Six months after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, many areas of the country outside the tourist hot spots are still in crumbling disrepair – some without electricity since the first storm, Hurricane Irma – and residents of the island nation that is closely tied to Chelsea continue to suffer.
Record photographer Keiko Hiromi traveled to Puerto Rico in late March to survey the damage, having followed the story last fall when Chelsea galvanized to provide thousands of pounds and multiple truckloads of donations to help relieve the situation.
Residents of Chelsea are closely tied to Puerto Rico, with thousands here having been born there or having had relatives emigrate here from the island.
Hiromi reported that upon landing at the airport, things looked normal, but upon leaving the population centers, she discovered homes in much the same shape as the day after the devastation.
“When I landed at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport on March 21, everything looked normal as if nothing had ever happened,” she said. “As I spent five days travelling through Puerto Rico, sometimes away from the functioning tourist areas, I witnessed Puerto Rico in recovery. Many raw scars were still unmended: debris on roads, houses without roofs. Yet, at the same time, I encountered the faces of resilient, strong, patient people, compassionate for each other.”
At the Chelsea Collaborative, Director Gladys Vega and Program Manager Sylvia Ramirez were not surprised at what Hiromi found. Both said they are worried that too many have forgotten about the disaster despite the fact that little has improved for many there.
“I knew that the island was going to be devastated, and at the same time I am shocked how citizens of the United States are so ignored,” she said. “In the next few months, the hurricane season is going to be starting again, and Puerto Rico is nowhere near able to take their normal storm season. One thing I was extremely sad about is we are not getting any help. The news has forgotten about Puerto Rico and moved on to other things. Meanwhile, Puerto Rico is still in devastation. People are suffering, they have no housing and they’re hungry.”
Ramirez said she feels the same way.
After the devastation, she headed up the Collaborative’s efforts to provide aid to those in Puerto Rico, and also to welcome families coming to Chelsea from the island for refuge.
She said much remains the same there, but that story isn’t getting out.
“I think the lack of coverage in the news doesn’t really portray the reality of what’s happening there,” she said. “People go on with their lives and they focus on their kids, they go to work, Christmas came and went. It’s no longer a priority because it’s not in the news. Our plan here in Chelsea is to do another call for action in June or July to bring attention to the situation. The worry for everyone is that nothing is being done to prepare for this year’s hurricane season.
“People go on with their lives, but there are still parts of the island absolutely devastated and nobody is talking about that,” she continued.
That is exactly what Hiromi reported firsthand.
In Toa Baja, just outside of San Juan Hiromi found Miguel Anjel Mericado at his home. His home still had a collapsed roof that had not been fixed and was open to the elements. Beams rested on the floor and electricity was spotty. He collected items that he could find in order to continue the efforts of fixing the home.
Hiromi also visited Yabucoa, where Maria first made landfall.
In Vega Alta, a rural community in the mountains, she visited a family that had no electricity since Hurricane Irma – the first storm to hit Puerto Rico last year even before Hurricane Maria.
Herberto Rivera, a school bus driver there, had been powering the family home with a generator they purchased months ago. They hoped that power would come back to the community before the next hurricane season.
In Chelsea, Ramirez said they are currently working with 55 families who came to the city after the hurricane for refuge, with 18 of them still in FEMA hotels. Statewide, she said, there are nearly 700 families in hotels who arrived after the storm, and 530 are in FEMA hotel rooms. The dire need is that FEMA will stop paying for those rooms on April 20. Already 123 families have used up the FEMA payments and are being paid for by the Red Cross.
She said they are still collecting furniture for those refugees moving into apartments, and they are still trying to secure more stable living conditions.
At the same time, the identical fight continues on the island of Puerto Rico.
“There are still a lot of people without electricity and with blue tarps on their roofs,” said Ramirez. “That’s the reality.”
The president will now declare what many of us experience first hand, the opioid epidemic is a national emergency.
Frankly, with as many as 59,000 deaths in 2016, there doesn’t seem to be any other possible description.
So many dedicated people in cities and towns, faith communities and schools, families and hospitals are fighting to save lives and help people escape addiction.
But there are also a lot of people working to keep illegal opioids on the streets.
With 2.6 million opioid addicts in the United States, the scale of drug-running operations is immense, as are the profits. It’s not a mystery why the cartels build these operations, they do it for the money — and there is a lot of money to be had.
