Vanesa Perea, who enrolled at Excel Academy
East Boston in the fifth grade and graduated from Excel Academy High School in
June, will begin her studies at Harvard University as a member of the incoming
Class of 2023.
Admission to the world’s most prestigious college culminated an eight-year journey of educational enrichment and academic achievement for high honor roll student Vanesa Perea at the Excel charter schools, whose mission is to prepare students to succeed in high school and college, apply their learning to solve relevant problems, and engage productively in their communities.
Excel Academy High School graduate Vanesa Perea of Chelsea will be attending Ivy League school Harvard University in Cambridge
Perea, whose parents, Jose Perea and Luz
Piedrahita, are originally from Colombia, was a shining example as a member of
the first graduating class at Excel,
which opened its new high school on Bremen Street in East Boston at the beginning
of her sophomore year.
She attended the Kelly School in Chelsea
through grade four before entering Excel in the fifth grade.
Many accomplishments and school activities at Excel
Excel does not select a class valedictorian
or have an academic ranking system, but Vanesa’s achievements in all aspects of
school life speak for themselves.
She had an outstanding grade point average
and received a number of academic honors
including the school’s Mathematics Award and National Honor Society Award. She
was treasurer of the National Honor Society.
This year Vanesa took Advanced Placement
courses in Chemistry, Physics, Calculus, Statistics, and Literature and
Composition. Other AP courses were taken in Language and Composition, U.S.
History, Biology, Spanish, and World History in her two prior academic years.
“I like STEM,” said Vanessa, explaining the
concentration of courses in science and mathematics.
Vanesa also took her talents to the athletic
fields where she competed in varsity soccer and served as team captain for two
seasons. She was also a member of the Excel track team.
of her most recognized accomplishments was founding the school newspaper, “The
Howler,” and serving as editor of the publication. The school presented a
graduation award named in honor of Vanesa and her classmate, Evelyn Rodriguez,
the other co-founder of the newspaper. That award went to the newspaper’s
She was the backstage director for the Music
Club and served on the Student Council for two years.
Vanesa also volunteers as an English tutor for
immigrants at a center in East Boston.
Receiving the acceptance letter from Harvard
Vanesa applied to Harvard in its Restrictive
Early Action program. She received notification of her acceptance in December.
“December 13,” said Vanesa, recalling the
day she learned that the next stop in her career would be in Cambridge,
Massachusetts. “I was very excited. I called my mom and I said, ‘Mom, I did
She had enjoyed the positive learning
experiences at the Crimson Summer Academy and the summer classes at Harvard she
took last summer in Introduction to Biomedical Ethics and Expository Writing.
She is considering a major in Biology,
Chemistry, Applied Mathematics and Economics at Harvard.
“I’m going to explore a little and see which
field of study I really like so that I can end up doing something that I’m
passionate about,” related Vanesa, who may pursue a pre-medical school path or
a future career in consulting. She has received a full scholarship from Harvard.
Praise for her teachers and college counselor
Vanesa said she was grateful to the teachers
at Excel, particularly her junior-year Mathematics teacher, Sarah Hafele.
“Ms. Hafele is a lot like me – I really love
math and she shares that passion,” said Vanesa. “I like math tutoring so I
asked her if I could tutor some of her math students. During my senior year we
started a math tutoring, honors pre-calculus program which went really well.
She’s a very kind person.”
Vanesa also credited Excel counselor Nicole
Repp for her assistance and guidance in the college application process (Vanesa
was also accepted in to the UMass/Amherst honors program).
“Ms. Repp began advising me in my junior
year and working on essay preparation and she was very helpful,” said Vanesa.
This summer, Vanesa is teaching Mathematics
at the Excel Academy summer program in Chelsea.
Support and encouragement from CSC member
One of Vanesa’s proud supporters at Excel is
schoolteacher Kelly Garcia, a Latina member of the Chelsea School Committee
“I heard Vanesa’s story and I wanted to let
the people know – she’s from Chelsea and she makes us all proud,” said Garcia.
“There are many obstacles against us, but she is one that is breaking all
barriers and stereotypes and I want her to be celebrated and recognized in her
beautiful city of Chelsea.”
Garcia said she hopes Vanesa’s success story
as the daughter of immigrants “will
inspire students to keep working hard and know that anything is possible if you
put your mind to it.”
