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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

Morgan Memorial Goodwill Earns 2016 Gould Education and Work Force Award

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Apr 27, 2016 1:02:37 PM

Most people know Goodwill for its retail stores that sell everything from gently used clothing to home furnishings.

Not enough people know that those stores are the face of a sophisticated job-training and placement organization that helps thousands of people of all abilities break into the employment market and contribute to the Massachusetts economy.

Goodwill.jpgThis job training and placement work over many decades has earned Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries of Boston the 2016 John Gould Education and Workforce Development Award from Associated Industries of Massachusetts. The award will be presented before 750 Bay State business leaders at the AIM Annual Meeting May 13 at the Westin Waterfront hotel in Boston.

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. Goodwill’s mission is to help individuals with barriers to self-sufficiency to achieve independence and dignity through work.

“Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries plays a central role in matching qualified job candidates with companies across industries such as retail, health care and banking that require large numbers of entry-level employees,” said Richard C. Lord, President and Chief Executive Officer of AIM.

“The work done at Goodwill not only provides hard-working people a pathway into the job market, but also meets the need of employers to address the most prevalent challenge they face in a growing economy – finding good employees.”

Goodwill collaborates with hundreds of employers to promote and facilitate the hiring of the individuals it serves. The organization’s business partners include Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Citizens Bank, Northeastern University, Stacy’s Pita Chip Company, and the TJX Companies. Many of those employers participate in on-site recruitment events, industry briefings, and career fairs at Boston Career Link, which connect businesses to qualified job seekers.

The Human Services Employment Ladder Program prepares individuals for entry level positions in the burgeoning human services field. The program’s business advisory council is made up of eleven employers, including Pine Street Inn, Vinfen, and Walnut Street Center.

“Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries and all our partners are honored to be recognized with the 18th annual John Gould award from AIM,” said Joanne Hilferty, who has served as president and chief executive officer since 1995.

“It’s fitting that Goodwill receive this award from a business association, since our collaborations with hundreds of Massachusetts employers brings trained, dedicated employees to the workforce, and helps people move to economic self-sufficiency. The award honors every staff member, partner and participant whose hard work makes all this happen.”

The Gould Award was established in 1998 to recognize the contributions of individuals, employers, and institutions to the quality of public education and the advancement, employability, and productivity of residents of the commonwealth. In 2000, the award was named after John Gould, upon his retirement as President and CEO of AIM, to recognize his work to improve the quality of public education and workforce training activities in Massachusetts.   

Goodwill’s headquarters and the Career Link one-stop center are in Boston. The organization also operates  job training centers in Boston and Salem;  a distribution center in Boston;  and stores in Boston, South Boston, Allston/Brighton, Cambridge, Worcester, Somerville, Quincy, South Attleboro, and Hyannis. The organization employs 375 people.

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Topics: Skills Gap, Education, Workforce Training

AIM Honors GE, Nuance Communications and Dr. Ann McKee with Inaugural Vision Awards

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Apr 25, 2016 7:30:00 AM

Two companies that have transformed the Massachusetts economy and a distinguished brain researcher who has changed the manner in which Americans view sports injuries have been named inaugural recipients of the Vision Award from Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

General Electric of Boston, Nuance Communications of Burlington and Boston University brain researcher Dr. Ann McKee will receive the honors during AIM’s 2016 annual meeting May 13 at the Westin Boston Waterfront hotel.

The Vision Award recognizes companies, organizations and individuals who have made unique contributions to the cause of economic opportunity in Massachusetts and the well-being of the people who live here. The award reflects AIM’s mission to stand for jobs, economic opportunity, innovation and a government that acknowledges that the private sector has the unique responsibility to create the common wealth for the people of Massachusetts.

“The 4,500 member employers of Associated Industries of Massachusetts are delighted to honor two companies and one individual who have truly changed the way we live,” said AIM President and Chief Executive Officer Richard C. Lord.

“GE has redefined the way we view Massachusetts. Nuance has shaped the way we interact with technology. And Dr. Ann McKee has outlined an entirely new set of assumptions for athletic safety from the professional level to youth leagues.”