The Office of National Drug Control policy estimates that of the $65 billion spent on illegal drugs each year, about $1 billion, or 1.5 percent, is seized by all federal agencies combined. That means some 98.5 percent of the profits from trafficking remain in the hands of the cartels and other narco traffickers.
We can and must stop that free flow of money, which, besides flooding our communities with cheap heroin, helps strengthen these criminal enterprises.
As the bipartisan Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control wrote in 2013: ““[W]e have become convinced that we cannot stop the drug trade without first cutting off the money that flows to drug trafficking organizations.”
There are simple steps we can take now that go after that money. For starters, we must get rid of anonymous shell companies — companies formed with no way of knowing who owns or controls them (known as the “beneficial owner”).
As documented in the report “Anonymity Overdose,” traffickers can hide and move drug proceeds through anonymous shell companies because starting such companies requires zero personal information.
One of the most dangerous chemicals associated with the opioid crisis is fentanyl — some 50 times more potent than heroin. Deaths from fentanyl overdoses are up 540 percent in the last three years.
Law enforcement agents have cataloged how fentanyl is often shipped to the U.S. from China. Sometimes the drugs or drug making supplies are sent from, and addressed to, a set of anonymous companies.
These companies, which are not connected to the real owner (and sometimes not even connected to a real person), can open bank accounts, transfer money, and buy real estate. Law enforcement does not have access to who is behind these entities.
Requiring all companies formed in the United States disclose their beneficial owners would enable law enforcement to more effectively follow the money trail to the top. Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in both chambers of Congress which would do just that, and we believe this is something Congress should enact as soon as possible.
As we ask ourselves what else can we do to stand against this epidemic, it’s follow the money.
John A. Cassara is a former U.S. Treasury special agent, who spent much of his career investigating money laundering and terrorist financing. His latest book is titled “Trade-Based Money Laundering: The Next Frontier in International Money Laundering Enforcement.”
Nathan Proctor is a co-author of “Anonymity Overdose,” and a National Campaign Director with Fair Share.
Sailors on the Coast Guard Ship the USCGC Eagle bring down the colors at 8:24 p.m., sunset, on Tuesday, June 20, after the firing of the USS Constitutions cannon. The event was an official Sail Boston Sunset Salute in the Charlestown Navy Yard and drew hundreds to the Town. The USCGC Eagle was in port at the Charlestown Navy Yard as part of Sail Boston all week, departing this morning, June 22. Sail Boston and the National Parks combined to host thousands upon thousands of visitors last weekend and early this week for the international
State Representative Adrian Madaro (D-East Boston) and Senator Sal DiDomenico’s (D-Chelsea) bill that was co-sponsored by Rep. Dan Ryan (D-Chelsea) to raise the base pay for Logan Airport workers to $15 per hour came out of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development and now moves to the Senate, where it awaits further consideration. The bill received a favorable report by the Committee.
“Logan Airport is a great place to start implementation of a $15/hour wage floor and the guaranteeing of worker’s rights. Airports are pretty much self-contained, self-governing workplaces with huge government expenditure and oversight. If we can’t get wage equality done right there then just throw in the towel on the rest of our economy”, said Ryan.
Ryan said the irony is, when it comes to competing against more profitable international carriers major US airlines want the government to help level the playing field. However, the government is supposed to butt out of the ‘free-market’ when it comes to providing worker’s rights and a livable wage.
“You can’t have it both ways. Government is either here to help level the playing field or it isn’t. Government built the airline industry, subsidizes the airline industry and bends over backwards to keep it profit driven,” said Ryan. “All we ask for in return is a fair, livable wage for our front line workers. I thank SEIU 32BJ for continuing to call attention to this workplace disparity. I thank Senator DiDomenico and Representative Madaro for taking the lead.”
At a hearing last month before the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, Madaro testified that Logan Airport is a critical hub in Massachusetts that serves more than 20 million passengers a year and brings in more than $7 billion in economic activity to the area. However, despite Logan’s positive financial impact on our Commonwealth, it is also one of the leading low-wage work sites in the region.
“By voting to move our Airport bill forward, the committee is sending a clear message: no one should be working full time and remain in poverty,” said Madaro. “This legislation supports struggling workers, many of whom live in my district. Decent wages and fair contracts not only protect workers, they also ensure the kind of quality service that Boston’s visitors deserve.”
Madaro added that to cut costs, airlines have outsourced passenger service jobs to low-bid contractors, a system that leaves over 1,500 employees making as little as $10 an hour, without access to affordable health care.