Gratitude to her parents
Vanesa’s father, Jose, is a driver for a
senior center while her mother, Luz, is a teaching assistant at an early
childhood learning center.
“My parents have set a great example for me
with their hard work,” said Vanesa. “They are my motivation.”
Another positive role model is her older
brother, Jhonatan, a Chelsea High School graduate who just received his degree
in Biology from Boston University. He works at the Boston Medical Center.
“Jhonatan set a very good example,” lauded Vanesa.
“I never knew the extent of how good a role model he was until I went through
my own college process and realized how incredible a school Boston University
is. He accomplished it first and I want to be like him.”
Looking back at
her career in the Excel system, Vanessa said, “I’m very happy I attended Excel.
It’s been a great experience. The people at Excel inspired me to pursue my
Chelsea Soldiers’ Home awarded $100 million to
By: Julia Blatt, Executive
Director, Massachusetts Rivers Alliance
At long last, a recent
weekend presented one of those pristine days that remind us here in
Massachusetts why we endure those winters.
With warm spring weather finally here, many of us hit the water for the
first time this year, visiting local rivers. With more than 10,000 miles of
rivers traversing the state, we had many choices. Sail boats blossomed on the Charles. Rowers huffed and puffed on the Mystic. Fishing rods sprouted along the Swift. Bikers and kayakers explored the
Sudbury. For many people, the beautiful
day meant a chance to spend on, in and around the rivers of Massachusetts.
Fittingly, June is National
Rivers Month, a 30-day gala celebrating our waterways. Whether you kayak past important
Revolutionary War sites on the Concord River, hike over the Bridge of Flowers
on the Deerfield, draw water for local crops from the Connecticut, or depend on
drinking water from the Merrimack, National Rivers Month is a time to celebrate
the gains we have made in protecting these important public recreational,
economic and historic assets.
National Rivers Month,
however, is also a time to reflect on what remains to be accomplished. The Massachusetts
Rivers Alliance, the voice for Massachusetts rivers, is a statewide
environmental advocacy non-profit that helps those whose lives are touched by
these Massachusetts waterways (and we would argue, that’s all of us). Consider, for example, pending legislation
regarding sewage overflows around the state.
Very old stormwater and wastewater systems serving municipalities in the
state have what are called “combined sewage overflow” (CSO) systems. Through these CSOs, stormwater and wastewater
systems are physically interconnected. At times of high precipitation,
stormwater run-off goes into the wastewater system and overwhelms the water
treatment plants. To prevent these
backups, wastewater – the sewage from your homes and businesses – is dumped directly
into Massachusetts rivers. Approximately
200 of these CSO connections exist throughout the state. In Massachusetts, an estimated three billion
gallons of raw sewage gets dumped into the state’s rivers each year. Swimmers,
canoeists, and pets exposed to CSO contaminants are vulnerable to
gastroenteritis, respiratory infections, eye or ear infections, skin rashes,
hepatitis and other diseases. Children,
the elderly, and people with suppressed immune systems are especially
vulnerable. Wildlife are also adversely affected by CSO pollutants which lead
to higher water temperatures, increased turbidity, toxins and reduced oxygen
levels in the water.
Everyone recognizes the
problem. But it takes money to fix it,
more money than is now available. Over the
past two decades, Massachusetts communities have spent more than $1 billion to
eliminate CSOs. The federal
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates, however, that an additional
$4.2 billion is needed to finish the job.
In addition to supporting
efforts to increase state and federal funding to eliminate CSOs, Mass Rivers is
championing a simple sewage notification bill now pending before the
Massachusetts legislature. Disturbingly,
there is currently no state requirement to notify the public about the presence
of sewage in the water when these discharges occur.
The legislation supported by
Mass Rivers would require the operator of a CSO to notify local boards of
health, in addition to the state Department of Public Health, within two hours
after a sewage spill begins. In
addition, the public could sign up to receive these notifications, by text,
e-mail, phone call or tweet. The state Department of Environmental Protection
would be required to centralize all sewage spill data and make it available on
the internet. Signage would be required
at all public access points (for boating, fishing, beaches) near CSO outfalls
National Rivers Month is a
time to shake off those indoor blues and enjoy Massachusetts’
bounty of rivers. Whether you go to look for
great blue herons, to fish for trout, to take your family and the dog on an
afternoon paddling adventure, or simply to seek calm and quiet, our state’s
rivers are there for you. To preserve
these friends, and to ensure the safety of those who use our rivers, National
Rivers Month should also be a time for towns and cities to insist that our
legislators enact a requirement that when the waters are despoiled with sewage
spills, we know about it.
