H-1Bs are in the news right now. So, what are they?

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By: Carlos Iturregui

H-1B work visas may see a major overhaul in the near future. At last week’s news briefing, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said that possible executive action on work visas “is part of a larger immigration effort” under consideration by the new Administration.

Proponents see H-1B holders as beneficial to American industry, especially companies in the technology and science sectors. Opponents see the program as a way to displace American workers with lower-paid H-1B visa holders.

H-1Bs are championed by not only by tech/engineering industry but also academic and medical communities, all of which are vital to the Massachusetts economy. This category of visas applies only to highly skilled workers with degrees. Another category of visas – the H-2B – applies to seasonal non-agriculture workers (such as hospitality).

Industry should keep a watchful eye for changes to either visa type.

Historically, increasing H-1B visas has been a bipartisan issue. H-1Bs are subject to a Congressionally-mandated annual quota cap. Raising the annual cap and increasing resources for approving H-1B visas are regularly included in both Republican and Democrat bills.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services received over 236,000 petitions for the 65,000 H-1B FY 2017 quota during the standard five day filing period between April 1st and April 7th, 2016. That was the highest number of petitions that USICS has ever received for H-1B quota cap since its inception. 2016 was the fourth consecutive year that the visa cap was reached in five days

Some general facts about H-1Bs:

  • H-1Bs are capped annually at 65,000 visas (of which 1,400 are reserved for Chile and 5,400 for Singapore – pursuant to Trade Agreements)
  • An additional 20,000 are exempt from the cap providing that the visa applicant has completed master degree in an approved institution or higher grade
  • H-1Bs are valid for three years and renewable/extended for an additional three
  • H-1Bs are the only visa with expedited processing
  • Visa holders are employer sponsored
  • Families of visa holders can come to the US, but they cannot work. Accordingly, most of these visa holders enter the country alone and remain separated from their friends and families
  • In FY 2015 70 percent of H-1Bs went to Indian immigrants with an average age of 25-34 years old and a median salary $70,000s/annual

Q/A with Jimmy O’Brien, President of the Boston Carmen’s Union

carmens-union-local-589In December 2016, the Carmen’s Union Local 589 and the MBTA came to agreement on an unprecedented contract that protects the jobs of the 4,100 Carmen’s members, while identifying essential cost savings for the MBTA. The agreement came after months of public disagreements prompted by the MBTA’s plans to begin privatizing the work of the Carmen’s Union and fellow MBTA unions.  Both Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s State of the City and Governor Charlie Baker’s State of the Commonwealth applauded the Carmen’s Union Local 589 and the MBTA for coming together to reach an agreement.

A lot has been made of the recent deal struck between the Carmen’s Union and the MBTA. You still had two years left on its contract, why did you open it to negotiations?

The MBTA needed to identify cost savings, and we wanted to be a part of the solution. With raised fares, riders had done their part and we knew it was our responsibility to do our part, too. We proposed an initial cost savings plan in June 2016, and after months of conversation that led to formal negotiations, we were able to reach an agreement that provides the MBTA with cost savings it needs, while protecting the work of our members– which was our highest priority.

We all know that the MBTA is in need of investment. The buses, subway trains, trolleys, and tracks are in need of repair and replacement but the MBTA can’t make the necessary investments without also identifying cost savings. For us, it was vitally important that we protect the livelihoods of our 4,100 members. Our members take a tremendous amount of pride in their work. Our members go to work each day to help the T’s riders get where they need to go. The knowledge and expertise they bring to the MBTA is unparalleled. We knew that privatization, while devastating for our members, would be equally devastating to the operations of the MBTA.

What do MBTA riders need to know about Local 589?

The Boston Carmen’s Union represents the men and women who drive and maintain the MBTA buses, subway trains, trolleys, and tracks. We are committed to our work, and we come to work every day, committed to putting riders first.

Our workers share riders’ frustration and anger when the system breaks down. The winter of 2015 was terrible for all of us, we try our hardest to keep things moving every day, but we can’t cure infrastructure failures and the malfunctions of a 100-year-old system that suffers from a lack of investment.

There are a lot of misconceptions out there about our members. People should know that the average shift of a Carmen’s Union member is 10-12 hours a day, often while getting paid for 8 hours of work. Whether it is a weekday, weekend or holiday — there is always a member of the Carmen’s Union hard at work.