GeneralElectric2.jpgGeneral Electric, a founding member of AIM in 1915, altered the economic development landscape of Massachusetts when it announced in January that it would relocate its corporate headquarters to the Seaport in South 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 already has a significant presence in Massachusetts, with nearly 5,000 employees across the state in businesses including Aviation, Healthcare, Oil and Gas and Energy Management. In 2014, GE moved its Life Sciences headquarters to Marlborough, and in 2015 announced its energy services start-up, Current, would also be headquartered in Boston.

CEO Jeffrey Immelt explained the move to Boston: “Today, GE is a $130 billion high-tech global industrial company, one that is leading the digital transformation of industry. We want to be at the center of an ecosystem that shares our aspirations… Massachusetts spends more on research and development than any other region in the world, and Boston attracts a diverse, technologically-fluent workforce focused on solving challenges for the world.”

Nuance.jpgNuance Communications is a global pioneer in voice-recognition and imaging software that bridges the gap between humans and the technology they create. 

The $2 billion-a-year 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. 

But Nuance’s largest business segment is providing software that allows healthcare professionals to dictate and capture patient information that streamlines electronic medical records.  Today, more than 500,000 medical professionals use Nuance's products in some capacity.

Nuance employs 14,000 people – with more than 1,000 in Massachusetts – and maintains regional offices in 35 countries. Its international headquarters is located in Dublin.

The company describes its work this way: “Technology should work in service of people, and adapt to the way people communicate instead of forcing people to adapt to the machines.

“We are pioneers in making technology fluent in all things human: from understanding spoken words and extracting their meaning to adaptively and seamlessly interpreting the swipe of a fingertip…And we continuously evolve the ability to perceive the nuance of words, actions and meaning – to fit into your life, your business and your world.”

Mckee.jpgDr. Ann McKee 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 (CTE) in former professional football players prompted the National Football League to acknowledge in March a connection between the sport and degenerative brain disorders.

The league’s admission came at a Congressional hearing just moments after Dr. McKee had presented findings showing that dozens of former players who had died were afflicted with the disease. The NFL reached a $765 million settlement in 2015 over concussion-related brain injuries among its 18,000 retired players.

Dr. McKee’s research is also influencing youth sports. PopWarner, the world’s largest youth football league, made rule changes in 2012 to begin limiting contact during practices “in light of developing concussion research.”

Dr. McKee serves as chief of neuropathy for the Veterans Administration, Boston Health Care System. She directs the CTE Center and Brain Banks for the Boston University Alzheimer’s Disease Center and Framingham Heart Study. She is also professor of Neurology and Pathology at Boston University School of Medicine.

The AIM Annual Meeting is expected to draw some 750 senior business leaders form throughout Massachusetts. The event will feature a keynote address by Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo and presentation of the annual John Gould Education and Workforce Development Award.

 

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Topics: AIM Annual Meeting, Economy, AIM Vision Award

It's Time for Massachusetts to Buy Local

Posted by Bob Rio on Apr 20, 2016 7:30:00 AM

It seems everyone these days wants to buy from local sources.

Farmers_Market.jpg“Buy local” has become a familiar battle cry in restaurants, retail stores and roadside stands among consumers who prefer to know where their favorite products are made. These consumers want to be confident that the items they buy are made sustainably and that their purchases support local jobs.

But why does the concern for locally made products in Massachusetts seem to stop at the farmers market? Why have scores of Bay State companies, some household names, and the thousands of local jobs they provided, disappeared with virtually no notice or outcry from state officials? And why has our commonwealth not resolved the problems that drove these companies away?   

Do you own a Polartec jacket for hiking (or to make it look like you hike)? The company, formerly known as Malden Mills, was started in 1906 and was miraculously able to recover after a devastating fire in 1995 nearly bankrupted the business. Polartec recently announced the closing of its Lawrence manufacturing facility, putting 350 unionized employees out of work and moving production to New Hampshire and Tennessee.

Use salad dressing on that locally sourced lettuce? Cain’s products, started in Boston 1914, is closing its Ayer plant, putting another 100 people out of work. The company is moving production to Pennsylvania, Georgia and Kentucky.

The list goes on. General Mills in Methuen, makers of Yoplait yogurt since 1993 closed, sending 144 jobs to other states. Kraft foods, located in Woburn for some 95 years, is putting another 200 people out of work. Sunny Delight is cutting 50 jobs in Littleton. Notini and Sons in Lowell, 100 jobs lost after 125 years. Courier Corp, a printer founded in 1824 and recently sold to an out-of-state firm, is shutting down its Westford plant putting 200 people out of work.