“An increase in wages would be life-changing for airport workers, and would cost airlines just cents of every dollar they earn at Logan,” he said.
Madaro, Ryan and DiDomenico strongly urged the committee to pass the legislation, stating that MassPort has already established a minimum wage for aviation service workers of $11 an hour in January 2016 and the bill would build upon that practise by raising wages to $13.50 in 2017 and $15 by 2018 for these Logan employees. The bill would apply to all baggage handlers, airplane cleaners, wheelchair assistants and other employees at Logan International Airport.
“People who work for a living ought to be able to make a living, but unfortunately this is not the case for the thousands of aviation service workers at Logan Airport who continually struggle to make ends meet,” said DiDomenico. “Far too many of these employees work long hours, for low pay, and under difficult working conditions, all while performing their jobs in highly sensitive areas. With this bill, my colleagues and I in the Legislature now have a real opportunity to ensure that the people who make Logan Airport work for all of us get the respect, dignity, and wage that they deserve.”
Due to the efforts of the Fight for $15 movement, there has been a growing push nationwide for higher wages for the lowest paid workers. As a result, $15 an hour has now become a reality in cities like Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, and it is the minimum pay at leading companies throughout the country. In Massachusetts, this bill has also become part of a larger conversation surrounding the need to bridge the gaps of income inequality.
Making its first real statement since being charged with continuing the environmental permitting process, Wynn Resorts said on Monday that it has started work on its Second Supplemental Final Environmental Notification Form (SSFEIR) and has officially put a piece of Everett MBTA land in escrow.
The first step in continuing the grueling process for Wynn apparently was getting a grip on the property – which will provide unfettered access to the casino through Everett only and which the MBTA sold illegally due to it not going through environmental review.
Wynn has entered into an agreement with the MBTA to put the 2-acre land sale – which passed papers earlier this year – into escrow so that the state regulators can review the sale. Wynn also said it would provide a full analysis of the sale and the impacts of the sale on the MBTA in its upcoming SSFEIR filing.
“Secretary Mathew Beaton articulated the necessary path for us to resolve a handful of remaining issues. We are committed to following that path and our actions today are a demonstration of that commitment,” said Robert DeSalvio, President of Wynn Everett. “We see no obstacles in meeting the requirements the Secretary has presented.”
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) and the state Attorney General’s Office announced late last week that they have entered into an agreement regarding lawsuits against the MGC – specifically those filed by Boston, Revere and Somerville. Normally, the AG’s Office would defend any state agency like the MGC, but to avoid any conflicts of interest, the MGC has agreed to retain its own legal team to defend itself in the lawsuits.
The conflict comes due to the fact that the AG’s Office continues to prosecute the cases regarding the land sale in Everett from several individuals to Wynn Everett.
“The Attorney General’s Office and the Commission agree that the AG’s existing criminal prosecution of several individuals associated with the sale of land in Everett for a casino is of paramount importance,” read a statement. “It also is agreed that if the AG’s Office both prosecutes the criminal case and defends the Commission in the local cities’ litigation, it may complicate the full and vigorous presentation of legal issues by both the AG’s Office and the Commission in these respective matters.”
The MGC will hire private legal representation not paid for by the taxpayers to defend itself in the three suits.
Wynn Everett will be giving its second update to the MGC this month in what will become quarterly reports to the Board.
While no date has been set just yet, the update will happen in the next two weeks.
As part of the licensing agreement, Wynn and other casinos are called to give full reports on the projects and their statuses every quarter.
MGC Commissioner Bruce Stebbins will now be joined in state government by his wife, Katie.
Katie Stebbins was named by Housing and Economic Development Secretary Jay Ash on Tuesday as the new assistant secretary of innovation, technology and entrepreneurship.
Katie Stebbins comes to the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development with 20 years of experience in city and regional, and workforce and economic development. She served the City of Springfield for 10 years, specializing in environment planning and Brownfield redevelopment, worked for the Cecil Group in Boston, and served as the Western Massachusetts Director for Mass. Mentoring Partnership. Most recently, Katie ran her own consulting practice and was the primary consultant for the Holyoke Innovation District on behalf of the Massachusetts Tech Collaborative. She is a resident of Western Massachusetts.
There will be a Trade Union Expo held at Everett High School on Saturday, May 9. All the trades will be there to speak with Chelsea residents about construction apprenticeships and opportunities that will be available during the construction period.
