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CommonGround New England’s Newspaper for Working Families

JUNE 2012


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Teacher evaluation system gets low grade in Warwick

By Common Ground staff

The new statewide teacher evaluation system piloted in Warwick this year has received a grade of incomplete, at best, by local educators, who have recommended that the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) spend more time fine tuning the system. The new evaluation system was partially tested in most school districts this year. It was fully piloted in just two of them: Warwick and Jamestown. (About half dozen other districts, including Providence, are individualizing the state model.) “We wanted to get a bite of the whole thing,” said Jim Ginolfi, president of the Warwick Teachers Union, AFT Local 915. “We found out there are a lot of problems with it; major problems.” The evaluations are meant to make teachers more effective by offering them feedback on their performance at the end of the year. But Ginolfi contends that the evaluation process is so cumbersome and timeconsuming that it ends up having the opposite result of reducing their effectiveness. He said the time teachers spent on the evaluations took away from extra time they could have spent on improving lesson plans, meeting with students and doing other things to better serve

students. The same thing, he said, goes for principals, who must have three one-on-one conferences with teachers at the beginning, middle and end of the year. At the conferences, principals and teachers set their goals for the year, gauge progress, and determine the outcome. For an elementary school with 25 teachers, that means 75 such meetings over the course of the school year. Plus, school administrators have to observe teachers in the classroom, according to Ginolfi. The evaluations have a cost not only in terms of time but also money, he added. This year, the district had to give two administrators the task of overseeing the evaluation pilot. Their acting replacements cost well over $200,000, according to Ginolfi. Substitutes for teachers added another $38,000 to that, and counting, given that the school year is not yet over. Nearly another $40,000 in stipends was paid out to teachers in related professional development time. This year, Race to the Top funds covered all those costs, but Ginolfi wonders what will happen when federal funds dry up. “This is like another unfunded mandate,” he said. “Once the money’s gone, I don’t

A new evaluation system the Rhode Island Department of Education wants to implement to make teachers more effective is creating some controversy.

know how they’re going to fund this.” To make matters, worse, Ginolfi claim’s the feedback from teachers and local administrators is being ignored by state officials. He says a RIDE press release announcing changes to the evaluations this spring was issued before Warwick officials could disseminate their own report, making recommendations and suggested changes. “Talk about a slap in the face to a district that’s doing full implementation,” he said. See Evaluations, page 7

Recovery high school pilot program to set sail in September in Ocean State

By Common Ground staff

Working to launch a recovery high school pilot program at The Providence Center are Paula C. Santos, director of the initiative; and Ian Lang, vice president of advancement and external relations for the center. They are in front of the center on Hope Street.

PROVIDENCE – When classes start in September at high schools throughout Rhode Island, many students will be in an environment that is not conducive to beating substance abuse. However, 12 to 20 teens will be in a pilot program at The Providence Center to prove what is known as a recovery high school could be a life preserver for Ocean State students battling drug and alcohol addiction. It is hoped that upon the completion of the two-year program, one or more permanent recovery high schools will be established in the state, according Ian

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Lang, vice president of advancement and external relations for The Providence Center, and Paula C. Santos, director of the program dubbed the Anchor Learning Academy. In addition to parents stating their children could benefit from a recovery program, Lang cited some facts pointing to the need for such a high school in this state, including: Rhode Island having the highest percentage of persons age 12 and older needing but not receiving treatment for illicit drug use at 3.3 percent. 93 percent of students report being offered drugs on their first day back to

school following treatment for substance abuse. Within 90 days, 50 percent of students who return to their community schools after receiving services to overcome addiction are using at levels at or above to where they were prior to treatment. Santos, who served as associate principal of West Warwick High School before being selected from more than 30 candidates to run Anchor Learning Academy, pointed out those teens obtain their substances of choice from peers, meaning their environment is See Recovery, page 2 R


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Recovery, Continued from page 1 a contributing factor to the recovery process. The director, who called leading the academy her dream job, said students in the pilot program will receive one-on-one counseling, group therapy and family counseling that will address issues such as making the transition from Anchor to community and home settings on a shortand long-term basis. On the academic side, students will be in classrooms supported by content area certified teachers, and the students will receive grade-specific instruction through virtual blended learning available through the Internet, Santos said. In addition, they will participate in service learning projects, hands-on programs and leadership opportunities that will be operated in collaboration with organizations such as the Rhode Island Campus Compact, The Anchor Recovery Community Center and the YMCA.

Furthermore, the students will have the opportunity to attend safe and sober events conducted for teens at the Anchor Recovery Community Center in Pawtucket, Lang said. Lang said the Anchor Learning Academy is being modeled after programs in Minnesota, where the first recovery high school in the country was established in 1989. He said the schools have proven effective in: • Maintaining treatment outcomes for teens in recovery. • Increasing graduation rates for at-risk students. • Improving academic achievement. • Preventing long-term criminal justice involvement. • In neighboring Massachusetts, three recovery high schools were launched in 2006, and the results include: • 72 percent of the students referred to the schools completing the academic year.

NORTH PROVIDENCE – John J. Tassoni Jr.’s tireless efforts to protect and better the lives of the Ocean State’s working men and women and their families were recognized recently by the Rhode Island Labor Assistance Professionals (RI LAP). The organization honored Tassoni, an outgoing state senator and former organized labor professional, with its first-ever Labor Assistance Achievement Award during a luncheon ceremony at Lancellotta’s Restaurant on Charles Street. A founding member of the RI LAP, Tassoni is also publisher of this newspaper and proprietor of The Sentinel Group, a Providence-based business development and marketing firm. The LAP is a nationwide organization dedicated to obtaining comprehensive alcohol, drug, mental health and other health-related services for its members at fair and reasonable costs. LAP chapters throughout the country advocate for the development

of employee assistance programs and create awareness of the critical role unions play in the treatment process. Thomas R. Coderre, chief of staff to the state Senate and an individual who has overcome substance abuse, praised Tassoni for his personal support and his work at the Statehouse to “benefit people in recovery.” The senator, Coderre said, “has come to understand and have compassion” for people battling addiction, and that he helped establish a recovery high school pilot program that is being launched in September. (See related story on page 1.) Coderre, who presented Tassoni with a Senate resolution, said the six-term legislator has spearheaded several programs in the legislature to help workers cope with many issues, including drug and alcohol abuse. George M. Carvalho, an aide to U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), called Tassoni tenacious and one of the hardest working senators in the General Assembly.