Julia Blatt is Executive Director of the
Massachusetts Rivers Alliance, the voice of Massachusetts rivers. The Alliance is a statewide organization of
77 environmental organizations in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Along the edge of Rumney Marsh in the late
19th Century, Slade’s Mill was bustling. The tidal-powered factory on the
creek, with its rooms fragrant with the wafting aroma of exotic spices –
paprika from Spain and ginger from the Orient – was where the spice grinding
“It was here, in an old Massachusetts mill
that the most interesting step in the distribution of spices began,” said
educator and historian, Jeff Pearlman. “Inside Slade’s Mill the air was golden
brown from grindings of pure spices.”
During the Bellingham-Cary House Association
Annual Meeting on April 27, Pearlman presented a timeline of Slade’s Tidewater
Mill, explaining the connections between Revere and Chelsea. Pearlman is a
member of the Revere Society for Cultural and Historic Preservation, a
non-profit organization that protects and promotes the history of the Revere
The Town of Chelsea originally consisted of
four farms, the first of which was purchased by Henry Slade, who erected the
first church, bank, and City Hall on the waterfront land. In 1734, Slade began
grinding tobacco and corn in the mill.
“The charter states the following,” began
Pearlman. “’This mill must at all times hold itself in the readiness to grind
corn for any citizen of Chelsea, provided that the corn is raised in Chelsea.’”
In 1837, Slade’s sons, David and Levi,
conceived the idea of grinding spices in the mill, and began importing spices
from around the world. By 1850, D and L Slade Company became the largest
producer of spices in New England.
“The boys ground up a half barrel of
cinnamon, slung the barrel between two poles, and trudged across the marsh to
Boston,” Pearlman explained. “The cinnamon was sold to grocers, and a new
industry was born: the business of spice grinding.”
First, the spices passed through magnetized
steel plates to remove foreign objects, such as nails and wire. Spices were
then pulverized into fine powders beneath grinding rolls. Next, the powder was
lifted into continuous buckets, sifted, and loaded into barrels that were
delivered to packing plants in Boston.
“Spices were not only used to stimulate
jaded appetites; but their sweet, pungent odor made them useful as medicine and
deodorants,” mentioned Pearlman. “Up to this time, spice had been sold to the
housewife whole, and each had a hand-grinder.”
The mill was refurbished in 1918 following a
fire and acquired by Bell Seasonings. In 1932, the mill was converted to
electric power, and operated until July 1, 1976.
Slade’s Mill is now on the National Register
of Historic Places.
The building was renovated in 2004, and
today, Slade’s Mill Apartments contains 18 studio and one bedroom units. A
museum on the ground floor exhibits original machinery, photographs, and a
spice cabinet with glass and metal Slade’s and Bell containers.
“Spices are now a
common household necessity. No longer are they counted as the choicest
possession of the wealthy,” said Pearlman. “Men and women live longer in a
spice-laden atmosphere. Perhaps there is something in the theory that spices
have a beneficial effect on health and appetite of the human race. I wonder
where the saying, ‘Spice of life,’ came from.”
With National Bicycle Month underway, a new group of cyclists and pedestrians in Chelsea are looking to create momentum and visibility on safety issues for those that aren’t using vehicles.
The Chelsea Bike and Pedestrian Committee has formed over the winter and is looking to get things rolling with their first community bike ride on May 8 at 6 p.m.
Resident Asad Rahman, an avid cyclist who commutes to Boston daily from his Broadway home, has been involved in biking safety issues for a number of years and said he worked with City Planners to try to get more of a community built around bicycling and walking.
While he thought it might take some time, surprisingly the movement has grown quickly and they are already planning their first event and several events beyond that.
“More than ever, I think Chelsea is at a crossroads to put people and bicycles first instead of cars,” he said. “We’re a City with five or six street lights and several thousand people and cars go very, very fast. We hope we can shift the paradigm that people come first and cars come second…Right now we have a passionate group of people in Chelsea, and we’ll ride around town on May 8thfor about a half-hour and then have a social time to continue building this community.”
With the help of the City and MassBike, the Committee is planning several events such as a Bike Repair workshops and a bike rodeo – this coming at future City events like Fiesta Verano and the Night Markets.
