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  • Writer's pictureAndy Tarsy

CEOs: Safe Communities Act is Good for Business, Good for the Economy.

Updated: Feb 4, 2020

This week a key committee in the Massachusetts legislature will decide whether to support a key package of bills known widely as the Safe Communities Act and a broad and diverse group of business leaders that are part of the Massachusetts Business Immigration Coalition (MBIC) thinks they absolutely should.

What is the business case for the Safe Communities Act? We have elected to present here business leaders in their own words, with excerpts from their actual testimony.

Consider, for example, the testimony of Larry O'Toole, CEO of Gentle Giant Moving Company and an Irish immigrant himself:

40–50% of our workers are foreign-born and they are absolutely the key to our existence as a company. They live in communities where many neighbors may lack lawful status, and many have family members struggling to attain legal status. There are so many obstacles put in their path that obtaining status is very difficult and they have to live in terror all the time as to what might happen if there’s a traffic incident or something.

People are afraid to go to the doctor, for instance, afraid to seek help in any way, because they’re terrified of what might happen to them. These are great, law-abiding people who really contribute to this economy, and people without whom businesses like ours couldn’t even survive. So I feel passionately about the Safe Communities Act.

What we count on from the Commonwealth specifically is a safe and hospitable place to live and work, access to a terrific workforce, roads and bridges to drive on and a quality of life that makes it a great place to live. We also count on Massachusetts to be a fair and decent place for people from all over the world and their families to work hard, invest in their communities and enjoy the protection of simple dignities like due process and both police and fire protection, for example. Simply put, when the government in Massachusetts gets entangled with the federal enforcement apparatus being run in President Trump’s Washington DC, families here lose, and businesses too. Immigration enforcement is not our job as a state. It’s a distraction, and it’s costly too. Local law enforcement should be using limited state resources to keep our communities safe – not to do the job of the federal government. Make no mistake: when we have our local authorities collaborate with ICE, dabbling in immigration enforcement, we’re breaking families apart.

Larry (on the right in the photo above) spent the entire day in the hearing room as the Joint Committee on Public Safety and Homeland Security took up the bill and heard from a wide array of perspectives. He is pictured here with Meg Glazer, Owner and Vice-President of Glacon Contracting, a construction company based on the South Shore and building multi-unit housing all over the greater Boston area. Meg testified in the hearing, emphasizing that the entanglement of local public safety agencies and federal immigration enforcements puts workers lives at risk on construction sites:

My name is Meg Glazer; I am a business owner and I am here today to testify my support of the Safe Communities Act. My husband and I own a construction company building commercial projects in the greater Boston area. My responsibilities for the company are in business development and I am also the OSHA safety director for the company and it is my responsibility to ensure our job sites are compliant in all areas of worker safety. In the Boston market, we along with other general contractors, depend on workers that are many times, immigrants. This has been the case in our area for years now…nothing new, and they provide the labor that is needed to keep up with an increased demand for multi-family residential housing, and mixed use developments all over the city.

Our immediate staff is rather small in number and we hire sub- contractors on an as needed basis. The workers are lawfully registered immigrants, they have working papers, green cards, may be on TPS, but the fact that they are immigrants gives them cause to be fearful, in their neighborhoods, and at their jobs. They may also have mixed status families and that is a cause for stress as well. At the state level, we have created an environment of fear…fear that you cannot trust the local police and that by reporting something to them it may lead to your being picked up by ICE and either deported or put into detention. Fear of being bullied at work by a manager who wants part of your paycheck or wants sexual favors, and knows that you probably will not report them to police or seek medical treatment because you are afraid of the repercussions that may come. And even if you do decide to report that manager who is abusing you, and call the police to make out a complaint report, that police officer may work with ICE and let them know when you might be at a hearing…and then you could get picked up and put into detention. Being fearful is a terrible way to live. These fears chill immigrant access to police and court protection.

Part of being an OSHA safety manager on a job site is to remind the workers on a regular basis to follow safety rules, be aware and to report areas of concern. And if a worker is afraid to report something that needs to be attended to because he is afraid of retribution…he may not do so. Suppose we have a worker who is getting into a harness because he is going out on a pump jack to install siding and he notices that the harness is frayed or the locking mechanisms are not catching properly. And, he thinks about mentioning it but doesn’t because well, his wife is undocumented and he’s afraid that both of them will get into trouble and his wife might get picked up by ICE and deported back to Brazil. So, instead of being safe that day, he decides to risk it and prays he doesn’t fall and need that safety harness to save his life This is the stuff that worries me. When people are fearful, they take risks that they shouldn’t.

We must allow for all people who live and work in MA to have the same civil rights; immigrants must not be treated as second class citizens to be exploited. Passing the Safe Community Act would ensure that all people, regardless of their immigration status would be given fair and equal treatment without living in fear of retribution. I urge the committee to report the bill out favorably for consideration by the state legislature.