What’s next for the Carmen’s Union and the MBTA?

This was a great win for both sides, but the real winners are our riders. We hope that with this cost savings, we will see a concerted effort from MBTA leadership to invest in the tracks, the signals, and equipment. It’s what the system needs.

With this contract, we have shown that you can identify cost savings without privatization of jobs, and we hope that is something the MBTA will take into consideration going forward.

I don’t know what else is next, but I hope it isn’t a lot of snow.

About the Boston Carmen’s Union Local 589
Founded in 1912, the Boston Carmen’s Union Local 589 is the largest of 28 unions with members employed by the MBTA. Over 4,100 MBTA employees are members of the Carmen’s Union, including: Bus Divers, Train (Subway) and Trolley Operators, Maintenance of Way and Repairmen, Money Room Employees, and Automated Fare Collection (AFC) Technicians, Customer Service Agents (CSA), Dispatchers, and Clerks. Local 589 is part of the Amalgamated Transit Union, comprised of over 197,000 transit workers across the United States and Canada.

MassAccess Backs Legislation to Support Community Access Television

MassAccess is a nonprofit trade group representing local community media stations throughout Massachusetts. We are the voice of the over 200 community cable access channels here in Massachusetts.

Currently, we are working with the Massachusetts legislature to promote a Bill that would allow viewers greater access to community cable access channels while improving the quality of the stations as well.

‘An Act to Support Community Access Television’, a bill filed by Senator John Keenan as well as Representative Ruth Balser and Representative Antonio Cabral proposes that community cable access channels, also called “PEG channels,” have access to Electronic Programming Guides, allowing viewers to access information about programs airing on PEG channels, as they would for broadcast channels. It would also provide PEG channels with better signal quality, making it comparable to larger local broadcast stations. If passed, the Bill would state that cable companies must allow PEG channels to broadcast in HD format. These changes would have a large and important impact across the state. Local access cable TV provides a wide range of programs and services, keeping citizens connected to local news and government activities as well as local events, athletic games, and public notices. However, their offerings to Massachusetts cities and towns aren’t limited to what can be seen on TV.

Mostly all local access cable centers are private non-profit organizations or municipal departments. As part of their mission, they are providing education, equipment and training for people interested in production or wanting to pursue careers in TV and Media. For example, Boston Neighborhood Network (BNN), provides month long workshops on how to create and edit your own TV program. Norwood Public Access Television (NPAT) has a similar program which allows Norwood High School’s LEAD Students to come to NPTA studios once a month and record their own show. LEAD is a program for students with special needs that provides them with job training and life skills. Their talk show “LEAD Update” provides information on what students are currently doing while also covering local events and stories. MassAccess hosts a statewide program sharing server where centers, individual producers and even Massachusetts state departments can share informative or entertaining programs across the Commonwealth with a simple upload and download process.

The passage of ‘An Act to Support Community Access Television’ is important to providing PEG channels and centers with the support they need to continue serving their communities. MassAccess proudly supports this legislation and we are optimistic that this Bill will provide local cable access channels with the equal footing they require to stay relevant in a time of ever-changing media technology.

Bill Nay

President, MassAccess

Community Relations for Boston’s Building Boom

img_6120By: Chris Tracy

Boston is in the midst of what will be the biggest building boom in the City’s history, bypassing both the infilling of the Back Bay in the late 1800’s and the construction of the Prudential, John Hancock and other high spine buildings in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Large-scale real estate development through the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA)’s Article 80 process is touching not only downtown and the urban core, but every neighborhood in the City of Boston.

Boston’s population is rising exponentially due to a multitude of factors – so-called meds and eds (hospitals and universities) are as strong as ever but there is also a rapidly expanding business community moving to Boston. General Electric is the most high profile example, but there is also New Balance, Converse and Adidas. Biotech companies are moving across the river from Cambridge and Somerville as well – creating a good problem: Where are all these new residents going to live and what does the city need to do to house them?

Enter Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s ambitious goal to create 53,000 new units of housing in the city by the year 2030. Currently, Boston is the third most expensive city to live in the country behind New York and San Francisco. The supply and demand of housing is out of balance; many people want to live here but the existing housing stock is low, which drives up the prices of existing housing.