• 80 percent of the students maintaining a high level of commitment to their recovery. • The majority of students earning final grades in the B to A- range. • 20 months after graduation, 90 percent of the recovery high school graduates were engaged in either higher education or employment. • 20 months after graduation, 80 percent of the young adults had not experienced a regressive episode. Santos is reaching out to school districts for students that want to voluntarily enroll at Anchor in an attempt to overcome a clinically diagnosed substance abuse disorder. Besides having to be sober when entering the Anchor Learning Academy, students will also be required to undergo blood testing during the school year for alcohol or drug use, Lang said. Districts that send students to the

JUNE 2012 academy will have to reimburse The Providence Center, according to legislation directing the Department of Education to conduct the pilot program. The bill was introduced by Sens. John J. Tassoni Jr., D-Smithfield and North Smithfield, who is publisher of Common Ground, Roger A. Picard, D-Woonsocket and Cumberland, and Marc A. Cote, D-Woonsocket and North Smithfield. After the pilot program, academy administrators will have to submit a report to the state commissioner of education that must analyze several points, including graduation and retention rates and the academic performance of students. Lang and Santos say a solid support structure and top-notch education are vital to putting teens attempting to beat addiction back on the path to a successful life. Such outcomes, they say, will pay for a recovery high school.

Sen. Tassoni honored for compassionate efforts to assist people in recovery

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“He doesn’t say no, and he doesn’t like to hear no,” Carvalho said. Representing the office of Congressman David Cicilline, Christopher M. Fierro said Tassoni has been Cicilline’s “go to guy in the labor movement,” and that he does “what is right every day.” Scott Robinson, legislative agent for the RI LAP, said Tassoni has been “a staunch supporter of rights of workers,” and that his departure from the General Assembly is going to be a “real loss” for unions. A Democrat that represents Smithfield and North Smithfield, Tassoni is a former union executive, working as a senior business agent for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 94 and serving as president of Graphic Communications International Union Locals 239M and 12N. Tassoni is a member of the Smithfield Elks Club, Lodge No. 2359, and the Smithfield Lions Club, which has awarded

Rhode Island Sen. John J. Tassoni Jr. proudly holds the inaugural Labor Assistance Achievement Award he recently received.

the senator its Humanitarian Award. He serves as a United Way counselor with the AFL-CIO and is head of the Friday Night Lights Committee that was formed to raise the funds necessary to install lights at the Smithfield High School athletic complex. Tassoni said he was “very humbled” by the LAP award, and that his parents, who attended the luncheon, instilled in him the principle of “helping people who can’t help themselves.” If more people helped each other, he said, the state wouldn’t have homeless people sleeping in a shelter “that I wouldn’t let my dogs stay in.”

Common Ground

Effort to restore COLAs for some retirees stymied By Common Ground staff

Legislation to soften the financial blow of the pension reform package passed last fall appears to be headed nowhere in the General Assembly. Lawmakers in both chambers filed bills in February that would have restored cost of living adjustments (COLA) for low-income retirees. Under the pension reform plan, COLAs are suspended for all retirees until their retirement funds are at least 60 percent funded. The amendments proposed this year would immediately reinstate COLAs for retirees who are at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. That is about $22,000 for an elderly married couple and about $34,000 for a younger couple with two kids. Causing financial harm to retirees at that level was never the intention of the pension reform effort, said Rep. Scott Slater, D-Providence, who is the co-sponsor of the House version of the legislation (H-7708). Slater’s district, which encompasses Elmwood, the West End and Reservoir Triangle, includes a number of lower-income residents. On average, a family of four in his district has a household income between $25,000 and $26,000, according to Slater. “My main effort at the Statehouse has always been to fight for the least of us and the lower income,” Slater said. He said there is a public misconception about retirees earning big pensions. Those people, he said, would not be affected by the legislation he supports. Under the current law, retirees who are not at low incomes would not see their COLAs reinstated until their respective pension funds are 80 percent funded. Despite his concerns with the reform, Slater voted for the landmark legislation in the fall. Slater said options at the time were limited. “The pension reform was given to us as an all or nothing package, and I thought it was very important at that time,” Slater said. One of the main goals of the reform effort, he said, was to make sure pensions were viable into the future, invoking the example of Central Falls. But his concerns about the impact of the unfunded pension liability extended beyond the state retirement system. Slater said he also worried that escalating pension costs -- the putative alternative to reform of the system -- would crowd out funding in the state budget for social welfare services such as nursing homes and services for the developmentally disabled.

The bill he supports, along with the Senate version, don’t appear to be headed anywhere. The Senate bill (S-2552), which was introduced by Sen. Juan Pichardo, D-Providence, in late February and was heard by the Finance Committee on April 25, and the matter was continued. No further action has been taken. And the companion bill in the House, which was introduced by Rep. John DeSimone, D-Providence, hasn’t even gotten a hearing before his chamber’s Finance Committee. After news of the bills became public, General Treasurer Gina Raimondo came out in opposition to them. Sen. Maryellen Goodwin, D-Providence, one of the co-sponsors of the Senate bill, recalled discussing the issue privately with Raimondo, who reaffirmed her issues with the legislation. “She said she understood why I signed on … but that it would disrupt the balance in the original pension reform,” Goodwin recalled. (A spokeswoman for Raimondo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.) Nonetheless, Goodwin said she viewed the legislation as a worthwhile mechanism for trying to help lower-income retirees. Now, with just weeks left in the legislative session, further action on those bills is unlikely. “I’m pretty sure it’s not happening,” Goodwin said. Instead, the state is facing even further reductions in retirement benefits, as some cities such as Providence are following the state’s lead and calling for suspension of COLAs and other changes to deal with unfunded pension liabilities at the local level. Earlier this spring, Providence Mayor Angel Taveras asked retirees to voluntarily accept a freeze on their COLAs until the city pension fund reaches a 70 percent funded level. His proposal also entailed changes to retiree health care, including a 20 percent co-payment for insurance from retirees younger than 65 who are not on Medicare. When retirees balked, Taveras included the COLA suspension in his budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which the City Council, in a controversial move, has approved. With municipal financial problems mounting across the state, it is becoming more likely that Providence will become an example for other cities and states to follow.