And those 1,144 jobs lost are just the ones that have been publicly announced in 2015 and 2016.

The reason for these closings are varied and complex. Some companies were sold to out-of-staters, while others cited high costs in Massachusetts for labor, housing, health insurance or energy. Some just used the euphemism “competitive realignments,” which probably includes a little bit of everything.

But all of the announcements have one thing in common – these companies and brands are not coming back and their employees and suppliers who depend on them are looking for jobs.

Massachusetts takes a back seat to no one in its ability to brag about the reason companies locate here – our universities, our educated work force, our innovation industries. General Electric’s announcement in January that it will move its corporate headquarters to Boston unleashed a euphoric wave of valedictories about the innovation ecosystem that GE hopes will help it to create the industrial Internet.

But the state seems strangely unconcerned with the reasons that companies leave. It’s disheartening, especially for the hard-working people who lose their jobs and their livelihoods. How can we make the Massachusetts economy successful for everyone if we don’t know why companies come or go?

The 4,500 member employers of Associated Industries of Massachusetts believe that the acceleration in business closings has much to do with the persistently high cost of health care and energy in Massachusetts.

Health-care costs in Massachusetts remain 36 percent more than the national average. Between 2005 and 2014, increases in health insurance premiums have outpaced income gains, consuming more than 40 percent of family income growth over the past nine years.

The relentless acceleration of health-care spending and health-insurance premiums threatens both the continued growth of the Massachusetts economy and the ability of citizens to access the commonwealth’s world-renowned medical system. It also threatens the commonwealth itself - MassHealth, the government insurance program for low-income residents, now accounts for 40 percent of the state budget at $14.7 billion annually.

Energy costs are likewise among the highest in the country – nearly double most places these companies are moving production to.

To those that care about the price of electricity – and that includes many companies outside the Boston area – our high prices are a never-ending drag on local profits. At a 5 percent profit margin – probably about right for food businesses – every dollar increase in electricity, health care, taxes or other costs that don’t contribute to increased production means another $20 in revenue is required just to break even. At some point, even the strongest fighter gives up.

The future promises little change. Despite an outcry from the business community about high electric rates, the legislature recently passed – and the governor was happy to sign - a new solar bill that will continue our highest-in- the nation subsidies. The justification - to protect solar jobs.  

While it is comforting to know that the Legislature is willing to tax some industries to support favored ones, it is also time to realize that Massachusetts is made up of several economies. The economies in the eastern part of the state have different issues than those in the central, western and southeastern areas, particularly around the bottom-line cost areas such as electricity and health care.  

Sure, companies will always realign their businesses. In some cases that may spell job losses for Massachusetts, in other cases, like GE’s, it may signal gains. But the state should not be complicit in a company’s demise by failing to respond to economic issues.

You’ll still be able to buy Polartec jackets, eat Yoplait yogurt and slather your sandwich with Cain’s mayo at the time next year. But the good jobs at good companies providing good wages we’ve depended on for decades won’t be locally sourced any more.

Topics: Health Care Costs, Economic Development, Energy

Why We Support Pay Equity...And Oppose the Pay Equity Bill

Posted by Brad MacDougall on Apr 19, 2016 7:30:00 AM

A company CEO called Associated Industries of Massachusetts last week to express concern because she had been told that the association opposed equal pay for women.

Two_Women.jpgNothing could be further from the truth.

AIM and its 4,500 member employers unequivocally support the principle of equal pay for equal work. We support and the federal and state laws that protect fair compensation.  We believe that the best long-term strategy to achieve pay equity in the workplace is to ensure that both women and men possess the education and skills that allow our enterprises to succeed an in increasingly complex global economy.

What we do not support is the deeply flawed legislation that well-intentioned lawmakers are debating on Beacon Hill in response to the wage gap. An Act to Establish Pay Equity, which was passed by the Senate on a voice vote and is now pending before the House of Representatives, represents a classic example of “right goal, wrong approach.”

The bill is duplicative and unnecessary. Its ambiguous language raises the possibility that the privacy of our employees will be compromised. It may limit our ability as employers to financially reward the star performers in our companies. And most importantly, the bill will not achieve our shared objective of ensuring that women earn the same as men for the same work.