The group is on Facebook at BikeWalkChelsea, and anyone interested in joining them can show up at City Hall 6 p.m. on May 8.
The Vision for the Committee includes:
•To advance cycling and walking as leading modes of transportation in order to promote the health, wealth, and quality of life for Chelsea residents.
The Mission of the Committee is:
•To establish safe, interconnected, and enjoyable infrastructure in Chelsea for cycling and walking, through strategy with the Planning and Development department, resident education on practical use, and community engagement to build awareness and enthusiasm.
After more than a year of research, reflection and evaluation, Bunker Hill
Community College (BHCC) has revealed a newly designed bulldog mascot to
represent the College’s Athletics program. The new BHCC Athletics Bulldog was
revealed at the College Faculty/Staff Forum on March 12.
The refreshed mascot design features a running bulldog, energetic and with
its eyes focused forward, seeking success in a manner congruent with the
program’s mission and consistent with the uniqueness of BHCC.
The bulldog has long been the mascot of BHCC Athletics. New Director of
Athletics Dr. Loreto Jackson, who joined the College in 2017, felt that the
mascot needed a refresh to better align with the College’s purpose and
values. “The former bulldog had many different renditions,” explained Dr.
Jackson. “The designs were not unique to BHCC, and, more importantly, did not
embody the philosophy of BHCC.”
The College enlisted national brand identity firm Phoenix Design Works to
assist with the mascot development. After research and discussion with
department stakeholders, Jackson wanted to remove the common ideas of
bulldogs—that they are mean-spirited, arrogant, combative or lazy. Instead, the
BHCC Bulldog should portray respect, tenacity, a competitive spirit and
loyalty. Also important was a gender-neutral mascot, unrestrained by the
classic bulldog spiked collar.
Bunker Hill Community
College is a member of the National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association
(NJCAA), Division III. For more information on BHCC Athletics, please
Councilor Luis Tejada joined the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) Educational Fund and 50 community college trustees, municipal level officials, and state legislators from throughout the country for the NALEO National Policy Institute on Workforce Development in Los Angeles from March 29-30, 2019.
Councilor Luis Tejada.
The convening provided Luis Tejada and Latino policymakers from across the
nation with the opportunity to deepen their knowledge around current workforce
issues and discuss various approaches to strengthen their jurisdictions’
workforce development. Over two-days,
Luis Tejada addressed ways to strengthen innovative and successful workforce
development policies and best practices that drive economic success in the
labor market for their constituents, communities, and regions.
Tejada, Chelsea District 2 City Councilor,
said, “My need to be here was to learn how we can help ALL of our constituents
have a more fruitful life and provide for our families in spite of the forces,
like technology and other created future challenges, that are threatening to
hold us back.”
During the Institute, Tejada networked with
other Latino leaders, strengthened their governance skills, and exchanged
policies and ideas around effective ways to address pressing workforce
development issues. Topics addressed
during the convening included:
• Preparing Latinos for the Workforce of
Tomorrow: National Workforce Landscape
• The Engine of Change and Economic Growth:
Embracing Transformative Technology;
• Supporting the Current and Future Latino
Workforce: Turning Skills into Careers; and
• Industry Sector
Strategies: Healthcare, Advanced
Manufacturing and Service.
At a certain point, it would be wise to just leave the Chelsea High record books in girls’ track blank until junior Stephanie Simon graduates.
Chelsea High junior Stephanie Simon is putting together another outstanding indoor track season this year, and will head to the National Championship meet in New York this weekend. When she’s not on the track, though, one might find her weaving in and out of the streets on her skateboard.
The champion jumper, runner and hurdler
tends to break most school records, and then break her own records time and
time again. At a certain point, her coaches say, they will probably fill it all
in after she graduates.
Simon, 16, comes from a strong athletic
family – and her sister, Martine – is the only runner to have ever beat her in
a meet. Now, she has focused in on jumping events and has put together a string
of wins during the indoor season this winter.
Recently, she took first place in the
Division 2 state long jump, and took second place in the New England Championship
meet. Earlier this year, at the multi-state Dartmouth Relays, she took first in
the long jump and high jump.
This weekend, she will travel to New York
City for the second year in a row to compete in the National Championship
But back in Chelsea, if you see a young lady
cutting it up on a skateboard, that might be Stephanie Simon.