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John J. Tassoni, Jr. - Publisher Common Ground, Inc. 111 Wayland Avenue Providence, RI 02906 c. 401.451.1305 f. 401.831.6111

The Union Stewards Prayer Grant me, Oh Lord, the genius to explain to my brothers and sisters the policies and plans of our great union even though no one explains them to me. Give me the understanding that I may forgive the apathetic member, curb the overly ambitious member, and accept the views of the member who does nothing until I have done something... and then tells me what I should have done and how I should have done it. Oh Lord, make me formidable in debate, logical in argument and fearless in confrontation. Let me be a lawyer, actor, mathematician, sage, philosopher, sociologist, and economist; pleasing, cajoling, threatening, and belaboring so that I make the best of a good case and a good case from no case at all. Teach me, Oh Lord, to stand at all times with both feet firmly on the ground …. Even when I don’t have a leg to stand on.

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Common Ground

JUNE 2012

It’s time to start building critical joint nursing center

By Michael Sabitoni and Laurie White

RhodeIsland’sbuildingtradesandbusinesscommunity are working together to make progress on jobs and economic development. A critical project in our sights is the proposal by Rhode Island College and the University of Rhode Island to build and share a new joint Nursing Education and Research Center at an as-yet-undetermined site in Providence, a proposal that would save more than $20 million over building separate facilities at each school. We commend the General Assembly for insisting that a rigorous analysis be done to explore costs, site options, student-enrollment trends, work force patterns and competitive pressures. The feasibility study, published in May 2011, was endorsed unanimously by all three presidents of Rhode Island’s public institutions of higher education, all members of the feasibility-study committee, by health care leaders in the state and by senior economic advisers. The study’s findings are clear: Constructing a single, joint facility in Providence is a cost-effective, practical and innovative approach with short- and longterm benefits for our state. First, the study confirms why public investment in Rhode Island’s nursing-education capacity is desperately needed: • To resolve the woefully inadequate public nursing facilities used to educate students — now antiquated, too small, and too environmentally compromised to serve the present and future needs of Rhode Island’s public nursing educators and students. • To provide a jobs pipeline for Rhode Islanders along all points of the nursing-skills spectrum. The state Department of Labor and Training notes that half of all the new jobs expected to be created through 2018 will relate to health care delivery and research. In their respective leadership roles, URI, RIC and the Community College of Rhode Island share a vision to honor diversity by attracting, educating and graduating a student body that mirrors Rhode Island’s own ethnic and racial diversity. • To establish the most technologically advanced nursing-simulation education facility in the Northeast to educate students from baccalaureate to doctoral levels in the science of healing and caring for Rhode Islanders who face complex health care challenges. • To foster innovation and research in collaboration with the many medical facilities and health care partners already in the Knowledge District.

• To establish Rhode Island as a national center for state-of-the-art education of nurses and to promote the economic development of the state in this critically important industry. Current space limitations restrict the number of nursing students that may be enrolled. With the new center in place, URI and RIC will be able to increase combined undergraduate enrollment from 1,161 students to 1,745 by 2019, and graduate enrollment from 131 students to 399 in 2019. The study also examined several financing options for design and construction of a new joint facility through a general-obligation bond referendum or through a public/private partnership. Gov. Chafee, recognizing the importance of this project to the state, included it in his budget as a bond referendum. We thank him for his critical support of this initiative, and since that time, for his support in exploring a public/private partnership. His office has worked diligently with URI and RIC over the past several months to further explore viability and competitiveness of constructing the nursing center as a public/private partnership — a vehicle that we strongly support. The state would collaborate with a private developer and the nursing-education center would be a tenant in a much larger facility. The state would be responsible for the rent on the 130,000 square feet leased for the nursingeducation center; the developer would be at risk for constructing and leasing other areas of the building. A request for proposals would be issued to solicit bids to build a facility that would encompass the nursingeducation center as an anchor tenant for a term of 25 years (the incentive for a private developer to partner with the state) and additional wet laboratory and research space to be marketed and leased to other tenants: life sciences companies, bio-tech firms, start-ups, research enterprises, etc. What are the benefits to this approach? It is timely as state leaders seek ways to kick start the sale and development of land freed up by moving Route195. In advance of the sale of that land, this project would give Rhode Island a competitive edge and show that we are committed to building a knowledge economy that will support innovation, research and enterprise. A private/public partnership would let construction commence in 2013, unleashing a torrent of new jobs when

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they are desperately needed. Rhode Island’s unemployment rate, particularly in the construction trades, continues to be frightening. Likewise, hundreds of small businesses and their fragile work forces are sidelined waiting for the next wave of building activity. This project could be a lifesaver in many dimensions. It is time to act. Today, the cost of new construction is very favorable and the pent-up demand for jobs and economic activity is feverish. With all the sobering issues on our horizon, here’s a process and a result that we can all get behind. Michael Sabitoni is president of the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council; Laurie White is president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce. This opinion piece first appin the Providence Journal.

John J. Tassoni, Jr., President p. 401.451.1305 l f. 401.831.6111 111 Wayland Ave. l Providence, RI 02906

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Report concludes there is no need to overhaul Social Security