The important point is this: Don’t confuse employer opposition to the bill with lack of support for pay equity.

AIM and its member employers are committed to providing fair compensation to employees according to the value and success they bring to our enterprises. In an economy where skilled workers remain at a premium, any company that does not value all of its employees equally is unlikely to be around very long.

Martha Sullivan, President and CEO of Sensata Technologies in Attleboro said it best during AIM Executive Forum panel discussion – “When you look at how much work you have to do to bring along great talent out of the engineering pool, the idea that you would not reward that talent based on meritocracy, based on performance and in an equitable way is just a really bad business decision,” she said.

That is why AIM is a charter member and supporter of the 100 Percent Talent Compact sponsored by the Boston Women’s Workforce Council. AIM and other signers of the compact agree to assess their own data to see if wage gaps exist, take steps to address those gaps, and anonymously provide data to BWWC to assess progress for the city as a whole in eliminating the wage gap.

That is also why AIM supports the online calculator developed by Massachusetts Treasurer Deborah Goldberg to allow women to calculate the wage gap in the industries in which they work and send anonymous notifications to employers to make them aware of the problem. Anything that stimulates employer introspection on wage equity brings us closer to solving the problem.

Cathy Minehan, former President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston and Co-Chair of the Boston Women’s Workforce Council, told the AIM Board of Directors on March 18 that pay equity is an enormously complex issue. She said differentials reflect factors ranging from the availability of reasonably priced and high quality day care; affordable housing and transportation; the fields women choose; and unconscious bias baked into workplace culture.

Regarding the Senate legislation, Minehan indicated “The law does not, and in many ways cannot, deal with these key issues.”

AIM strongly agrees. There are far more effective paths to pay equity than overly proscriptive legislation that endangers the privacy of employees and inhibits the ability of employers to run their businesses. We stand ready to work with all parties to locate those paths.

If you want to see AIM’s specific concerns with the pay equity bill, click here.

Topics: Massachusetts Legislature, Employment Law, Pay Equity

Pulling the Plug on Solar Reform

Posted by John Regan on Apr 6, 2016 3:05:08 PM

Massachusetts lawmakers last week imposed an $8 billion tax on electric ratepayers and put the money into the pockets of solar energy developers.

solarpanels.small.jpgThe state Legislature approved a bill that does nothing to reform the commonwealth’s bloated solar-energy subsidy program. The result: businesses and homeowners will continue to foot the bill for twice as much in solar giveaways as residents of other states.

Governor Charlie Baker said Friday that he will sign the measure.

And big solar isn’t done. Even before the ink dries on the current bill, solar energy advocates are rallying to raise the cap again before the end of the legislative session, continuing what appears to be a never-ending demand for government-mandated support.

“AIM supports the development of solar energy and takes pride in the fact that many of its 4,500 member employers have installed solar at their plants and offices,” said Robert Rio, Vice President of Government Affairs at AIM.

“But this bill represents lawmakers turning their backs on ratepayers to perpetuate an ideologically based energy policy.”

The solar bill that emerged from a legislative conference committee on Tuesday would raise the cap on net metering – the process by which solar developers sell excess electricity back to the power grid – by 60 percent for private projects and 75 percent for public projects. The primary reform contained in the measure would lower the net metering credit to 60 percent of the retail rate, but that reduction would not apply to facilities owned by municipalities and government entities.

“Municipalities and other government entities will still receive retail rates for net metering – a sad case of ‘taking care of your own’ while others pay,’ ” AIM said in a letter to the Legislature this morning.

The proposal will add $8 billion to the energy bills of Massachusetts consumers during the next 10 years - 2.0 cents/kilowatt hour for residential customers and 1.6 cents/kWh for Commercial and Industrial customers.   

AIM supports reform of solar subsidies because Massachusetts employers already pay some of the highest rates for electricity in the country. The legislature with the current bill has shown neither the will nor the inclination to say no to unnecessary subsidies, even when other states have reformed their programs in the face of falling costs for solar installations.

Solar subsidy advocates are already planning to seek additional increases in the program.

"With the bill's 3 percent increase to the program cap, we expect to address net metering again next year in order to avoid endangering solar jobs yet again,” said Sean Garren of VoteSolar.