Mayor Walsh’s Administration and BPDA are aiming to create housing across all income levels to help balance out this supply and demand problem. Low, middle and high income housing is seen as a solution to level off high housing costs and not create situation, like in San Francisco, where people are being priced out. Boston is working to stay in front of these challenges so that there is enough housing to for all future residents that want to make Boston their home.

Sometimes developers and project proponents can find the approval process at the BPDA board and City’s Zoning Board of Appeals or Zoning Commission arduous and frustrating. Additionally, many long term Boston residents have been resistant to the changes presented by new development and to the changes these projects bring to neighborhoods. O’Neill and Associates works with clients to navigate the complex, strenuous process of seeking city approvals. We work closely with clients and stakeholders to establish realistic expectations around projects and manage these expectations while always advocating for smart, tasteful, sensitive and appropriate development. The Article 80 process is community driven. Concessions may be appropriate at times in order to meet opposition halfway, but the goal always remains to get shovels in the ground on suitable, positive projects that benefit the current and future residents of Boston.

To learn more about our community relations services visit our website www.oneillandassoc.com or call us at 617-646-1000.

Welcome Shakeir Gregory

gregory-shakeir-2O’Neill and Associates welcomes Shakeir Gregory as Senior Account Executive in our public relations and communications practice. Shakeir will lead digital advocacy and social media strategies for our clients. In addition, he will provide multi-channel online community management services and will be responsible for shaping the technical and strategic components of digital marketing campaigns. Shakeir will work closely with client teams to develop and implement comprehensive social media campaigns to raise profiles, build awareness on issues, and activate target audiences and further clients’ public relations and advocacy goals.

Most recently, Shakeir was the digital director for Great School Massachusetts where he planned, developed, and executed an all-inclusive social media engagement strategy. Shakeir developed crucial skills as the principal content developer and communicator across all of the organization’s online platforms which we believe will add tremendous value for servicing our clients in the always-on digital era.

Shakeir holds a bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in communications from Northeastern University where he was president of the Northeastern University College Democrats. To learn more about Shakeir visit Our Team page.

Welcome Chris Tracy!

img_6120This month O’Neill and Associates welcomes Chris Tracy to our community relations practice. As Senior Director, Chris will provide real estate development clients with valuable counsel on a variety of issues including community outreach, municipal relations, permitting, zoning, regulatory advocacy, and licensing. He has extensive experience working with communities and developers in the City of Boston and surrounding cities and towns. Chris knows how to identify key community stakeholders while also helping clients streamline the at-times arduous approval process by cutting through red tape and bureaucracy

Chris previously served as a senior project manager for the Boston Planning and Development Authority (BPDA), formerly known as the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), where he managed internal and external vetting processes for large-scale real estate commercial and residential development project throughout the City of Boston. His experience working across multi-agency issues concerning proposed developments and his collaboration with agencies to alleviate project concerns position him as an expert for our community relations and government affairs practice.

Chris earned his master’s in public administration from Northeastern University and a Bachelor of Arts in history from Boston College. To learn more about Chris visit Our Team page.

Reconciliation: the Capitol Hill buzzword that might just yield legislation

By: AmyClaire Brusch

There is a lot of discussion in Washington and in the news about “reconciliation.” The process is being touted as the Republicans’ key to passing all sorts of legislation including measures to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. So what is reconciliation? How does it work? Can Republicans use reconciliation to make good on the many promises that were made during this long campaign?

President Trump, along with members of the new Congress, campaigned on a platform that called for large policy changes. Some of these changes will be difficult to achieve through the normal legislative process. Getting something like tax reform or the repeal and replacement of the Affordable Care Act would be nearly impossible under regular order. Legislating is a complex art and, when traditional methods stall, Congress looks deeply into its rulebook. In this case, the Republican majority will likely turn to the budget reconciliation process (“reconciliation,” for short) to advance top agenda items in 2017.

The budget reconciliation process was first used in the 1980s as a means of enacting spending, tax, and entitlement reform measures that the then-Senate minority would have filibustered. Under Senate rules, it only takes one Senator to hold up a piece of legislation with a filibuster (think: Ted Cruz reading Green Eggs and Ham). The only way to place a time limit on debate is with a supermajority (three-fifths of the Senate). Today, the Republicans control the Senate but only narrowly. At 52 seats, they are nowhere near the 60 needed to break a filibuster. However, some bills, namely budget resolutions, are filibuster-exempt. Since budget resolutions are protected from the Senate filibuster, so, too are budget reconciliation resolutions.