By John A. Pernorio The 2012 Social Security trustees’ report shows that the entitlement program works just as intended even in difficult economic times. The most important fact in the report is that our Social Security system has a large and growing surplus. Like the nation’s interstate highway system, the Social Security system must be maintained to keep it strong, but that should be cause for reassurance, not alarm. Without any congressional action, Social Security will continue to pay benefits to America’s eligible working families for decades, and with modest legislated increases in revenue, it will continue to pay those benefits for the next century and beyond. Social Security’s long-range funding gap, modest in size and still decades away, should be addressed sooner rather than later, in order to restore public confidence in the program. But it should be addressed correctly -- in the sunshine and only after the current deficit debate is concluded. All that is needed to maintain our Social Security

system is the simple adjustment of having everyone pay the same rate on all income. The 2012 report provides journalists with an opportunity to put to rest the common misunderstanding that Social Security has a cash deficit and is paying out more in benefits than collecting in income. The real question we should be looking at is how we want our Social Security system to serve families and the nation in the future. Here are some facts from the 2011 and 2012 trustees’ reports. Social Security’s surplus will continue to grow until 2020, when it will reach $3.5 trillion. • With no action whatsoever, Social Security will have sufficient income and assets to pay all monthly benefits in full and on time until 2036. • By law, money cannot be borrowed to fund Social Security, meaning benefits cannot be paid if there are insufficient assets to cover the cost. Cutting Social Security will not subtract a single penny from the federal debt subject

to the limit that the Republican leadership is threatening to hold hostage. • The 2011 trustees’ report projects that Social Security would be in complete actuarial balance for the full 75-year valuation period if the deductions from workers’ wages are hiked by roughly 1.1 percent and matched by employers. • Social Security could be restored to balance more progressively by instituting a tax on sales and purchases of stock; taxing the assets of very large estates; eliminating the payroll tax cap. By increasing the revenue by slightly more than is needed to pay scheduled benefits, which could be increased either in a targeted way or across the board. • Social Security has three revenue sources: mandatory contributions deducted from the wages of workers and matched by employers (commonly referred to as payroll taxes); interest earned on revenue not needed to pay benefits and expenses

in prior years and so invested in certificates of obligation and bonds issued by the U.S. Treasury; and income taxes on the Social Security benefits of those with higher incomes. • Those three sources of revenue taken together exceeded the cost of all benefits and associated administrative costs in 2011 by a projected $95 billion, according to the 2011 trustees’ report. • There is nothing new or surprising about Social Security’s benefits exceeding payroll taxes. Benefits exceeded payroll tax contributions in 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1965, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1983. The sky did not fall. Indeed, the trust funds acted as intended, providing a margin of safety so that benefits could be fully paid, even in very difficult economic times. John A. Pernorio is president of the Rhode Island Alliance for Retired Americans. Contact him at japernorio_

Women can strengthen leadership skills at union summer school The 37th United Association for Labor Education (UALE) Northeast Summer School for Union Women will be held July 28 to Aug. 2 at the University of Massachusetts Amherst Campus Center. Hosted by the university’s labor programs, the five-day residential program sponsored by the UALE brings together rank-and-file members, staff and officers of unions as well as workers rights organizations. The goal of the program is to

strengthen attendees’ knowledge and understanding of the U.S. labor movement and develop skills that will prepare them to be more active members and leaders. The UALE advocates education as an essential tool to develop new activists and leaders who will grow and transform the labor movement. Students will attend classes designed to teach and improve leadership skills. In addition, each student will select three skills workshops -- one four-

day session and two two-day sessions. There will be evening activities and opportunities to network. The instructors will be union officers, staff and labor educators from universities and unions. Workshop topics will include collective bargaining, labor law, radio waves, basic grievance handling, advanced grievance handling and arbitration, public speaking, internal and external organizing, safety and health and mobilizing for political and

legislative activity. People are encouraged to register by July 12. The cost is $565, which covers tuition, housing, meals and parking. A limited number of partial scholarships are available based on financial need. Before applying for a scholarship, individuals should ask their union or central labor body prior to cover the fee. For more information, go online to

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Common Ground

JUNE 2012

PTSD may get a new name in hopes of reducing the stigma

By Steve Miranda In 2010, four Phoenix firefighters took their own lives over the course of seven months. Each one suffered from mental illness, substance abuse or a combination of the two. Phoenix Fire Chief Bob Khan said, “You’re a little bewildered as to why that happens. There’s a stigma … associated with it … feelings of guilt.” In March, a young boy died in a Missoula house fire. The local fire department pulled together, held mandatory group therapy sessions and spoke to the public about the crippling mental issues that firefighters face. Jeff Dill, Illinois battalion chief and founder of Counseling Services for Fire Fighters and the Firefighter Behavioral Health Alliance, said during an interview with NBC: “Not all firefighters are willing to admit that. … It’s just that stigma that if we ask for help, we’re weak and we’re failing ourselves.” There’s that word: stigma. So

commonly linked to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) the stigma attached to PTSD is a main reason why firefighters, military personnel and others who suffer the disorder may not ask for the help they need, which can put them at greater risk of emotional, mental and physical breakdowns and beyond. Removing the “disorder” A group of top psychiatrists recently met at a conference in Philadelphia to debate changing post-traumatic stress disorder to post-traumatic stress injury, a change that would be included in the updated Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM -- the American Psychological Association’s encyclopedia of mental illnesses that originally helped coin the “disorder” in PTSD back in 1980. Many psychiatrists and military officers

feel using the word “injury” will help reduce the stigma attached to disorder because injury evokes a sense of hope in the ability to heal. The military has already started using post traumatic stress or PTS, removing the last word altogether. The word injury also suggests a pain that was inflicted upon someone and was not preexisting. There are, however, people opposed to the name change, arguing the word injury suggests a short-lived affliction rather than an issue that commonly and potentially haunts people for years. According to the Public Broadcasting Service, Army Vice Chief of Staff Peter Chiarelli spoke at the psychiatric conference and said, “I believe language means something, and it means something if your desire is to help and to treat everyone. … To allow a word like disorder, which may be no barrier to you whatsoever,

-- to get in the way of the help they need, I find this just absolutely unconscionable.” Dr. Matthew Friedman, chairman of the committee in charge of updating DSM, said, “The net effect of such a modification would be to tinker with a psychiatric diagnosis rather than help patients. To change to PTSI without anything else would accomplish nothing positive.” One thing is for sure: It’s a positive step for those suffering with PTSD and those working to help those that suffer to shine a spotlight on the condition and the stigma attached. Steve Miranda is a director of special projects for Treatment Solutions. If you have any questions or know someone who may need his services, contact him at stevem@tsnemail. com or (508) 525-5974.