MOHEGAN SUN RESURFACES IN S. KOREA
Mohegan Sun officials announced Tuesday morning that, after a few disappointing ventures in America, they have inked an agreement with the Incheon International Airport Corp. in South Korea to develop a gateway entertainment resort on 800 acres of land.
The development is to include hotels, sports arenas, retail/shopping, a casino, an indoor-outdoor amusement park and a private jet terminal.
The company will develop, build and operate the facility, according to a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU).
It would be the only resort-casino in the world attached to a fixed base private aviation operation. It would also be developed on the ground of the international airport, another rarity.
The Incheon International Airport is the 8th largest in the world and is estimated to serve 45 million travellers per year.
The development is expected to include, but not be limited to the following features:
Two-tower luxury hotel complex with 1,000 guest rooms, which will be split between 300 6-star rooms and 700 5-star rooms;
The first and only private jet terminal (FBO) in the world connected to an integrated casino resort;
More than 18,500 sq. meters of retail, food, art and music entertainment experiences, including a Korean village celebrating Korean food, and music, state of the art motion picture and film studio, and a Native American cultural and arts experience;
Over 60 of the most sought after luxury retail brands in the world and over 20 food and beverage concepts;
A Korean cosmetics and beauty hub promoting Korea’s dominance in Asia in this area;
Entertainment arena with capacity for up to 20,000 attendants for Class-A acts and arena sport events that have become synonymous with Mohegan Sun properties;
An Indoor-Outdoor amusement park with 18,500 sq. meters of the latest high-tech amusement rides and more than 12 outdoor attractions; and
A 18,500 square meter casino with 250 tables and 1,500 slot machines.
Mohegan Sun is joined in the venture by Miura Holdings Asia, and a final agreement must be made by June 30.
Bruins fans were hopeful that the ominous footsteps they heard following the team’s five-game win streak were not the sounds of missing the playoffs. After all, the Bruins fans have been treated to the playoffs the entire seven seasons that Coach Claude Julien has held the reins. Well, not so this year. The 2014-15 season roster experienced several stretches of inconsistency – so much so that it cost them a playoff appearance. Over the course of this season this column has addressed the signs of inconsistency, yet it is still hard to understand why it couldn’t be corrected.
As a result, Boston Bruins President Cam Neely announced on Wednesday, that Peter Chiarelli had been relieved of his duties as General Manager of the Boston Bruins. An Interim General Manager will not be named at this time and the search for a new hire – which will be led by Bruins Chief Executive Officer Charlie Jacobs and Neely – will begin immediately. The Bruins current Assistant General Managers, Player Personnel Staff and Coaching Staff will remain in place at this time.
Monday’s ‘Year-end Availability’ with the players did not really give any answers as to why this had happened, only the realization that it could not be used as an excuse for missing the playoffs! To a man, each player responded in much the same way, touching on the inconsistency factor, and admitting it had existed.
Beginning at the top with coach Julien, who during the press conference stated: “When they played the system they played well, but they weren’t consistently playing it…I think there’s a lot of players that did it well, there’s other players that didn’t do it as well as others and it created those situations. When those things happen it becomes a confidence issue. You trust each other out there on doing the right thing and that’s the biggest challenge for a coach nowadays is getting the whole team to play the same way and trusting each other that the right thing is going to be done. I think there was times that for different reasons that wasn’t happening.”
Zdeno Chara explained that the lack of consistent effort bothered him as a captain of the team…“It’s not ideal. It’s something that you wish you would have that every game. Even though there have been up and downs this season, you’re going to have some stretches of going through games that are going to be rough. But again, we never hit that time of the year that we would go on a roll and then could afford to have those kind of games or spans where we knew that okay, now we’re in a little bit of a slump. But you can afford those when you get on a roll, you win seven, eight, nine games out of ten or eleven and you can build a little cushion. But we never had that.”
Patrice Bergeron didn’t hold back when asked if the team’s lack of consistency is why they didn’t make the playoffs…”Yeah, I agree with it one hundred percent. I think from day one, you know, we’ve lacked consistency all year and we’ve let huge points slip by late in games to obviously shootouts. We’ve had some stretches of good hockey followed with another same kind of stretch of not so good hockey and it definitely hurt us right now to get into the playoffs.”
Last season’s Vezina Trophy winner; Tuukka Rask put it out there with, “We didn’t play consistent hockey, even within the games. We barely put a sixty-minute game together, so that won’t take you too far, obviously. But we battled and we were really close, but when you can’t find that consistency over the course of 82 games, you have failed as a team. That’s why we’re not in the playoffs.”