AIM urges the state Senate not to pass the conference report and asked Governor Charlie Baker to veto it.

Topics: Massachusetts House of Representatives, Energy, Solar Subsidies

Employer Confidence Strengthens in March

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Apr 5, 2016 1:52:48 PM

Massachusetts employers grew more confident during March as turbulence in China and other key global markets subsided.

BCI.March.2016.jpgAt the same time, a significant gap has developed between the bullish outlook of service companies and a less optimistic view among manufacturers that is also reflective of national developments.

The Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) Business Confidence Index rose 1.4 points to 56.5 last month, its highest level since November and well above the 50 mark that denotes a positive economic outlook.

The index for service companies and other non-manufacturers increased to 61.3 while the manufacturing index fell to 52.2, down 7.1 points from its level in March 2015.

The results come a week after the state announced that the unemployment rate dropped to 4.5 percent during February and that employers added 14,400 jobs during the first two months of the year.

“The good news is that the Massachusetts and US economies have proven remarkably resilient in the face of weak growth globally that unsettled financial markets at the beginning of the year,” said Raymond G. Torto, Chair of AIM's Board of Economic Advisors (BEA) and Lecturer, Harvard Graduate School of Design.

“What happens next? Employers here in Massachusetts appear to be generally optimistic about their prospects during the next six months, though the outlook among manufacturers remains muted by global uncertainty, weakening corporate earnings, the strength of the dollar and rising credit risk.”

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 increased during March after dropping the previous month. The only categories to lose ground during March were Employment and Sales.

The Massachusetts Index, assessing business conditions within the commonwealth, gained 1.1 points to 57.5 in March, down 3.3 points from the year earlier. The U.S. Index of national business conditions narrowly climbed back into optimistic territory, rising 3.4 points for the month to 50.8.

The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, rose 0.6 points to 54.9 while the Future Index, measuring expectations for six months out, surged 2.2 points to 58.1.

“Employers now view the future more positively than current conditions - typically a harbinger of their willingness to invest and grow,” said Elliot Winer, Chief Economist, Northeast Economic Analysis Group LLC and a BEA member.

“Add to that the fact that these employers have now been more optimistic about the Massachusetts economy than about the national economy for 71 consecutive months and it bodes well for the near-term future of the commonwealth.”

The three sub-indices bearing on survey respondents’ own operations were mixed in March.

The Company Index, reflecting overall business conditions, rose 0.8 points to 58.1, but the Sales Index slid 0.2 points to 57.9 and the Employment Index declined by the same 0.2 points to 54.5.

The survey found that nearly 39 percent of respondents reported adding staff during the past six months while 19 percent reduced employment. Expectations for the next six months were stable – 37 percent hiring and only 10 percent downsizing.

“Employers continue to feel good about their own companies, but their view of leading indicators such as sales and employment is sobering. The AIM survey suggests that employers are set to proceed carefully on growing payrolls the rest of the year,” said Michael D. Goodman, Ph.D., Executive Director, the Public Policy Center (PPC) at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth.

Confidence levels in February were higher in Greater Boston (58.9) than in the rest of the commonwealth (52.0).

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 that the plans announced yesterday by GeneralElectric to move its corporate headquarters and some research operations to the South Boston waterfront cannot help but brighten the outlook of the Massachusetts economy.

The move also underscores the importance of state policy that encourages innovation and business formation.

“The ultimate lesson of the GE move is that business costs really do matter. Taxes matter. Fiscal discipline matters. Efficient regulation matters. Work force matters,” Lord said.

“And jobs matter. The creation of a job and a person’s ability to do it weaves together every important aspect of social and economic stability – the desire for a better life, the ability to support a family, the confidence to start a business, and the need to support efficient government management of services such as education, health care, and public safety.”

Topics: AIM Business Confidence Index, Massachusetts economy

Electricity Ruling Produces $115 Million Refund

Posted by Robert Rio on Mar 31, 2016 7:30:00 AM

Massachusetts electric ratepayers will receive a $115 million refund as the result of a ruling last week in an administrative court case brought by the attorney general and supported by AIM.

Electriclinessmall.jpgA federal administrative law judge, ruling in a case first brought in 2011, reduced to 9.59 percent the guaranteed return granted to the companies that develop and operate transmission lines that bring electricity long distances. It marked the second time that regulators have lessened the rate of return, bringing New England ratepayers total refunds of $310 million.