“When I’m not training or practicing, I like
to ride a penny board,” she said. “I ride it everywhere, even to school. I
think that’s why I can jump. I think that’s something every jumper has to have
to be successful and that is being able to take a risk. You have to be willing
to take a risk to throw yourself in a pit of sand or give it everything you
have to flop up and over the high jump bar. It’s the adrenaline I like.”
Simon was born in Chelsea to Hubert and
Mathilde Simon, who originally came from Haiti. Her older brother, Norbert, was
also a track standout, as was her sister, Martine, who graduated last year. She
said her younger brother, Emanuel, has potential in the 200 sprint.
She attended the Early Learning Center, the
Berkowitz School, the Clark Avenue Middle School and has settled in at Chelsea
High – where she keeps a 3.4 grade point average and is active in academics.
But her cool demeanor likely comes from
having to contain herself on the track. Unlike with the sprints – where she
also has great success within the conference meets – she said she has learned
that a jumper (whether high jump, long jump or triple jump) needs to stay in
“Adrenaline is good for running, but for
jumping you have to kind of put it in a bottle and use it to motivate you and
counter it with technique,” she said. “For jumping and sprints, unlike distance
running, it’s half mental and half physical.”
It will be a very important quality when she
arrives at the New York City Armory this weekend with her coach, Cesar
Hernandez. Last year was her first indoor national meet, and she said it was
“Last year, stepping into that building was
so overwhelming,” she said, noting that there hasn’t been another Chelsea
runner since Bobby Goss decades ago to go to nationals. “Every runner there was
working hard and wanted to win. I didn’t do so well, but it made me even more
determined to do better at the national outdoor meet in North Carolina last
spring and I did.”
When she went to the Dartmouth Relays
earlier this year, she said that same New York feeling came upon her, but she
was able to shake it off, which is something she said she will do when she goes
back to New York this week.
“I told myself it’s the same events and the
same sand,” she said. “I was able to recover and move on.”
Amazingly, Simon was never a runner until
she got to high school, unlike many top runners who have been at it since grade
“My freshman year I didn’t even run that
first season,” she said. “I liked soccer. I was able to make varsity my
freshman year. In the winter, I played basketball. Then I did outdoor track and
I was really good at it. In track, there was so much support and it was like a
big family. My freshman year I was trying to figure everything out. Everyone
kept telling me I had more potential in track. I listened to them and I’m glad
Simon credited Coach Hernandez with helping
her take bigger and bigger steps as a runner and, especially, as a jumper. As a
raw athlete, she had talent, but she said Hernandez helped her to develop
technique and pushed her not to just rely on athleticism.
“If he wasn’t my coach, I would not be doing
what I’m doing,” she said. “He fits the kind of coach I need.”
She also credited her teammates for being a
great support system.
She also credited her family, who she said
has been very proud of her academically and in sports.
“In our family,
everyone has their thing they are best at,” she said. “I guarantee I win at
The year 2018 saw many
changes in Chelsea as the city tried to balance prosperity with priorities all
year long. While new investment poured in, residents struggled to stay in the
city and schools grappled with budget cuts. Meanwhile, public transit increased
substantially in a positive direction with the introduction of the new Silver
• Flooding becomes a
major issue after a Jan. 4 blizzard and a March 2 storm, both of which occur
during substantial high tides. The Jan. 4 blizzard caused a huge storm surge
that flooded many parts of the city and even shut down operations at the
Chelsea Street Bridge.
• The New England Flower
Exchange celebrates its first Valentine’s Day holiday at its new location on
Second Street after being in Boston’s South End for the past 50 years. The new
facility has been brought online seamlessly.
• Wynn CEO Steve Wynn
seemed to be in control of his company and the project in Everett until late
January, when he was accused of sexual misconduct in a Wall Street Journal
report. The allegations quickly gathered steam, and by February Wynn had
resigned from the company and the license for the Everett casino was in
jeopardy and the project to be moving forward “at risk.” The new CEO became
Matt Maddox and the company saw huge amounts of turnover throughout the year.
By the end of 2018, the license for the Everett site was still in limbo and an
investigation into the matter still had yet to be revealed – having been
delayed for months.
• City Manager Tom
Ambrosino says in his State of the City on Feb. 26 that now is not the time to
save up money, but rather the time to continue investing in the City and its
residents. He announces several key programs for the upcoming year.