Milan Lucic, often mentioned as possible future trade material, summed it up with, “We had some winning streaks and we had an 8-1-2 streak in March. I just think that there was too much inconsistency throughout individuals and players on the team, and we didn’t bring our best game night-in, night-out. I think that’s what hurt us, because personally I still believe in the game plan, and I think the game plan works, and will continue to work. It’s just about being more consistent in our game as players.”
Dennis Seidenberg played in all 82 games following knee surgery, his explanation was, “Well, I think consistency is definitely one thing. We did play well for five, ten games and then we just wiped it out right after for the next five to ten games. So we never really a grasp on success and ran with it. It was always an up and down, and that’s what cost us at the end. Chris Kelly expressed his feeling that the players’ inability to execute the coach’s system was key, “The system that’s put in place since I’ve been here is a winning system and we had followed the system and everyone had success. For whatever reason we didn’t follow it on a consistent basis and when we did we had success but it wasn’t there enough this year.”
Finally, Adam McQuaid’s frustration was felt in his answer, “I mean, I don’t know for what reason the consistency was probably the main thing that was difficult for us this year. Not only within games, but from game to game. We would have a good period and maybe a not so good period, and then we would go on a stretch of winning games and a stretch of losing games. That kind of seems to be the pattern; you just want to focus on playing and not analyzing. It was a focus of ours to try to bring that consistency and we weren’t able to find it.”
USA Hockey announced that Bruins defenseman Torey Krug has been named to the 2015 U.S. Men’s National Team that will compete in the 2015 International Ice Hockey Federation Men’s World Championship from May 1-17 in Ostrava and Prague, Czech Republic.
Pictured at the ICBA Hall of Fame Banquet are, from left, Charlie Anderson, Barbara Bambery, Hall of Fame inductee Richie Halas, Linda Halas, Courtney Halas, Colby Halas O’Connor, and Michael O’Connor.
By the time Richie “Hawk” Halas was a senior at Chelsea High School, he had already made appearances on Jim Britt’s “Winning Pins” and Don Gillis’ “Candlepin Bowling” television shows.
Halas, who grew up bowling at George Michelson’s Broadway Lanes atop Slaton’s, was just beginning a majestic career in the popular sport that drew consistently high ratings each week on Channel 5.
Halas rose to the top echelon of bowling, becoming a regular on television and a popular competitor and respected sportsman on the professional tour.
Halas was formally recognized as one of the all-time greats in October, earning induction in to the International Candlepin Hall of Fame at an awards banquet held at DiBurro’s Function Facility in Haverhill.
With his wife, Linda, and his daughters, Colby and Courtney, in attendance, Halas accepted the beautiful plaque that is given to each bowling legend at the banquet.
Halas was typically humble in his acceptance speech, telling the capacity crowd, “When I started bowling 55 years ago, I never envisioned that one day I would become a part of this esteemed Hall of Fame group. I am truly honored to be joining the candlepin bowling elite.”
He mentioned some of the other greats with whom he competed in the sport, including Joe Donovan, Pete Ianuzzo, Fran Onorato, Charlie Jutras, Mike Morgan, and his brother, the late Tom Morgan.
Mike Morgan, one of Halas’s opponents on the Don Gillis show, said he was touched by the speech.
“That was awesome,” said Morgan. “I’m so grateful to Richie that he mentioned my brother, Tom, in his remarks.”
Halas also thanked Chucky Vozzella, proprietor of Central Park Lanes in East Boston, for his efforts in “keeping the sport going strong.” Halas competes for the Central Park team in the Friday Night Pro League.
Halas saved his best for last, noting that “I would not be standing here today accepting this award without the support, understanding, and love of my family, my wife, Linda, my two daughters, Colby and Courtney, and my mother, Phyllis. Thank you.
Jonathan Boudreau, one of the up and coming stars in the sport, said he considers Hawk Halas a role model for young bowlers like himself.
“I look up to Hawk Halas – he’s a great guy, a class act, and one of better bowlers the game has ever seen,” said Boudreau. “I hope I can achieve all he has in this game and leave the lasting impression on others as he has in his incredible career as a professional bowler.”