Robust mass transit system will benefit economy and environment By James Celenza There is a lot of talk about “green” jobs, but you might be hard pressed to say what a green job is. If you see a bus come along, that driver has a green job as do those who fix, clean and route the buses. How so? When the ozone or fine particle pollutants in the air reach unhealthy levels, it sickens anyone with asthma and other respiratory and heart problems. And almost 12 percent of children in Rhode Island have asthma. When air quality is expected to reach unhealthy levels, the state Department of Environmental Management (DEM) issues an air quality alert. To reduce air pollutant emissions, officials want to limit car travel, and to help meet that goal, all regular Rhode Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) routes are free.

RIPTA’s major source of funding is the gasoline tax. In the last four years, the gasoline tax yield has declined 12.9 percent, leading to perennial budget shortfalls for RIPTA. Moreover, most of the state Department of Transportation’s (DOT) share of the gas tax doesn’t even go for maintaining and fixing roads, bridges and bicycle paths: It goes to pay interest on previous transportation bonds. A bill, An Act Relating to Public Transit Investment (H-7581), has been introduced in the General Assembly to help support a stable and efficient transportation system. The bill restores RIPTA as a direct beneficiary of the newly created transportation trust fund. RIPTA was originally in the mix but was deleted when

the bill passed. Facing a budget deficit, RIPTA recently laid off 35 employees. Under the proposed public transit act, RIPTA would receive 35 percent of the money in the trust fund to prevent service cuts such as the ones that are pending because of a projected $10 million budget deficit in fiscal 2013. In addition, the legislation would transfer automobile registration fees from the general fund into the trust fund. As a result, DOT revenue from the trust fund would increase. The concept behind the bill is not new. The austere and pro-business Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (RIPEC) has proposed boosting funding for RIPTA by increasing the portion of gasoline tax




proceeds received by the agency. RIPEC also suggested that some of the revenue collected from motor vehicle registration and license fees be earmarked for mass transit. By urging your state representative to vote for H-7581, you can help support public transportation. Backing mass transit helps improve public health, reduce global warming, improve air quality, sustain green jobs, encourage pedestrian-friendly communities and protect open space. A strong public transit system is essential to the prosperity of our state’s economy. James Celenza is director of the Rhode Island Committee on Occupational Safety and Health. Contact him at jascelenza@ or (401) 751-2015.







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Common Ground Evaluations, Continued from page 1 RIDE officials claimed that the changes they had announced reflected recommendations coming out of Warwick. Ginolfi isn’t buying it. “They put a spin on it. The point is this was a done deal.” Ginolfi further questions the validity and accuracy of the evaluation system, which includes student test scores as one factor for measuring the performance of teachers. Teachers will be evaluated in three general areas, according to an official RIDE summary: professional practice, professional responsibility and student learning. At the end of the year, based on a number of measures, teachers will be given one of four overall ratings: highly effective, effective, developing and ineffective.

Page 7

JUNE 2012

RIDE responds to criticism of new evaluation process Teacher feedback on a new evaluation system is not all-negative. Teachers in the other pilot district, Jamestown, reportedly had a more positive experience than their Warwick counterparts. But Jamestown officials did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication. However, a spokesman for the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE), Elliot Krieger, did issue a series of responses to Ginolfi’s objections. Here are his full responses to questions submitted by Common Ground.

Warwick teachers: Delay implementation But Ginolfi believes that the statewide evaluation system fails at its ultimate objective: determining how effective teachers really are. “I don’t think that you have to go through this many hoops -- conferences, gathering ‘artifacts’ -- to prove that you’re an effective teacher,” he said. He says local administrators see eye to eye with labor on the issue. “We’re on common ground on this,” Ginolfi said. “It’s opened their eyes.” That’s why administrators and teachers have recommended continuing the pilot for another year, to iron out all the glitches in the system and improve it. State Education Commissioner Deborah Gist, however, has publicly stated her intention to initially implement the new system in most Rhode Island school districts starting in September. But Ginolfi says there are too many unanswered questions remaining for the system to be implemented, including: How will teachers in subjects for which there are no standardized test scores be evaluated? What about teachers with students who have limited abilities? In addition, the piloting process was a haphazard one, with changes constantly coming down the pipeline from RIDE. “It’s like building an airplane while you’re in mid-air,” Ginolfi said, referring to an analogy he has used before. “That’s what this is like.”

Q: What is your response to claims the evaluations are cumbersome and take up so much time that it reduces teacher effectiveness? A: The primary purpose of the evaluations is to provide teachers with excellent feedback about their practices so that they can improve teaching and learning every year. The process does take some time and effort, but the process is a vital part of our work toward ensuring educator excellence. Based on feedback we are receiving from our first year of implementation, we are streamlining several aspects of the Rhode Island model for educator evaluations, and we will continue to improve the process every year. Q: Is the cost sustainable? A: The startup costs for any new initiative can be substantial, and we are honored and fortunate that Rhode Island received a Race to the Top grant to pay for these developmental costs. Once the system is developed and in place and once evaluators are training in the process, ongoing costs will be reasonable and districts will be able to sustain the work. Q: What makes this a valid system for evaluating teachers? A: We are basing the evaluations on professional practices (classroom observations), professional responsibilities (such things as service to the school, the community and the profession) and student growth and achievement. We will measure student growth in part through data on student improvement on statewide assessments and in part through achievement of “student learning objectives” – individual goals that each educator sets in consultation with her or his evaluation team.

Q: Are test scores an accurate measure of teacher effectiveness? What about the student learning objectives, or SLOs? A: Teachers set up the student learning objectives in consultation with their evaluators to ensure that their objectives are in line with the goals and objectives of their department, school and district. As to test scores, we are using statewide assessments to measure improvement. We are using the assessments to see how much each teacher’s or principal’s students have learned in one year of instruction. Q: The local union president says the implementation process has been very haphazard. What is your response? A: We have made constant improvements during this year of gradual implementation, applying what we have learned along the way so as to help teachers and school leaders implement the evaluations with fidelity. There are always challenges during the first year of a statewide initiative, which is why we chose to have a year of gradual implementation, with full implementation coming next year. We are grateful to the educators in Jamestown and Warwick for agreeing to full implementation of evaluations this year on a pilot basis. Their work will help ensure that we have an excellent system during next year’s full statement implementation. Q: What do you say to Warwick teachers who say their feedback is being ignored? A: We have announced numerous changes to streamline and improve the evaluation process based on feedback from Jamestown and Warwick educators and from others across the state who have participated in our Webinars and feedback sessions and who have communicated with us by e-mail and in many public forums throughout the year.