Okay, but what’s a reconciliation resolution?

At its heart, a budget reconciliation bill “reconciles” some aspect of spending, revenue, or the national debt. Because it is a budget resolution, reconciliation has no force of law but outlines what changes authorizing committees should make to the issue at hand in order to meet that year’s budget targets. Those committees then have to pass legislation detailing those changes. Finally, since that legislation is under the directive of reconciliation, it is not subject to typical House and Senate rules. As a result, it is very difficult for the minority party to hold it up with procedural moves.

So are the Republicans going to run roughshod through this Congress?

The short answer is: No. There are checks on the reconciliation process. It does not give the majority party free reign. First, the very nature of reconciling the budget offers limited possibilities to do so. There are three applications eligible for budget reconciliation – spending, revenue, and debt limit – but each of those applications can only be used once per budget. Once Congress has taken each of those three bites at the apple, it cannot continue to “reconcile” the budget. That is one reason the process is usually saved for big items. Second, the president can always veto a reconciliation bill, as President Clinton did with the tax relief act in 1999. Given that congressional Republicans are not necessarily in line with President Trump, they will need to be careful with what reconciliation bills they send to his desk. Finally, the Senate’s “Byrd rule” prevents the majority from throwing everything but the kitchen sink into reconciliation bills. The rule stipulates that the items within the bill must actually reconcile some part of outlays or revenues and be within the jurisdiction of the authorizing committee receiving the reconciliation instructions.

Why doesn’t this process come up more often?

The budget reconciliation process is not often used. That’s partly because, in order to ensure its success, the House, Senate, and presidency really need to be occupied by the same party. Otherwise, one chamber could simply ignore the legislation or the president could veto it. The aforementioned restrictions also make the process challenging to wield. Reconciliation is, by its very nature, not easy. Though a congressional staffer for over a decade, I only saw the reconciliation process used successfully a few times (including the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts and Affordable Care Act).

Part two of this post will focus on reconciliation and specific legislation.

To learn more about our federal relations services visit our website www.oneillandassoc.com or call us at 617-646-1000.

Karl Ivester, Founder and President of New England Shutter Mills, Appointed to 2017 President of the Builders and Remodelers Association of Greater Boston (BRAGB)

NESM.pngLAWRENCE, MA. – New England Shutter Mills announced today that company founder and President Karl Ivester has been appointed 2017 President of the Builders and Remodelers Association of Greater Boston (BRAGB) – the industry’s leading trade organization.

As President of BRAGB, Mr. Ivester will be responsible for growing membership and promoting BRAGB’s highly skilled member professionals in the home building, home improvement and remodeling fields.  He will also continue the organization’s work in maintaining the highest ethical standards, while encouraging civic and environmental responsibility in the building industry.

“I’m honored to be chosen to lead the Builders and Remodelers Association of Greater Boston this year, and I’m looking forward to working hard on behalf of our members and the entire industry,” Ivester said. “Working together as a team with my fellow directors, we can make BRAGB an even more dynamic organization with more and better resources and benefits for all of its members.”

The Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts has been the region’s pre-eminent home building association since 1944. In addition to maintaining the highest standards of professional conduct for its members, BRAGB’s ongoing mission is to further social interaction and business opportunities among members and community leaders, enhance the public perception of the home building industry, promote and protect the interests and policy priorities of the industry, and to provide forums for sharing information and enhancing professional development.

Ivester founded New England Shutter Mills in 1999 – and the company has grown into the region’s leading provider of premier American-made interior and exterior shutters to home builders, design professionals and homeowners. Headquartered in Lawrence, MA – New England Shutter Mills serves all of northern and southern New England including Cape Cod and the Islands. The company has been recognized for three consecutive years by HOUZZ for its customer service, and was named Contractor of the Year in 2016 by EMNARI – the Eastern Massachusetts chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry.

“New England Shutter Mills has achieved more success because of its membership in BRAGB. I want every member to have that same kind of experience and realize significant added value through their engagement with this organization,” Ivester said. “Our priorities for 2017 will be to expand our membership by demonstrating the valuable opportunities that BRAGB brings to home building professionals every day, as well as enhancing the organization’s impact as a good corporate citizen.”

