Change The Massachusetts Flag

Today,  I’m home in Quincy, Massachusetts. This state, like the rest of the United States is on land stolen from Native Americans.

4th of July

Like last year on the 4th of July, it feels right to think about the founding of this country. I consider my birthday a personal new year and a time for self-reflection. Likewise, the birthday of this country is a time to think about the history of the United States — how we can do better now and in the future.

The Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776. But it wasn’t until five years later, in 1781, when the Massachusetts state legislature became the first to recognize the 4th as an official state celebration recognizing the anniversary of the country’s independence.

Receiving a link to sign a petition prompted me to write this post today, on the 244th birthday of the United States. The petition seeks to change the North Quincy High School mascot from the Yakoo, an offensive caricature that stereotypes Native American culture. I signed the petition and immediately thought about the Massachusetts flag.

Massachusetts Flag

When I was in my 20s and working for the state, I remember looking closely at the flag. Previously, I had only noticed the figure of a Native American man standing. But that day, I noticed that there is an arm holding a sword over his head.  A sword over his head!

Taking the Indigenous peoples’ land was bad enough. The flag shows the violence of it. Why should this emblem continue representing our state? Should we be proud of this? I am horrified by the symbolism.

The seal, which is on the flag, goes back to circa 1639, when the Massachusetts settlers adopted it. The sword was owned by Myles Standish, known for his violence against Native Americans as a military advisor for the Pilgrims in the Plymouth Colony in the 1620s.

Many say the the original sin in this country was slavery. As an African-American, I can trace my ancestry back to enslaved African-Americas in Virginia and South Carolina. The exact year enslaved Africans arrived to colonies in the Americas is not clear. Some have said 1619. But that seems to reference English colonies. The European slave trade began in the 1400s and Christopher Columbus may have transported enslaved Africans to the Americas in the late 1490s.

However, looking at the time line, Native Americans were here for thousands of years before European colonizers arrived. The theft of their land and the brutality against them was a sin. Slavery was an additional sin and the timelines intertwine.

Further, when people deem the United States a nation of immigrants, that leaves people out. Some of us were already here. Some of us came here unwillingly. We are a nation of immigrants, and Indigenous people and descendants of Africans who were enslaved in the United States. Let’s include us all.

Take Action

Since we’re at a place in time where symbols of white supremacy continue coming down, it’s well past time to change the Massachusetts flag. Especially as the Trump administration targets the Wampanoag tribe’s land. Is the state of Massachusetts in solidarity with Native Americans or not?

Last year, WGBH reported on the issue and a suggestion for the change could be an easy one. Remove the arm and sword and add a tree. A tree flag was one of the ones used during the American Revolution. Ships sailing from Massachusetts also used the tree flag. So adding a tree would be consistent with Massachusetts history.

For 36 years, the MA Indigenous Legislative Agenda has been working on changing the flag and seal, along with other initiatives as well.

Let’s support current legislation (S.1877 & H.2776) and urge the MA Rules Committee to move the Mass Flag and Seal Bill out of committee. Click on the links to send a letter. See a sample letter below.

I am a resident of (city or town), Massachusetts. I am writing in support of (S.1877 / H.2776) the bill to create a special commission, made up of Native leaders of the area now known as Massachusetts and state legislators, to change the state flag and seal of Massachusetts. The time has come to remove the sword that has been hanging over the heads of the Native people of this land for 400 years! This legislation has been stalled for 36 years in the legislature. Even Mississippi is holding bipartisan discussions now to remove the Confederate symbol from its state flag – which would leave Massachusetts as the last flag of white supremacy flying in the country. This image is a disgrace to the progressive traditions of our Commonwealth, an offense to Native people, and to everyone who upholds the value of racial justice for all. Thirty nine Massachusetts cities and towns have already voted at town meeting or city council to change the Massachusetts flag and seal, and an equal number of legislators now co-sponsor S.1877 / H.2776). Please vote favorably to move the legislation to change the Massachusetts flag and seal forward now.

*Updated 7/17/2020* Yesterday, there was a rally by Native American groups in front of the state house in support of this legislation and it generated some media attention. Governor Baker was asked about it during a press conference and stated that he is open to discussion.

*Updated 7/29/2020* There is real momentum behind this issue and the Massachusetts Senate unanimously approved new legislation (S.2848) to create a special commission. Now it’s up to the House and Governor.

*Updated 8/4/2020* North Quincy High School has changed the image of the Yakoo mascot.

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Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A Hole In The Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law

Cup of tea with lemon for sick day

Being a leap year, there’s an extra day standing between us and spring. So, us New Englanders have to tough out winter even longer. February is the worst of the season and we’re still at the beginning. The cold temperatures usually mean that more of us are sick. CBS News recently reported that because the country has close to full employment, the places where we work have an increase in people, so the flu spreads even easier.

Whether it’s a cold, the flu or some other bug, there’s probably a lot of coughing, sneezing and sniffling where you work. Everyone says if you’re sick, don’t go in. Take a day or two off to rest and get better.