“Massachusetts employers and homeowners pay some of the highest electricity rates in the country, and that’s why AIM participates in actions like this one that put money back into the hands of growing companies,” said John Regan, Executive Vice President of Government Affairs at AIM.

AIM supported the attorney general in litigation filed in 2011 at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to challenge the return on equity that New England transmission companies (utilities) are guaranteed on transmission-related projects.

Unlike local distribution rates, which are regulated by the state Department of Public Utilities (DPU), the profits on large transmission projects, which form the backbone of the electric grid, are regulated at the federal level by FERC.

The return on equity for electric transmission companies was set in 2006 at 11.14 percent. AIM was the only general trade association in Massachusetts to sign on to the complaint arguing that the costs were too high in light of economic conditions.

In October 2014, based on the attorney general’s complaint, FERC lowered the transmission owners’ allowed profits to 10.57 for rates in effect in 2011 and 2012 - not as low as the attorney general and AIM wanted, but still enough to generate $78 million in refunds. Those refunds were given back to ratepayers in the form of credits throughout 2015.

The administrative law judge on March 22 further reduced the guaranteed return to 9.59 percent for rates in effect from January 2013 to April 2014. If FERC approves the decision, New England ratepayers will receive another $234 million refund, about half of which will be distributed in Massachusetts. A decision is expected by the end of the year.

And the attorney general isn’t done. She is now arguing that the rates after April 2014 should also be lower than the transmission companies are currently receiving.

“AIM thanks attorney General Maura Healey and her Office of Ratepayer Advocacy for allowing us to be part of this ongoing litigation to bring electric costs down,” Regan said.

Topics: Electricity, Energy

AIM Executive to Lead Career Center Board

Posted by Christopher Geehern on Mar 30, 2016 4:04:31 PM

Gary MacDonald, Executive Vice President of the Associated Industries of Massachusetts Employers Resource Group, has been elected president of the Board of Directors of FutureWorks Career Center in Springfield, the organization announced today.

MacDonaldSmallVerticle.jpgMacDonald, a veteran human resource executive who has directed AIM’s HR and training operations since 2013, will serve a two-year term. He succeeds MacArthur Starks Jr., an Assistant Vice President at AIM-member MassMutual, who served in the position for four years.

FutureWorks, part of the Massachusetts One-Stop Career Center system, provides job seekers and businesses a range of services such as job postings; workshops on resume writing, interviewing, and salary negotiations; use of computers, FAX machines, phones and copiers; and access to trained professionals to assist members in their job search, career planning and management. 

During Fiscal Year 2015, FutureWorks served 11,740 job seekers who visited the career center 51,160 times. The organization served nearly 600 business during that time with recruiting and staff development.

“I am honored to serve as president of the FutureWorks Board of Directors as the career center celebrates its 20th anniversary,” MacDonald said.

“At a time when employers cite the ability to hire and retain qualified workers as their primary challenge, organizations like FutureWorks are indispensable for their ability to match talented job seekers with the needs of business.”

MacDonald has worked with hundreds of Massachusetts employers on leadership development, organizational effectiveness and HR management. He joined AIM in 2002 after building three decades of business experience with global companies such as Thomson Financial and General Electric, and his expertise ranges from facilitating strategic planning with top management to teaching foundational management skills to brand new supervisors

Also elected as officers at the March 23 meeting of the FutureWorks board of directors were Marylou Fabbo, a Partner with the law firm Skoler Abbott & Presser, vice-president; Josephine Sarnelli, a CPA, treasurer; and George Kohout, Director ABE/ESOL Services and Workforce Development at Springfield Technical Community College, secretary.

Other members of the board of directors include:

  • Joanne Berwald, Vice-President Human Resources, Mestek
  • Brian Connors, Deputy Director Economic Development for the City of Springfield
  • Kermit Dunkelberg, AVP Workforce Development, Holyoke Community College
  • Mike Grandfield, Senior VP Commercial Relationship Manager, Berkshire Bank
  • Ronn Johnson, President CEO, Martin Luther King Jr. Family Services
  • Denise Jordan, Chief of Staff, Mayor of Springfield
  • Paul Judd, Vice-President Human Resources, Baystate Health
  • Vicki Shrewsbury, Director Talent Acquisition, Smith & Wesson

The volunteer board oversees FutureWorks program services and provides financial oversight.