Next to Meg in the photo is Matouk CEO George Matouk, Jr. who testified about the connection between restoring a safe and hospitable climate for immigrants and his business: People often ask me how a third-generation textile manufacturing company has been able to survive, grow, invest, create jobs and thrive in 21st century Massachusetts. The answer to that question is in the strength and dynamism of our workers, so many of whom are immigrants. In supporting the Safe Communities Act you will be supporting the values of this country and the Commonwealth, as well as supporting the state’s workforce and our economic health and growth. In supporting this bill, you will be supporting the future of Matouk and the futures of so many other businesses in the Commonwealth. In 2019, first-generation immigrants made up nearly one-third of Our 150-person workforce in Fall River.

We are closely connected to the Azorean and Portuguese communities of Southeastern MA. So many companies in our region like us are dependent on the legislature creating a hospitable and safe environment for legal immigrants in the future. Like many businesses in the Fall River Industrial Park where we are located, we have multiple vacancies for manufacturing jobs. With so many positions that need to be filled, any policy that negatively affects access to workers directly impacts our businesses and our ability to grow and invest. We should consider this a fundamental right of living here: that no citizen of the Commonwealth should fear calling on the public institutions that are there to protect them.

Owner of the 3Islas Restaurant Group Nivia Pina submitted testimony including the following: In my business, I rely on workers from all over the world and they are the hardest working people I know. They are not only my workers but they are family to me, moving up the ladder and into my organization, becoming leaders, raising families here in Massachusetts, and contributing so much to the community.

I want to make sure that our workforce is safe and welcome here in Massachusetts and able to focus on doing their jobs and creating a great experience for our customers is my concern as the business owner. State and local law enforcement does not have to do the work of the federal government and does not have to contribute to a climate of fear and confusion for families. As an educator, I have convinced parents that is their right to ask for better programs and services for their kids and not to feel intimidated because of their status. It is not fair that our students do not have the same access to services as other students. I believe in these bills. These bills will protect public safety and public health for all state residents by ending police and court involvement in deportations. People must be able to seek protection and medical care without fear of family separation.

Real estate developer Thomas N. O'Brien (Founding Partner & Managing Director of the HYM Investment Group (Suffolk Downs, the Government Center Garage; North Point in Cambridge; Brighton’s Boston Landing) spoke at a press conference the morning of the hearing and submitted testimony that read in part as follows: Given that the federal policy framework is so badly broken, states like Massachusetts need to do everything possible to be on the side of the people and the businesses that make up its communities and its economy. Having local authorities involved in the process and the norms and behaviors that are now part of how the federal government handles immigrant issues disrupts our workplace and spreads fear and anxiety in our labor market. Until you take action as a legislature, we are all participating in federal efforts that frighten entire families and threaten entire communities. No child should lose a parent because local officials are dabbling in immigration enforcement – the job of the federal government which is presently under the control of leadership that does not reflect either our values or our economic best interests. No company should lose a talented worker – a scientist or delivery truck driver – because they feel Massachusetts is not a safe place to live.

The package of bills known as the Safe Communities Act will be voted on in committee this week. The hope is that the committee will report the bills out to the House for consideration by the body where they are one step closer to becoming law. MBIC held a legislative briefing in the fall where members who own and operate companies and employ people in a wide variety of jobs expressed their support for these bills. Showing up to be part of the hearing and submit testimony was another clear signal that the Safe Communities Act is a priority for key employers in Massachusetts.

Tom Hopcroft, President and CEO of MassTLC which is the largest tech sector business association weighed in, filing testimony with the legislature that included the following:

On behalf of the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC), the state’s largest non-profit technology industry association, I am writing in support of H.3573/S.1401, The Safe Communities Act. Beyond the moral and equity reasons, there is a large business imperative. MassTLC represents about 400-member companies across the entire tech ecosystem in Massachusetts. As a major driver of the Massachusetts economy technology companies employs over 300,000 people, another 100,000-plus people are employed in technology jobs across other industries. Adding to that, the jobs created by those that support tech as well as those jobs that exist due to a vibrant ecosystem (hospitality, retail, etc.) tech underpins over 35% of all jobs in the Commonwealth. The innovation economy that drives quality of life and opportunity here is driven by people from all over the world in every kind of job. This bill will help disentangle the state from a role that is distinctly the job of the US federal government and not the responsibility of state and local government. We want safe communities for everyone and that means all of the families of our workforce and our partners and contractors - and our customers too. Thank you for your commitment to ensuring that all residents of Massachusetts are protected.

To weigh in with your support please see this helpful link that connects you to the statehouse directly.

MBIC is a project of the MIRA Coalition.

Note: The efforts of these business leaders were written up in Commonwealth Magazine's Beacon Hill Notes by Sarah Betancourt: Businesses Urge Passage of Safe Communities Act.

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