But that’s often easier said than done. Especially so soon after the holidays. Money spent on gifts may have left some in a fragile financial state and the holidays themselves may have been unpaid — further exacerbating the situation. Not all workers have paid holidays.

The time frame from the end of November through mid-January (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) often comes with several smaller weekly paychecks due to all the holidays. So taking unpaid time off at this time of year because of illness may not be an option. If anything, some workers may be trying to work extra time to make up for the money lost.

The Massachusetts Earned Sick Time Law is presumably meant to address most workers, but its focus is on permanent employees within larger companies – 11 employees or more. This law may seem fair on its face, but it’s not always fair in its application. Even though I had been working full time, one year, I ended up not having sick time available to use even though I earned it. Contract workers aren’t able to use sick leave in the same way (or sometimes at all) as permanent workers.

Contract vs Permanent

The term contract employee is used interchangeably with temporary employee. Both terms mean that the employee is hired via a contract for a particular job at a set rate of pay. This worker does not become part of the staff where they work and is not a permanent employee.

According to the American Staffing Association, about 17 million temporary and contract employees are hired each year in the United States by staffing companies. Most work full-time and enjoy having a flexible schedule. The average assignment is around two and a half months and can range from a few hours to several years.

Staffing statistics specific to Massachusetts give some insight as well. Annual sales are $4.3 billion. Each week, 68,100 temporary employees are part of the workforce in this state. Annually, that’s 354,200 people doing contract work in Massachusetts.

47% of these workers are in the engineering, IT and scientific sector. 15% are doing industrial work and another 15% are doing clerical and administrative work in an office. 7% are doing professional or managerial work. 12% are part of an uncategorized sector and 4% work in health care.

I’ve been a full-time contract attorney for many years, working at mostly large law firms in the Boston area. I’ve worked on dozens of projects. They have been as short as one day to as long as nearly four years. But as the previously stated statistics say, most recently, my projects have generally been two to three months.

To keep working steadily, I’m signed up with multiple agencies. Depending upon how long a project lasts, I might work for one agency for a year or more. Or I may work for several agencies for a few weeks and then for a few months. Most of these agencies I have worked with over many years. Each project may be new, but I am not a new employee. There is a work history.

The Problem: Using Massachusetts Sick Time

Earned sick time in Massachusetts provides that workers can earn and use up to 40 hours of sick time per year. Workers earn an hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Employers can have their own policies providing more generous leave options than required by law.

Earning sick time isn’t the problem. The problem is using sick time that has already been earned. The regulations give some clarity. Sick time can’t be used until 90 days after the first date of actual work. Also, after a 12 month break in service, the 90-day vesting period starts again.

When a contractor is working on a project on average for about 75 days and works for multiple agencies, they may not return to the same agency for another year or more. In this scenario, the sick time that they earned is probably lost by the time they return to that employer.

This happened to me. It hasn’t happened often, but I went about one year where I couldn’t use the sick time that I had earned. By the next year, I had lost most if not all of it and had to start the 90 days again. This has also happened to colleagues. If this is happening to us, it might be happening to contractors in different sectors of the workforce as well.

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “approximately 728,000 private sector workers gained access to earned sick time under the law; of those, 431,000 workers lacked paid leave benefits of any kind (including vacation) and are newly eligible to receive leave under the law.”

The Solution: Amend The Law

I’m one of those workers who for the most part didn’t have paid leave benefits before this 2015 law. I’m grateful for it. But hindsight is 2020 and so is the year. Since we’ve had five years to see how this law works, I believe it’s time to take a closer look and amend the law, so it works for more of us.

However, there is another issue. Does anyone care? I’m attuned to the gaps in the law because I have firsthand experience. I was talking to a friend at work about this and she said that nobody cares how it impacts us. It felt quite hurtful, but maybe it’s true.

I plan to contact my state legislators about an amendment — and it may come to nothing. But at least I wrote this and raised the issue. Much like when I wrote about the gap in the Family Medical Leave Act when it comes to siblings. I want others in similar situations to know that they are not alone. It’s happening to other people as well. And even though it may not be most people, someone else does care.

An Extra Hour Today as Daylight Savings Time Ends

Cafe clock showing the hour.

Remember to turn your clocks back tonight and grab that extra hour! I love getting more time today, but I am not looking forward to even less daylight. It’s already dark by 6pm, so tomorrow it will be dark by 5pmmoving us faster into winter.

I’ve been feeling so sleepy lately and feel my inner clock shifting with the season. I’ve been going to sleep earlier and rising earlier as well.

Last week, I took the air conditioners out of the windows. Last night, I put the second blanket on my bed. The flannel sheets aren’t out yet, but soon!

Here in Massachusetts, for the past year, there was serious discussion about remaining in Daylight Savings Time and skipping the time change back to Eastern Standard Time. Our legislature formed a commission that studied the topic in depth and issued a report on November 1st. The report is 47 pages long and leaves the door open for a future change. Below are a few key passages.