As part of an ongoing effort by the national Service Employees International Union (SEIU) to raise the wages of workers from fast food clerks to hotel housekeepers, healthcare workers represented by a local branch of the SEIU have ratified a contract with the Whidden Hospital to raise their base wages to $15 – the rallying cry across the country for SEIU’s movement.
Local caregivers who are members of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East announced publicly last week they have overwhelmingly ratified a new contract agreement with Whidden. The hospital is part of the Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) network.
The agreement, which covers more than 230 caregivers at the hospital, includes a number of significant provisions that will benefit healthcare workers and enhance patient care.
CHA said it has long-standing relationships with the 14 unions that represent about 66 percent of its entire workforce. They said negotiations in the current case are ongoing and they are committed to fairness.
“We cannot comment on specific contract details while we have negotiations pending with some of our other unions,” read a CHA statement. “In our ongoing dialogue with labor unions, we are constantly looking for ways to fairly compensate our employees while ensuring that we are appropriately allocating resources to allow us to continue our critical role as a safety net hospital system. We make every effort to carefully manage costs, and our labor wages are influenced by the competitive Boston market, cost of living, and quality of staff.”
Inspired by the national Fight for $15 movement prodded by SEIU, the new contract achieves important progress for Whidden’s low-wage healthcare workers. For the first time, this agreement will lift all lower-wage employees at the hospital (present and future) to a minimum start rate of $15/hour effective July 1, 2015. In addition, the new contract provides wage increases to Whidden workers at all experience and pay-grade levels that are members of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, the state’s largest healthcare union.
“We are proud to announce this contract that provides a living wage to workers who deliver such tremendous care and services to the local community,” said Veronica Turner, executive vice president of 1199SEIU. “Our healthcare employees work incredibly hard, and we’re pleased that hospital leaders recognize that these workers should not have to struggle to support their families or face tough decisions about what bills to pay or how to make rent.”
Workers who are covered under the Whidden contract said it was encouraging to see the hospital reach out to workers.
“This contract is a major step forward for many of my colleagues who have struggled financially, even as they work full-time providing an important service to our community,” said Judy Saint Louis, a healthcare worker at Whidden who will see her pay increased to $15 in 2015. “The Fight for $15 has inspired many of us. It’s very gratifying to see the hospital that we love make the effort to provide a living wage.”
1199SEIU members support the national Fight for $15 movement and have pushed for higher wages.
“When healthcare workers are valued and have better wages to support their families, it helps them provide excellent services and care to those who need it most,” said Turner. “This contract is a win for employees, patients, and our communities.”
Just as important as the $15, the new contract provides for the continuation of a Labor-Management Quality Committee made up of healthcare workers and Whidden Hospital officials. This Committee is charged with promoting quality care and creating new forums to discuss any issues or recommendations that may arise.
“Joint labor-management initiatives like the Labor/Management Quality Committee are critical to ensuring we are providing top quality care to patients,” added Turner. “Whidden Memorial is the only hospital in the five-city region of Everett, Chelsea, Winthrop, Revere and Malden. This innovative partnership will help us in better fulfill our mission of providing affordable, high quality care to the tens of thousands of children, individuals, families and seniors in this region who rely on Whidden each year.”
In addition, the new contract provides wage increases to other employees. For the first time, interpreters and other workers will also be included in the contract.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW) and the Chelsea Collaborative announced this week the establishment of a solidarity fund to assist Market Basket workers who have lost their paychecks due to scheduling cutbacks at Market Basket stores.
Following CEO Arthur T. DeMoulas’ ouster from the company and weeks of protests from company managers and workers, Market Basket recently announced that all part-time workers would be laid off. The UFCW, the labor community, and the Chelsea Collaborative will be reaching out to the part-time and full-time workers in Chelsea who have lost their hours to offer their support.
Throughout August, local union grocery workers from stores like Stop & Shop and Shaw’s have shown their solidarity with Market Basket workers by participating in rallies and through social media actions. Now, these workers and their union will directly support Market Basket families that have been financially harmed by the DeMoulas family feud.
Workers who visit the Chelsea Collaborative and present their most recent pay stub from Market Basket, or a Market Basket employee I.D., will be eligible for Stop & Shop gift cards to defray their living expenses. The Chelsea Collaborative and the UFCW are currently accepting donations to the solidarity fund.
Eligible Market Basket workers can pick up their gift cards at the Chelsea Collaborative at 318 Broadway in Chelsea, Mass., this Wednesday between 12 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
With a wave of new immigrants from foreign countries and a number of international travelers not taking the proper precautions, Chelsea Health Department officials are keeping a close eye on an uptick in active and latent tuberculosis (TB) cases in the city – though they hasten to call it an emergency or any cause for alarm at this point.
