Senate, AIM look to reset relations with public caucus

AIM has worked successfully with senators on CORI reform

John Regan, AIM's executive vice president of government affairs, talked to senators during a joint caucus Wednesday afternoon. [Photo: Sam Doran/SHNS]

BOSTON, Mass. (State House News Service) – While gender pay equity legislation wended its way through Beacon Hill last session, the executive committee at the Associated Industries of Massachusetts was concerned.

The committee made clear to AIM staff that it wanted to support a pay equity bill rather than be in opposition, but they thought the leading bills could be costly to employers, be a boon for trial attorneys and not really address the problem of pay inequities, AIM Chairman Dan Kenary said Wednesday.

AIM President and CEO Rick Lord and government affairs executive VP John Regan “went back to work with many of you and the outcome was a bill that addressed the issue in a creative and comprehensive manner without unduly burdening the business community,” Kenary told the Senate during a joint caucus Wednesday. “I think everyone was pleased with the outcome of the pay equity discussion and hopefully that can be our collective model going forward for this session and the years ahead.”

The Senate hit its reset button with Wednesday’s caucus, attempting to give lawmakers and the powerful business lobby a fresh start as the new legislative session gets underway.

Viewed by lobbyists as the less business-friendly branch of the Legislature, the Senate convened a joint caucus of Democrats and Republicans to better acquaint themselves with AIM and its priorities. Breaking from the usual protocol, Senate Democrats even allowed the press to attend a portion of the caucus.

“We welcome the dialogue. I think it will improve how all of us work together as the year goes on, so I really do think this is a positive opportunity,” Lord said.

After the end of formal sessions last summer, AIM scored lawmakers from both chambers on how they voted on issues important to businesses. The results, the influential business lobby said, painted “a tale of two chambers.”

“While the House of Representatives and Speaker Robert DeLeo successfully forged consensus on important measures such as wage equity and energy, the Senate hewed to a more progressive, ideological approach that produced a steady stream of bills with the potential to harm the Massachusetts economy,” AIM wrote in its August scorecard, which awarded Senate President Stanley Rosenberg its lowest score.

Past friction between AIM and the Senate was not a topic of discussion during the open portion of Wednesday’s caucus, but AIM made no secret of the fact that the Senate is viewed as the less business-friendly chamber.

“I’m hoping that today represents sort of a reset of the relationship between AIM and the Senate,” Regan said.

He noted that AIM has worked successfully with senators on CORI reform, domestic leave and pregnant workers’ rights. Sen. Patricia Jehlen once even quoted AIM on the Senate floor while talking about tax policy, Regan said.

“People called me from all over the state wondering what the hell had happened,” he said. “Was there a time warp, or a rift in space?”

Regan, Lord, Kenary and Pat Begrowicz, who owns Onyx Specialty Papers in Lee, walked the Senate through AIM’s priorities, including lowering energy costs, controlling health care costs, ensuring reliable transportation, and having a predictable regulatory system.

Summed up by Regan, “If they impact business in any way, we’re probably focused on it or worried about it.”

Listen: Senate caucus audio

Many of the things AIM would like to see happen — as well as many things AIM would not like to see happen — will likely end up before the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, which this session will be led by Sen. Jason Lewis.

Lewis, a Winchester Democrat, listed an increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour, establishing a paid family and medical leave program, and restricting non-compete agreements between employers and employees as some of the major issues he expects to come before his committee.

AIM and others in the business community oppose efforts to raise the minimum wage from $11 and to establish “expensive new leave proposals” like paid family and medical leave.

“There is much agreement and there are many constructive opportunities to collaborate in critically important areas including workforce development, where employers have difficulty finding employees with particular skill sets and workers actively seek skill training to enhance wages and benefits, ‘up-skilling’ as I call it,” Lewis said in a statement, adding that Wednesday’s meeting with AIM was “productive.”

Copyright 2017 State House News Service