operations all showed little change.

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, declined 0.3 points to 57.1, while the Sales Index remained unchanged at 57.9 and the Employment Index dropped by the 0.3 points to 54.2.

The survey found that nearly 26 percent of respondents reported adding staff during the past six months while 22 percent reduced employment. Expectations for the next six months were stable – 36 percent hiring and only 16 percent downsizing.

“The overall strong levels of employer confidence reflect the accelerating pace of economic growth in Massachusetts during the first three months of 2016 after slowing in the second half of last year. Both employment and earnings recorded strong growth and the unemployment rate fell,” said Michael A. Tyler, CFA, Chief Investment Officer, Eastern Bank Wealth Management.

"What's more, the modest weakening of the dollar relative to other currencies boosted the competitiveness of our state's export-oriented manufacturers."

Confidence levels in April were higher in Greater Boston (58.5) than in the rest of the commonwealth (52.4). Employers of all sizes recorded positive confidence levels, with the mid-size group lagging behind both larger and smaller companies.

AIM’s President and CEO Richard C. Lord, a BEA member, said the fact that Massachusetts grew five times faster than the nation as a whole during the first quarter reflects both the commonwealth’s favorable industry mix and enlightened approach to economic policy.

“The House of Representatives has again passed a state budget with no new taxes and the Baker Administration continues to review regulations to determine which rules are necessary and which are not. Both are encouraging steps,” Lord said.

“The challenge now is to ensure that all regions of Massachusetts share in the economic growth taking place so visibly in Greater Boston.”

Employers Split on Government Access to Smart Phones

Posted by Christopher Geehern on May 2, 2016 7:30:00 AM

A narrow majority of Massachusetts employers believes that technology companies should help law-enforcement authorities unlock smart phones and other electronic devices as part of criminal investigations.

Phonesecurity.jpgFifty percent of the employers who responded to a new AIM survey, which was included in AIM’s monthly Business Confidence Index, side with the government in its recent dustup with Apple over access to the phone of a suspect in the San Bernardino terrorist attack. Thirty-seven percent believe companies should not help the government access electronic devices, while 13 percent are undecided.

Even for those who favor technology companies helping the government, the question appears to be an agonizing one.

“Before the ‘Age of Terrorism’ I would have answered ‘No.’ However, today I must answer ‘Yes,’ but with this caveat - tech companies should do the actual access themselves. They should not reveal the software or other techniques that they might use to do so to the law enforcement agencies, and only based on a warrant or court order,” wrote one employer.

A second saw the issue differently:  “I can very much understand Apple’s reluctance to create software to get information from their phones. First, having the information in the hands of the government. Second, Apple was probably concerned about the effects on their product in the market once customers understood that Apple was willing to allow the government to access any phone.”

The conflict between Apple and the Justice Department flared in February when a federal magistrate judge in California ordered the Silicon Valley company to help unlock the smartphone used by Syed Rizwan Farook, a gunman in the December shooting in San Bernardino that killed 14 people. Apple opposed the order, saying that “compromising the security of our personal information can ultimately put our personal safety at risk.”

The government announced in March that it had found a way to unlock an iPhone without help from Apple, but suggested that the broader battle over access to digital data from devices is not over.

“It remains a priority for the government to ensure that law enforcement can obtain crucial digital information to protect national security and public safety, either with cooperation from relevant parties, or through the court system when cooperation fails,” Melanie Newman, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, told The New York Times.

Employers who responded to the AIM survey said technology companies should provide access to devices only under court order.

“Access should be based on a judge and court warrant issued only under extreme circumstances and sealed from public scrutiny. Access should be performed by an Apple employee acting as a mutual agent of Apple and the Justice Department so that proprietary software information is not disclosed to the FBA or to other parties,” one AIM member wrote.

Still other employers suggested that iPhone kerfuffle distracts from the broader issue of electronic security faced by employers in all industries.

“I would prefer to have the government and technology companies working on more ways to keep our records and information secure rather than worry about tech companies creating backdoor keys for the government. This unchecked increase in the number of hackers and info/tech piracy cases is very unsettling. I haven't seen any real effort to address this aspect of security,” one employer wrote.

Topics: Technology, Privacy

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