Ivester is a strong advocate for vocational education and workforce training – two areas where he feels BRAGB and other industry trade groups can play an important role in positively influencing students and young adults as they consider various career paths. In 2016 Ivester chaired the EMNARI Youth Career Day – which brought over 500 students together with dozens of building and remodeling professionals. From 2006 to 2009, he served on the Board of the International Furnishings and Design Association (IFDA) and was recognized several times for his “Outstanding Contribution” to the organization and as a “Member of Distinction.” In 2014 Ivester was named one of Interise’s “Big Time Operator” award winners. He is also active in the Massachusetts Big Brothers and Sisters mentoring program, and was named ‘Big Brother of the Year’ in 1999.

“This industry absolutely has a place in the conversation about and, I believe, an obligation as advocates for quality vocational education. The future builders and remodelers studying and working in vocational schools need a better path to BRAGB,” Ivester said. “We need to reach out to the schools and get them involved, and show students a path and mentor them. I truly believe we as professional builders have an obligation to see our industry through to the next generation.”

About New England Shutter Mills

New England Shutter Mills (NESM) serves discerning home and business owners and designers who value end-to-end quality in the manufacturing and installation process. Every NESM product is built with superior craftsmanship, meticulous attention-to-detail and an extra bit of love and pride, so your shutters reflect the love and pride you have for your fine home. NESM’s commitment to customer satisfaction extends to every part of the manufacturing process. Our paints are customized to each customer’s color palette. We use only NESM-trained installers to ensure your shutters are flawlessly installed.

About BRAGB

The Builders and Remodelers Association of Greater Boston (BRAGB), a trade Association affiliated with the National Association of Home Builders and Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Massachusetts, has represented the industry since 1944.  BRAGB has evolved into one of the leading trade associations in New England. The Association has hundreds of members that include small, moderate, and large volume builders, who construct single family, multi-family, and commercial properties, and remodeling contractors, who do projects ranging from kitchens and baths to full house renovation. Associate members represent property management professionals, sales and marketing individuals and firms, suppliers, retail and wholesale dealers, architects, engineers, land planners, attorneys, accountants, financial institutions, and real estate.

Every Organization Should Make Data Breach Preparedness Part of Its New Crisis Plan

By: Cosmo Macero Jr.

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Source: 2017 Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Data Breach Notification Statistics www.mass.gov

In an effort to support greater transparency for Massachusetts consumers, the Commonwealth’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation announced that its Data Breach Notification Archive is now accessible online. In 2016, over 188,000 Massachusetts residents were affected by data breaches.

State law requires that any company or other entity that keeps personal information about a Massachusetts resident notify state officials, as well as affected customers, any time that information is compromised — either by accident or an intentional act.

Data breaches not only harm consumers but also can damage the reputation of financial institutions, retail companies, hotels, and many more. Every company or organization maintaining a database with sensitive consumer or personal information must be prepared to effectively and efficiently respond to potential breaches of data. Remember, a data breach can occur from internal or external hacking, technological mishap, or an unintended error by an employee. While each situation will be unique, there are a few standard practices to have in place.

How your company can be proactive before a crisis situation:

  • Make sure your crisis communications plan addresses data breach scenarios
  • Understand what data you keep, how it is secured, and your regulatory compliance
  • Media train your executives

How your company can respond to a data breach:

  • Verify all facts
  • Assess your actions and responses from the consumers’ point of view
  • Know how you will most efficiently and quickly reach your consumers
  • The best public communications strategy following a data breach begins with the communication to your customers

a. Be transparent about the breach with customers; explain what happened and how it is being resolved; provide assurance that their concerns will be addressed and any security flaws rectified

b. Once you’ve completed those steps, the broader public communications strategy is pretty simple: tell the public exactly what you’ve done to protect your customers and address the breach.

c. In some cases this may be through the news media

How your company can recover from a data breach:

  • Keep communicating with your consumers, updating them on steps you have taken
  • Update your crisis plan and share your lessons learned with employees and other stakeholders
  • Encourage continued transparency

O’Neill and Associates helps clients proactively prepare for crisis situations, and should disaster strike, our experienced professionals are ready to serve as spokespeople and provide strategic guidance. Your reputation is on the line in a crisis situation; our services protect this valuable asset. Learn more about our services by visiting www.oneillandassoc.com or give us a call at 617-646-1000.