• Sen. Sal DiDomenico is
involved in a heated and intense bid for the office of Senate President over
several months, but in the summer comes up just short in getting the votes
necessary to prevail. Sen. President Karen Spilka gets the nod instead, but
DiDomenico remains the assistant majority leader and ends up coming out of the
battle in a very good position of leadership.
• Students at Chelsea
High stage a walk-out in regard to school safety and school shootings on March
15. Despite lots of snow, thousands of students take to the Stadium for the
•YIHE company returns to
the City with a new plan for the old Forbes site in the Mill Hill neighborhood.
They start the process in April with a scaled down version of their previous
plan, but reviews of the project continue throughout the year and into 2019.
• The new Silver Line
SL-3 service debuts on Saturday, April 21, in Chelsea. The service starts out a
little slow, but by December the MBTA reports that ridership has exceeded its
• The Chelsea Soldiers’
Home secured a $70 million budget item from the federal government in April
that allowed the replacement of the Quigley Hospital to move forward. The
Community Living Center has a groundbreaking in the fall and construction is
ongoing in the new year.
• The Chelsea Walk is
transformed throughout the spring, summer and fall in a unique placemaking
partnership between the City and GreenRoots. At the end, there is a new mural
on the Walk and more activity. New things are also planned for the Walk in
• A $3.1 million School
Budget gap hits the School Department hard, with numerous cuts reported to key
school services. Th School Department, City and state grapple with the issue
all summer long, but no resolution to the issue emerges at the end of the
legislative session. The school funding fix is still outstanding, and no fix
has yet been passed to help districts like Chelsea, who have been penalized
mistakenly by a new formula.
• Chelsea High sophomore
track star Stephanie Simon caps off a stellar year by heading to the National
Track Meet in North Carolina over the summer. She placed 15th in the high jump
and 27th in the triple jump out of a field of athletes from around the nation.
• Students at the Clark
Avenue Middle School are ecstatic to return to school on Aug. 29, and that’s
because they were able to enter their brand new building for the first time.
The Clark Avenue premiered to excited parents and students for the new school
term after many years of construction.
• The Sept. 4 Primary
Election features many surprises, but the biggest headline of the night,
however, was when Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley upset sitting
Congressman Michael Capuano decidedly. Capuano had campaigned hugely in
Chelsea, and won here with 54 percent of the vote. However, a strong Boston
turnout propelled Pressley to an big win. Pressley also had notable support in
Chelsea from Council President Damali Vidot and School Committeeman Julio Hernandez.
• The Two-Way Broadway
proposal gathers steam, but fizzles out as residents and elected officials
protest the change vehemently. That came after a late-August approval of the
plan by the Traffic Commission. However, in September, it fails to get past the
City Council. Broadway will remain a one-way street.
• Supt. Mary Bourque surprises most in late December when she announces
she will retire at the end of 2019, pledging to help the School Committee with
a new superintendent search throughout the year.
Down in the Back Bay’s Park Plaza, hundreds of National Grid gas workers – now locked out of work for 11 weeks – took center stage on what many said was the truest example of what Labor Day should actually mean.
The politics of the matter shone through clearly on Monday morning during the rally in the street with the state’s political elite, but another piece of the puzzle is the day-to-day reality of having lost health insurance, paychecks and having to stage labor’s most ardent fight of the past decade.
For Everett’s Rocky Leo, who appeared with about a dozen locked-out Chelsea workers recently at a Chelsea City Council meeting, the lockout has a human angle – and standing tall in the Back Bay on Monday, he said that is exactly what the company is trying to exploit.
“They’re banking on us not getting by – we workers going under and losing our health care and defaulting on our mortgages so we have to get in,” he said. “It’s a struggle. It’s been 11 weeks since we were locked out. It’s really hard on many of us and that’s their strategy. They figure we’ll give in.
“Five days in they took our health care away,” he continued. “We had a guy who had just had his leg amputated, and people with diabetes who needed care and children who are being treated for cancer. That’s what we have here.”
The lock out started earlier this summer during contract negotiations with two unions in the National Grid gas operations division. The unions are represented by the United Steelworkers and talks have been ongoing, but nothing has been fruitful and labor leaders seemingly – on Labor Day – had seen enough.