No mechanism exists through which Massachusetts could adopt year-round DST, as federal law only allows states to opt out of DST. But the state could effectively achieve that goal by moving from the Eastern Time Zone to the Atlantic Time Zone and then opting out of DST. Several states are considering bills that would move them to year-round DST, including four of the five other New England states. If Massachusetts does move to the Atlantic Time Zone and opt out of DST, then the Commonwealth would be an hour ahead for roughly four months each year. …

Based on its research and findings, and after weighing the costs and benefits associated with the observance of time in Massachusetts, the Commission believes that, under certain circumstances, the Commonwealth could make a data-driven case for moving to the Atlantic Time Zone year-round (effectively observing year-round DST). Although there are appreciable costs associated with making this change, on balance the Commission finds that doing so could have positive benefits that largely stem from the absence of a spring transition to DST and the additional hour of winter evening daylight.

However, the Commission does not recommend a simple switch to the Atlantic Time Zone, and cautions that several qualifiers should accompany future conversations or legislative proposals with respect to how Massachusetts observes time. The Commission offers the following blueprint of concerns for a thoughtful implementation of year-round DST, should Massachusetts ever decide to pursue this policy change:

• Regional action. Massachusetts should only move to year-round DST if a majority of other Northeast states – possibly including New York – also do so. To facilitate regional action, the Legislature and Governor should raise this issue with other Northeastern legislative and executive bodies, including the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments, Coalition of Northeast Governors, and gatherings of New England Governors and Easter Canadian Premiers.

• Later school start-times. Any move to year-round DST should be accompanied by statewide standards for delaying school start-times to mitigate safety issues; improve student academic performance, health, and well-being; and add significantly to the other economic benefits related to year-round DST.

• Public awareness. The Commonwealth should not adopt year-round DST unless it simultaneously commits funding to educate the public about the implications of the change. Even if Massachusetts does not adopt year-round DST, public awareness initiatives about transitions to and from DST would still be beneficial. For instance, public health announcements preceding the spring transition to DST would help residents prepare for the sleep loss caused by the transition so that they could try to mitigate its negative consequences.

It will be interesting to see if within the next decade or so, Massachusetts decides to keep DST, which would move us into the Atlantic Time Zone. If it happens, it will probably be all of New England and maybe New York too. Only time will tell!

Help Massachusetts Veterans By Passing This Legislation: Bill H.3146

Korean War Veterans MemorialLast Sunday morning, a television segment on Korean War Veterans highlighted a sad fact. The Korean War is often called “The Forgotten War” and that three year conflict (1950 – 1953) is largely overshadowed by World War II.

Unfortunately, a small and dwindling group of Korean War veterans in Massachusetts has largely been forgotten as well.

In April 1996, Governor Weld signed legislation allowing veterans still working in the public sector of the state to purchase up to four years of their military service toward their creditable service for retirement. The bill officially became law in July 1996 and affected all those who retired on or after that date.

However, the law leaves out veterans who retired prior to July 1996. Their military service has not been credited toward their retirement benefits. Many of these veterans who have been left out are retired public school teachers. Talk about serving your country!

In January 2001, Representative Edward Connolly filed the first bill at the request of a retirement group, to bring this benefit to those who were retired at the time the bill went into effect. Similar legislation has been filed over the years since then to rectify this oversight. However, none of the legislation has passed.

Marie Ardito, who was profiled in the New York Times, has been a tireless advocate for this group and is 120% dedicated to see this legislation become law. As the Information Coordinator for Massachusetts Retirees United, a nonprofit group, she has been informing the membership about the status of the legislation and working for years to push it forward. Ardito explains how the number of eligible veterans is decreasing.

At the beginning of 2011, we asked the Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement System how many veterans they had listed who had retired prior to April 1996 … They gave us 674 names. Within a 10 month period, of receiving the 674 names given by the MTRS, 17 died or 2.5%.

As of Nov 30, 2011 there were 657 left. As of May 1, 2013 — 30 more are deceased.

As of November 20, 2014, the number given to us from the Massachusetts Teachers’ Retirement System that were eligible for the bill was 454.

Bill H.3146 was filed by Representative James Miceli at the beginning of the current legislative session. On August 26th there was a hearing. But more must be done to make this bill a law. Call or email your state representatives and your state senators to tell them you are in favor of this legislation.

As time goes by, more of these veterans die without receiving benefits that they are entitled to. A 1997 Massachusetts Superior Court decision said that these veterans could not be excluded.

In full disclosure, I learned about this issue, because my father is one of the surviving 454. When he told me, I was so surprised. How could this be? But it is. I think Ardito says it best.

As one ages it becomes important that others value the way you spent your life. So many of those who served and were left behind with the original bill said the thing that matters more than the money is that the service they gave to our country is recognized.

Please, let them see that you listened, you heard, and you acted for them! Please vote H3146 favorably out of the Veterans and Federal Affairs Committee.

The average increase would be about $150 a month— I think the sacrifices they made and the service they rendered to this country is worth at least that amount.

I  am aiming to get this out of committee ASAP as it will be 20 years on July 24, 2016 that they were left behind and 20 years is a long time to have one’s service recognized!

As you think about Veterans Day and how you can pay homage to those who served, helping to get this law passed would be a wonderful start.

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Flickr Photo: Korean War Veterans Memorial – Washington, D.C. by Austin Kirk.