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Common Ground

JUNE 2012

Universal life insurance can alleviate taxing concerns

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It seems the tax “loopholes” that existed to help hard working Americans save money are going by the wayside. For some, the battle appears to be not worth fighting. Many Americans keep taking it on the chin each year. April comes around; the accountant prepares the taxes; and you’re told you owe 45 percent of all your gross earnings to Uncle Sam. It’s a hard pill to swallow each year. Where does all our hard earned money go once we send the check to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)? Granted the government needs to raise money for important programs to keep the country running. Taxes aren’t inherently a bad thing, but overpaying because you don’t know the tax advantages that exist today is a problem. When I ask most people how much in taxes they would like to pay, the most common response is, “none.” That would be great in a perfect world, but it is near impossible to avoid paying some taxes. So that leaves us to try to pay a reasonable amount now, and never pay them again. When I ask my clients when they would like to pay taxes, most say, “never.” That is possible You never know what the tax rate is going to be in five, 10 or even 20 years. Most likely it will be higher. So why put money away today that will only be taxed at a higher rate tomorrow? You wouldn’t, right? Wrong, most people are committing that common error. A simple, yet huge tax advantage exists today. All you have to do is pay taxes on the money earned once, and you never have to pay it again. Think about that for a moment. Let’s say for every dollar you earned this year you

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JUNE 2012

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Common Ground

JUNE 2012

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Common Ground

JUNE 2012

Page 11

Simple secrets to teaching children about healthy food

By Joy Feldman

Ooey and gooey. Creamy and crunchy. Sweet and sour. Tantalizing treats dazzle and delight children wherever they turn. Today, most children are assaulted with an onslaught of advertisements and marketing, touting and glamorizing invented creations. The average child sees approximately 20,000 advertisements a year for foods that can be classified as junk food. The deluge of those poor food choices placed before children can make them less willing to adopt a healthy eating lifestyle. Taking care of our young ones is the best gift a parent can give a child. Many of us are searching for magical foods that will delight and provide our children with excellent nutrition. Incorporating foods that will infuse their bodies with superb fuel can be challenging given their hyped-up romance with junk foods and fast foods. However, there are many options that are nutritious and delicious. The tough part for many parents, however, is getting their child to gobble up those earthly delights. Here are some simple secrets for teaching children about healthy foods they will love: 1. Tell your children they are what they eat, and that what they put inside their bodies builds their bodies. Explain to them that healthy food is their fuel for that major construction project going on inside their bodies.

2. Set a good example for your children by making excellent food choices. Eat the same healthy foods you recommend and explain why nutrition matters.

foods healthy looking people are purchasing. 7. Establish a small window garden. Plant basil, rosemary, parsley and thyme and ask your children to collect it for cooking.

3. Motivate your child to improve their diets, telling them that good nutrition will help them have bigger muscles, shinier hair, longer nails and much more energy. Having more energy, will increase their self-esteem and confidence.

8. Get your children in the kitchen. Food preparation is an opportunity to teach your children and have fun with them. When children feel a part of the process, they are more likely to try new foods. Let them thumb through the cookbook and select recipes that appeal to them. If they are too young to cook alone, have them cook alongside you, sampling the different tastes of the foods that are being prepared. Purchase aprons and maybe even a chef ’s hat for your children, and have them decorate them with colored markers.

4. Avoid buying candy, cookies, donuts, ice cream and other sugary products. It will be easier for children if the cupboards are filled with healthy choices, and the refrigerator is filled with delicious vegetables and dips. 5. Join a community supported agriculture group (CSA), which is a means to developing a membership relationship with a farm and receiving fresh produce weekly. Some CSAs might ask that members work a few hours at the farm during growing season, which is a cooperative style of purchasing food. You may want to look into a summer camp program that focuses on organic farming, which is a great way to teach your children the connection between good health and organically grown foods.

9. Make it fun. Enjoy, giggle, laugh and explore new foods and different cooking options to keep your wee ones interested and excited about nutritious choices. You’ll be surprised to see what they try and what they will learn when everyone involved is having fun. Joy Feldman is a nutritional consultant, writer and sought-after lecturer. She is the author of Joyful Cooking in the Pursuit of Good Health and Is Your Hair Made of Donuts? Learn more at or www.

6. Take your children to the market with a shopping list. Have them pick out healthy foods and observe what

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Common Ground



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Retired Battalion Chief Providence Fire Department Local 799 Vice President Treatment Solutions Network

I became involved in the EAP/MAP programs because of my own struggles with addiction, as I have been in recovery for many years. Twenty-five years ago, I was asked by my Union President to start a committee to assist our members and their families who needed help with addiction and mental health issues, because of my own experiences, I was excited to help. We started a silent committee to offer confidential help to Firefighters and their families who were struggling with these issues. I spent several years obtaining certifications in the field and have been helping members and their families ever since!

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Firefighters often experience things in the line of duty that cause mental and emotional stress that can lead to substance abuse. Once we built the EAP/MAP program we were amazed at how many people came forward to get the help they needed. Part of the rehabilitation process is learning how to deal with these stresses so they don’t negatively affect the rest of their lives and their families.

Where has life taken you since retirement? Well before I retired, I worked closely with Treatment Solutions Network to place my members, providing the care that they needed. I was so impressed with the company that I started working with them more and have now become a Vice President and shareholder in the company. We have expanded the network to include top rated treatment centers, not just in Florida, but across the nation as well. Our network is set up to accept most insurances, self-pay and contracted rates with health & welfare funds to make treatment affordable to everyone.

What is next for you and Treatment Solutions Network? We are working with a committee focus group comprised of leadership from Boston Fire, Boston Police, Providence Fire, MA Department of Corrections and MA Sheriff’s Department. This group is being directed by a highly accomplished therapist to design programs specifically geared toward Unions, Public Safety Officers and to help us better serve the Employee Assistance Professionals we work with. Our programs are designed to find the best possible solution to Dual Diagnosis problems. Solutions that combine, long term success, financial flexibility, and clinical practice into effective services.