“This is unacceptable on Labor Day and any day,” said state AFL-CIO President Steve Tolman. “The fight you’ve been waging the last three months is the most important fight you’ll ever have. Brothers and sisters, you are standing up to a corporate environment that has been scraping away for the last 20 years at our health care and pensions. Where are the elected officials asking National Grid to step up to the table and negotiate and get an agreement? Public safety should be first.”
Joe Buonopane, a president of one of the locked out unions, said on Monday that he wanted Governor Baker to stand up for the workers.
“Gov. Baker hasn’t said a word about National Grid workers being locked out for 11 weeks,” he said. “National Grid is a foreign company, based in the United Kingdom. We are Massachusetts workers locked out of our jobs and Gov. Baker hasn’t said (anything) about it. That shouldn’t happen in Massachusetts.”
On Sept. 4, National Grid and the two unions were to come back to the bargaining table. The results of those meetings were not reported by press time, but National Grid said they wanted to resolve the lock out.
“To end the lockout, which is a goal we share with our union employees, we need to have serious, productive conversations about reaching an agreement,” read a statement by National Grid sent to the Independent on Tuesday, Sept. 4. “Since June 25, National Grid has communicated to the unions that we remain willing to meet seven days a week to reach an agreement on all outstanding issues. Through a federal mediator, they have so far provided eight dates for meetings that have occurred and we are meeting with them again today, September 4.”
National Grid said they wanted to have a fair contract, but that also meant being responsible to the ratepayers. They said what the union characterize as a drive for company profits at employee expense is actually an effort to preserve reasonable rates for customers in Chelsea and beyond.
National Grid said the major sticking point is the company’s proposed benefit package that includes a new defined contribution 401(k) retirement plan. That new plan would apply only to new employees hired on or after June 25, 2018.
National Grid said they had negotiated away from pension plans to 401(k) plans with at least 16 other unions representing 84 percent of the company’s employees. National Grid also said the package is consistent with proposals that the Steelworkers have accepted in Massachusetts with all other public utilities.
National Grid said it doesn’t believe customers should have to pay for outdated benefits when most of those customers don’t enjoy such benefits themselves.
Leo said the idea is to preserve what they have and have had for years. He stressed that the workers only want the same thing they’ve always had.
“It’s frustrating because we’re not asking for everything and anything,” he said. “We just want what we have. We have completed more work than we have been asked to do and they’re profits are up. We exceeded 20 to 50 percent of our work in all categories. We’re doing more than what we are asked and they are profiting, so it’s hard to see why we have to make concessions. There’s no bargaining or discussion. It’s concession or nothing. It’s like talking to a 4-year-old and when they ask why, you only get ‘because.’”
If last year’s fidget spinners were all fun and games, this year, the national attraction is rather different: JUUL, an e-cigarette device that has become so synonymous with vaping and accepted by the masses, that the term “juul-ing” has been coined.
Unlike the past forms of bulky e-cigarettes, JUUL proposes a completely different design: a small, USB-like device that comes in a variety of colors, skins and flavors. Its convenience has won over the e-cigarette industry, now claiming about 70-percent of the market share, according to a study by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Juul Labs says that the device is designed to help adult smokers transition out of their cigarette addiction, but if you think that JUUL devices won’t reach the hands of the youth, that’s a grave mistake.
An estimated 11.7-percent of high school students and 3.3-percent of middle school students were e-cigarette users in 2017, according to the National Youth Tobacco Survey.
That’s more than 2.1 million youth.
The stats are seemingly increasing over time. According to a 2018 study by the Truth Initiative, nearly one-fifth of youth, ranging from 12- to 17-year-old, reported that they had seen the use of JUUL in their schools.
There are several concerns: For one, while JUUL pods contain nicotine. The greater issue, perhaps, is the lack of awareness on the issue. A study from Truth Initivative found that 63-percent of 15-to-24-year-old JUUL users did not know that JUUL always contains nicotine.
Nicotine, according to the Surgeon General’s report, “poses dangers to youth, pregnant women, and fetuses. The use of products containing nicotine in any form among youth, including in e-cigarettes, is unsafe.”
JUUL has been a particular subject within Massachusetts, where the State Attorney General Maura Healey launched investigations into Juul Labs for failing to prevent minors form purchasing its products.
“We welcome the opportunity to work with the Massachusetts Attorney General because, we too, are committed to preventing underage use of JUUL,” said Juul spokesman Matt David in a past statement. “… Furthermore, we have never marketed to anyone underage.”