Health Agent Luis Prado said that some time last fall, the official TB numbers kept by the state and reported to the City began to creep up. While Chelsea has historically always had a high TB rate in its modern history, the recent increase was enough to take notice.
“When we noticed there was a slight increase, we immediately began looking to see if it was a trend or what it was that was happening,” Prado said. “It’s small numbers. It could be that people just arrived with it. It’s not an emergency by an means, but it has to be investigated…Recently the rate went up again and we are concerned about that.”
TB is a disease of the lungs that, when active, is very contagious. It is often associated with severe coughing in its active form. TB is not that common in the U.S., but is far more common in other parts of the world, particularly in developing countries that don’t have a strong health care structure.
The state has a comprehensive system in place to report and monitor active TB cases that works in conjunction with local governments such as Chelsea. Within that system, the City’s public health nurse is called upon to monitor and witness all treatments of reported cases, and the state is required to keep and share statistical rates on the numbers of cases.
The current rate is at 18.4 cases per 100,000 people, which is actually a decrease from 2000 numbers but an increase from 2004. In 2000, the rate was 24/100,000, but in 2004 it was 14/100,000. The recent increase up to 18 has taken place over the last year.
One reason for the increase is people who are coming into the country undocumented and therefore not getting the typical health screenings that a legal entrant must get. Often, those coming under these circumstances are fleeing war, refugee situations or extremely hostile conditions, and the last thing on their minds is their health status.
“There are 15 million refugees in the world now and out of that number, the U.S. only accepts 60,000 refugees a year,” said Prado. “These people are traveling and looking for ways to come to the U.S. This is where immigration reform comes into it. Many times they are fleeing war or other conditions and they may be sick or ill, but the chances are you are coming from a place or situation where there was no public health sense or no treatment. That’s why people from other countries are seen as people who are potentially at-risk.”
He added that the stalling on immigration reform federally has only made the problem worse.
“There is a process they could follow that is more clear and this hurts the country because people come here without the proper checks,” he said. “No one comes here to infect anyone or do harm, but if they don’t know about it or aren’t in a position to address their health, that doesn’t benefit anyone.”
That said, another problem in Chelsea is people traveling to other countries and not heeding State Department warnings. Prado said many times people take vacations without noting the warnings regarding public health.
“When people travel there are advisories and precautions they should take, but maybe people who are traveling don’t always pay attention to this or don’t take it seriously,” he said. “The State Department has published clear warnings and they should be heeded by travelers.”
Public Health Nurse Mary McKenzie is charged with monitoring all of the reported cases that are forwarded to the City from the state Department of Public Health (DPH). The DPH has a vast database where, by law, health professionals must log in any TB cases they encounter. That information is then forwarded to McKenzie and she must make weekly home visits to ensure and witness treatment.
Treatment includes a regimen of pills that lasts nine months, and those with TB must have McKenzie as a witness to the treatment until cured.
McKenzie said she is not overly concerned about the recent increase in active cases, but she is concerned about latent TB cases. Active TB is well-known for its persistent coughing and wheezing, with patients often coughing blood and lung tissue. However, one may not even know they have latent TB unless a doctor tests for it.
However, McKenzie said many health professionals don’t tend to report latent cases, even though it is also required.
“A lot of times they just don’t report it,” she said. “Most people that are from other countries; they aren’t treated for latent TB in other countries or the medication costs money and they cannot afford it. So, they just let it go. The treatment, though, is 90 percent successful at that stage and they won’t go on to active TB. Unfortunately, a lot of people from other countries don’t believe they have TB unless they’re coughing up blood. It’s a Catch-22. We are keeping an eye on the situation now, but if we could convince people to treat latent TB, we could see a real decrease in TB cases.”
That’s where an educational component comes in.
Instead of discussions about federal policy and other such things, Prado said the critical piece locally is to educate the public about travel restrictions and about treating latent and active TB. He said seeing a doctor and getting screened is of great importance.
“At this moment, what would really help is to have more education in the community and the population that we work with,” he said. “We need more education about TB for people who travel or who have just arrived and are at-risk. We have to educate the public that this isn’t an emergency, but something that is preventable and people need to take care of themselves. It’s important for people to take care of themselves and talk to their doctor and get a screening.”