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Common Ground

JUNE 2012

Page 13

How to save money on your electric bills Did you know that providing electricity is no longer a monopoly, and that due to energy deregulation you have a choice of who supplies your electric service? Maybe you do know because you have been getting annoying sales calls or junk mail telling you to switch, but you think it’s a scam. It’s not. How much can you save? Figure 10 percent or so for a homeowner and more for businesses, but it really depends on how much kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity you use each month. Homeowners can save around $5 per month and businesses can save hundreds thousands and perhaps tens of thousands of dollars a year, depending on how much energy the business uses. Thanks to a national energy deregulation bill passed in the late ‘90s, customers in roughly two dozen states, including Massachusetts and Rhode Island, can now manage and control their energy costs in ways never before thought possible. Before deregulation, you had no choice. You did not need to pay attention to the energy markets, and you simply paid the bill like everyone else. Now, however, you have the power to choose your supplier. Look at the upper right corner of page two of your electric bill for a message from National Grid (NGRID), telling you that you have a choice. In a deregulated market, you must decide who to buy from, when to buy, how long to contract for or whether you should consider a market based (variable) rate. If you do not choose a new supplier, NGRID will remain the supplier, usually at higher rates offered by third party suppliers. What was deregulated? Part of the deregulation bill required utilities to sell off their power plants and open up the supply portion of their service. Now, utilities only own the transmission

and distribution wires and are responsible for the delivery of energy. The amount of money NGRID charges for supplying electricity is 55 percent to 70 percent of a consumer’s electric bill, and the charge is stated in the second part on page two of a bill. NGRID and other utilities also serve as a ‘backstop’ for power supply to customers that do not choose an alternative supplier of electricity. With the move to competition, utilities have separated their service to their customers into two parts: • Regulated distribution of power (delivery), which is still only provided by the utility. • Supply of the electric commodity, sometimes referred to as BGS, which is now open to competition Customers who choose an alternate energy provider will still have their power delivered to them by NGRID and will therefore still contact NGRID with any outage issues. After consumers choose a new supplier, they will still get one bill from NGRID; but it will have two company names on it. Types of programs If you have not chosen an alternate supplier, you could be paying a month-to-month variable rate based on filed tariffs. If you select a new supplier, you have the option of remaining on a month-to-month variable rate or choosing to lock in current low rates for up to two years. Energy costs are at or near all-time lows so it may make sense to lock in as a hedge to rising energy costs, inflation and volatile rates. Once the economy starts to heat up, so too will energy charges. Types of salespeople Basically, there are two types of salespeople. One is a direct salesperson for one supplier, and the other

is a broker that represents multiple suppliers. A direct salesperson for one supplier is ideal because there is no middle man with his hand out, which cuts into your savings. He will provide you with their best offer out of the gate. No matter whom you choose the sales consultant you deal with is paid a monthly commission from the energy supplier, so there is no additional cost to you. How does it work? Residential and small businesses can usually select a supplier online in a matter of minutes at a supplier’s Web site. Business owners wanting custom quotes might have to provide a sales consultant utility bills from the last one to three months. The consultant will also need the name of the legal business entity and tax identification number for the entity that pays the bills. With that information the sales consultant can obtain the entity’s usage and credit history with the utility and then offer a competitive bid for the company’s energy needs. The salesperson should present the options of variable and fixed rates. If you choose a new supplier, there should be no cost to switch. You get the same power, same delivery company (NGRID), same poles, same wires and same meter. NGRID will even continue to read your meter. There will be no interruption or downtime of service. The only change will be a new bill in 45 to 90 days. Today’s economy is difficult, and you must see if you can save money. If your business or home is in a deregulated market and you are not buying from an alternate supplier, you are more than likely over-paying for your electricity. You have nothing to lose and only savings to gain, so make the switch today. For more information, call 401-451-1305. Mt. Washington Bank offers aggressive solutions to help your business grow. Totally FREE Business Checking | FREE ATM/VISA® Business Check Card Business Loans | Competitive Rates | FREE Online Banking with BillPay

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Page 14

Common Ground

JUNE 2012

Secretary-treasurer of LIUNA honored by Sons of Italy Foundation Armand E. Sabitoni of Cranston, secretary treasurer and New England regional manager of the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA), was honored recently at the Sons of Italy Foundation’s 24th Annual National Education & Leadership Awards (NELA) gala in Washington, D.C. The Sons of Italy Foundation honored him along with other esteemed recipients that included Hillary Rodham Clinton, United States secretary of state; retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, 16th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Claudio Bozzo, president of the Mediterranean Shipping Co. The event was at the National Building Museum.

The gala is the foundation’s most important fund-raising and public affairs event, highlighting the organization’s commitment to educational excellence, leadership and the betterment of society. To date, the gala has helped the foundation raise millions of dollars for education, medical research, disaster relief, cultural preservation and other special projects. In addition, scholarships totaling $50 million have been awarded through the foundation. Sabitoni, a second-generation laborer, has worked his way from a general construction laborer to one of the highest offices in the LIUNA. He was honored at the gala for leading the union’s effort to

strengthen training programs for laborers. Sabitoni has instituted apprenticeship and training programs designed to advance union members’ careers and meet the needs of the industry. He also has spearheaded the founding of the union’s first construction charter high school in Cranston. Sabitoni has held positions within the LIUNA at the local, district council and international levels, including positions of auditor, vice president and president of Local 271; business manager and secretary-treasurer of the Rhode Island Laborers’ District Council; LIUNA vice president and assistant to the general president.

As regional manager, he represents more than 60,000 members across New England as well as most of New York. Sabitoni chairs the Laborers’ health and safety fund of North America, national Laborers-employers cooperation and education trust fund, LIUNA’s health and welfare fund and the service contract education of training trust fund. He also chairs several other national and regional funds dealing with labor-management cooperation, health and safety and pensions and investments; and he serves as treasurer of the Laborers’ Political League. Sabitoni resides with his wife, Linda, and their two children.