 

Topics: Associated Industries of Massachusetts, Human Resources, Jobs

Health-Insurance Costs Remain Concern for Employers

Posted by Karen Choi on Mar 28, 2016 2:58:15 PM

Massachusetts employers have apparently decided that increasing deductibles and co-pays is a better way to control health-insurance costs than providing financial incentives for employees to seek care from low-cost, high-quality doctors.

2016_AIM_Benefits_Report_Cover.thm.pngThe 2016 AIM Benefits Report from Associated Industries of Massachusetts finds that controlling the cost of providing health insurance for employees remains the dominant benefits concern for Bay State companies. Ninety-four percent of the 197 employers who participated in the survey remain “very concerned” about escalating health insurance costs, while 76 percent are concerned about increased employee cost-sharing for benefits.

Employers are addressing those escalating health insurance costs by adopting high-deductible, consumer-driven health plans. Half of survey participants offer a consumer-driven health plan, with the most common cost-containment strategies being increased deductibles (28 percent), increased employee premiums (26 percent) and increased out-of-pocket maximums (21 percent).

There is far less enthusiasm for tiered networks, which health-care economists tout as an effective method of managing costs by paying more for medical care rendered in lower-cost settings and less for care delivered in high-cost academic medical centers. Just nine percent of survey participants offer a tiered network plan, even though a third of those companies have experienced a decrease in premiums.

Seventy-one percent of companies say they have no plans to offer a tiered network product in the future. Companies that have declined to adopt tiered networks most often cite not wanting to change the levels of benefits for employees as the reason.

“The survey seems to illustrate the ‘hallway effect,' ” said Russ Sullivan, Vice President of Health-Care Solutions at AIM.

“It is difficult to potentially disrupt the health-care choices or increase out-of-pocket costs of someone with significant medical expenses who you see each day.  Incremental changes to payroll contributions and co-pays are a more comfortable decision.”

Other structural changes face similar resistance. More than three-quarters of employers do not use health risk assessments to identify opportunities to improve the health of workers.

The share of employers who say they are “very concerned” about establishing a wellness program dropped to 31 from 37 percent in 2014 and 40 percent in 2012. Almost two-thirds of employers with 200 or fewer employees eligible for the Massachusetts Wellness Tax Credit said they did not know about the program.

Management of health-insurance costs will take on renewed significance for employers in 2016 as premium inflation in Massachusetts accelerates after several years of muted growth. Health insurance rates paid by small employers and individuals in Massachusetts surged 6.3 percent during the first quarter while major insurance companies are raising overall average premium rates anywhere from 3 to 13 percent. 

The AIM Benefits Survey found that the average premium for coverage through a health maintenance organization (HMO) rose 9 percent this year versus 7 percent in 2014. Premiums at preferred provider organizations (PPO) will also increase 9 percent in 2016, up from 6 percent two years ago, while rate increases for high-deductible plans have almost doubled from 2014 to now.

Insurance carriers attribute the premium increases to increases in drug costs, increased levels of plan utilization and costs associated with the implementation of federal health-care reform.

The average cost to provide health insurance to a family ranges from $1,011 per month for a high-deductible plan to $1,494 per month for an HMO, according to the AIM survey. Employers, on average, pay anywhere from $607 to $986 of those premiums depending on the insurance product.

The trend toward increased deductibles and co-pays is national. Research by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that deductibles for all workers have risen almost three times as fast as premiums and about seven times as fast as wages and inflation since 2010.

Other highlights of the survey include:

  • 87% of employers offer short-term disability benefits;
  • 93% of employers offer life insurance benefits;
  • 13% of survey participants still offer a defined-benefit pension plan, through 14 percent of those companies have closed to new participants;
  • Two-thirds of employees, on average, participate in their company’s 401(k) plan;
  • 58% of employers offer a paid time-off bank; and
  • 80% of employers with a work force outside of Massachusetts plan to offer the same earned sick-time benefits required for employees who work a majority of the time in state.

Purchase the 2016/2017 AIM Benefits Report

Topics: Health Care Costs, Health Insurance, Benefits

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