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Common Ground

JUNE 2012

Page 15

Smith wins re-election bid to head teachers union By Common Ground staff

Fresh off a successful re-election bid, Providence Teachers Union President Steve Smith says his top priority for his fifth full term is a major collaborative effort with the school district administration. According to Smith, the effort will reform city schools in a way that gives a voice to his members. “The key is this partnership,” Smith said in a post-election interview with Common Ground. “I think there is a real commitment to getting this done.” Smith was on track to launch a new collaborative venture with school management about a year ago. He even spoke at a national conference where Providence labor and management leaders were feted as an innovative model for other districts across the country. Then, Mayor Angel Taveras got elected, declared that the city was in a “category 5” fiscal storm, and issued layoff notices to all teachers. But now, as tempers have cooled and the storm has begun to abate, Smith has picked up where he left off, now with the new Schools Supt. Susan Lusi. “We’ve come a long way,” Smith said. “Time is going to heal those wounds, but we have to move the

district forward.” The collaboration is known in the world of education reform as a labor-management educational management organization, or EMO. Smith and district officials began work on the EMO in December, hashed out a plan for the organization in January and submitted it to the Rhode Island Department of Education the following month. Their EMO is now a fully incorporated 501(c)3 nonprofit organization -- a requirement of federal law -- with Smith and Lusi both serving as co-chairs of the board. Known as United Providence, the EMO will develop a plan to turn around three failing schools, implementing one of the options allowed under federal law, according to Smith. Such a collaborative model empowers teachers and equips them with what they need to do their jobs, Smith said. “It’s kind of amazing, given all that we’ve been through,” Smith said. However, Providence may not be out of the woods financially: The specter of bankruptcy has become a reality this spring, but teachers should not necessarily worry that there will be a repeat of what happened a year

ago. The reality, Smith said, is that the union now has a three-year agreement with the city that has a no-layoff clause. “There’s no issue there,” Smith said. Smith’s approach to dealing with the administration has not met without some opposition from his membership. Smith won re-election on a vote of 349 to 227 against opposition candidate, Anna Kuperman, a Classical High School teacher who ran as part of a slate that took Smith to task for signing on to Race to the Top, his communication with union members and the new teacher evaluation process. Smith said backing Race to the Top is a new way to advocate for his members by giving them a voice in the process rather than having reforms imposed on them without any input. “This is, I think, the only way,” Smith added. “Either you’re at the table, or you’re on the menu.” Should members have been consulted before the decision was made? “You can’t take a vote every time a decision has to be made,” Smith answers. A similar philosophy of pragmatism led Smith to become involved in developing the new teacher evaluations for the district. “Again, developing our

own model with the state is better than having one imposed on us,” Smith said. “Just saying no and being angry about it a leader does not make,” he added. He says the differences between his approach and that of the opposition was illustrated when U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited Providence to deliver a speech hosted by the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council. Some of his members wanted to protest the event, but Smith chose to be inside so he could question Duncan about why his office had been so silent after the mass layoffs of teachers last year. “We want to be inside the building, making a difference,” Smith said. To Smith, pragmatism is essential to his vision of an effective leader. “Leadership is doing (what is) best for those you are leading … with a clear view of what the real circumstances are,” Smith concluded. Smith, who first took office in the early 2000s, has a relatively short twoyear term ahead of him. Asked what his plans are for the long term, he responded: “I’m focused on the work.”


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Common Ground

JUNE 2012

Total for Massachusetts AFL-CIO scholarship program exceeds $1 million mark for 54th consecutive year For the 54th straight year, the Massachusetts AFL-CIO is proud to announce that more than 715 scholarships totaling $1,189,285 were awarded by the labor organization’s scholarship program. The most severe economic crisis in this country since the Great Depression is still impacting many working families, despite positive trends. Even as times improve, families are often forced to make impossible choices, as a higher education has now become a necessity in today’s job market. College tuitions continue to skyrocket at the same time as parents are experiencing tenuous economic stability and Congress considers cuts to vital student loan programs. The Massachusetts AFL-CIO unionsponsored scholarships can make all the difference in enabling young men and women to further their education, and drastically improve their chances of finding a quality career with familysustaining wages and benefits. The total amount of money

awarded by the Massachusetts AFLCIO Scholarship Program since 1999 is now over $11.6 million. The Massachusetts AFL-CIO hosted its 54th Annual Scholarship Banquet last month at the IBEW Local 103 Union Hall in Dorchester, where they honored the scholarship recipients and their families, and celebrated another year of unions generously assisting working families with escalating costs of higher education while teaching students about the history of the Labor Movement. The program is available in all participating schools in the Commonwealth and to children and grandchildren of Massachusetts AFL-CIO members who may attend school out of state. Students must study and take a labor history exam to be eligible for a preponderance of the scholarships awarded. Some scholarships are recurring for multiple years. Reflecting on the important scholarship program, President Steven A. Tolman of the Massachusetts AFL-

CIO said, “Our scholarship program is one of the biggest examples of unions standing for what’s right and doing what’s good for all working families. Even in good times, these scholarships are essential to helping these families afford the higher education needed to be successful in our ever-evolving workforce. In times like these, with a slow recovery that has not yet picked up struggling working families, our scholarship program is that much more important. I am proud of our organization and of the amazing generosity of the affiliates who help make it such a success.” John Griffin, a senior at Walpole High School, won the prestigious John F. Kennedy Memorial Scholarship with his reflective essay about the current state of the labor movement in Massachusetts. He will read the essay in front of all scholarship recipients and their families at the banquet. In his essay, young Mr. Griffin poignantly wrote: “Our economy is healthier for the

moderation introduced by collective bargaining – when big employers are free to do as they will, they incite dangerous boom and bust cycles. Without collective bargaining, workers would receive less money for more hours – this would lead to a poorer populace, and thus a reduction in popular consumption and a subsequent blow to our economy.” Scholarships were given by the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, affiliated local unions, Central Labor Councils and other labor and labor-supporting organizations. Scholarship recipients had to first take a challenging exam administered at their schools. In preparation for the exam, students read a study guide about the Labor Movement and its contributions to American history and its impact on the American economy, society, and quality of life. For more information about the scholarship program, visit http://www.


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Common Ground

JUNE 2012

Page 17


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Common Ground

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Common Ground

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A monthly newspaper designed to highlight unions in new england.


A monthly newspaper designed to highlight unions in new england.