Each year I produce a holiday message of hope and renewal.
This year our reason to rejoice is the creation of a vaccine that will conquer the Corona virus. This is the best Holiday gift we could have dreamed. The scientists deserve our applause and gratitude, and that goes to the caretakers as well, but this recent achievement brings me back to a heart-warming story that took place years ago.
The Steve Allen Variety Show was a late-night TV show and was the forerunner of shows like Johnny Carson, David Letterman and Jay Leno. Allen was a high intellect performer in the field of comedy and other talents.
The Polio virus was running rampant in the 1950’s and 1960’s. It was a dreaded crippling disease that was the cause of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s health affliction. Polio attacked the muscular system and often resulted in the afflicted person needing an “iron lung”. The iron lung was a totally encompassing device that covered the entire body with only the head exposed. The rhythm of the air pressure inside the device replaced the function of the diaphragm and allowed the patient to process oxygen. Other victims of the disease lost the use of limbs and some just died.
Polio was finally brought to a halt through the efforts of Dr. Jonas Salk, who created a vaccine that was very effective. There were subsequent vaccines that also were effective. These vaccines brought the epidemic to a close
Years later Mr. Allen was asked to be the featured speaker at a dinner to honor Dr. Jonas Salk. While at home and getting dressed the night of the dinner. Allen’s teenaged daughter asked her father what was the occasion? Mr. Allen said with some pride in his voice “I will be honoring the accomplishments of Dr. Jonas Salk.”
“Who is Jonas Salk?”
“Dr. Salk created the Polio vaccine.”
Allen was stunned that she did not know what polio was. He thought about that for a moment and promptly discarded his prepared speech. When he got up to speak that evening, he told of the story of that discussion with his daughter. He told the audience the greatest tribute to this remarkable doctor was that a person her age had no idea what polio was. The best tribute to Dr. Salk is that our children never have to think about it. It is gone forever.
I hope this adds a little cheer to these Holidays
Merry Christmas-Happy Chanukah
On December 4, Keith Rooney of National Grid spoke to the members of LIMBA (Long Island Metro Business Action) on December 4 to discuss the latest developments in energy production.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Mr. Rooney said, 800 employees worked from home. Some of these control center workers were sequestered up to eight weeks, where they lived on the property. They slept in trucks and on cots, working around the clock. Field operators kept working constantly “since Day One.”
In support of the local community, National Grid collected over $1 million to help their most vulnerable customers. The company funded over 30 food banks on Long Island and provided PPE and medical supplies to local police and fire departments. They also provided food for the frontline workers. Other organizations they helped included Island harvest, Hope House Ministries, United Way and SCCC, among others.
National Grid also froze shutoffs for their customers as part of its “Operation National Grid Cares.” The company, seeing that businesses and residents were suffering financially as a result of the lockdowns, continued to provide service to those customers, regardless of their ability to pay. The company also gave out turkeys to more than 150 customers in need in Riverhead. “I’ve been here 32 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said.
The Williams Project is “dead.” Mr. Rooney explained the project would have served National Grid’s service territory and been connected to a line in Flatbush, Brooklyn, bringing natural gas to Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island. The project took three years and, after the necessary environmental permits couldn’t be obtained, the states of New York and New Jersey stepped in. Now that the project has been denied, National Grid has demand response programs in place, incentivizing larger natural gas consumers to reduce their peak loads during the coldest parts of the day.
National Grid is working with the lab at SUNY-Stony Brook on creating a hydroblending transmission system that supplies renewable energy to the facility. “That’s exciting stuff because that’s going to reduce gas usage,” Mr. Rooney said.
The future of energy is clean technology, Mr. Rooney said, adding that National Grid is doing its part. Over the past 10 years, the company has invested money into wind, solar, battery storage and electricity. In addition, it has incentivized its employees to “go green” by providing them with $5,000 toward the purchase of an electric vehicle. “You have to adapt and overcome right now,” he said. “We have to change to become a clean energy company.”
Mr. Rooney said the company has a policy team in place at Metrotech in Brooklyn; its members look how to be compliant with the state’s environmental policies. “We are driving the change and doing what we can,” he said. The company has also invested in Geronimo, a solar energy company. Mr. Rooney said National Grid wants to develop wind and solar farms on Long Island, but, because of the lack of available land, it will have to look to upstate New York.
One of the LIMBA members suggested switching to geothermal energy since it puts out fewer emissions than natural gas and fossil fuels. While Mr. Rooney agreed, he said the issue is making it scalable and affordable.
When asked if National Grid has software programs in place to distribute natural gas, Mr. Rooney said the company uses its software systems for crisis management. It used software to create a robocall system; if there is an outage of 25 houses or more in the same area, customers will receive a call that there is a gas outage and an estimated amount of time until service resumes. From its control centers, employees can use remote shutoff valves on the southern coast of Long Island in the event of a major storm or natural disaster.
Another project that Mr. Rooney mentioned was the one at the Newtown Transfer Station. He said National Grid has been working with the city on this project and is expected to go live soon. The project entails taking human waste and converting it into renewable gas to power 80 homes locally. National Grid is also putting renewable gas out to transmission in Staten Island and is currently working on another renewable gas project on eastern Long Island.
Thanksgiving is very different this year. I have lost two friends that I know about and that is distressing, but we should not forget that even this year has its up-side.Our people are anticipating an end of a scourge that has been as concerning as anything I can remember in my lifetime. This pandemic has made me more aware of how much we miss our families, associates, and friends when we cannot interact with them as freely as we used to.
The concerted effort to create an effective vaccine has produced several workable alternative vaccines. The fact that we have several manufacturers probably means that a ready supply will be available sooner than we originally expected. We are thankful to the science that is making this happen.
We are thankful to the thousands of medical people who risk their own lives every day, and that army of unsung heroes that bring food to market, drive our buses, and trains, the police and firefighters who must always be there for the rest of us.
There are also other things we should be happy about. We just elected a president where 153 million people voted. That amount of participation never happened before. We should rejoice that so many of our citizens thought that making our voices heard was important and we are thankful to them all, regardless of how they voted.
I started by saying that Thanksgiving is different this year. It is, but it is not bleak. I think we are a little like the soldier returning from the war. We want to get busy making things better. We are glad to be able to envision a new day.
From all of us at LIMBA
On November 20, Suffolk County Police Commissioner Geraldine Hart addressed the participants in LIMBA (Long Island Metro Business Action). She talked about the effect of bail reform on the county, the department’s efforts to reach out to the community and policing during COVID-19.
At the beginning of this year, bail reform took effect in New York State. This included the elimination of cash bail and discovery reform, which Commissioner Hart called “a major switch for us.” For discovery, all surveillance videos, undercover recordings and 911 calls had to be given to the defense counsel. “That was a tremendous undertaking,” she said.
Since bail reform was enacted, she said, there was a 210% increase in arrested individuals being released on their own recognizance. She said the problem with those who are repeatedly arrested don’t get the help they need, whether it is homelessness, drug abuse or mental health issues. While she agreed that bail reform was needed, she added this was done “wholesale” without any input from local law enforcement, which she found “troubling.” The only bright spot was that the turnaround for discovery was pushed back from five to 35 days, which she said was “a big help for us.”
While Commissioner Hart has seen a drop in violent crime, she has seen an increase in commercial burglaries and auto thefts. For the former, she met with local Chambers of Commerce on how local businesses can protect themselves from theft.
When the COVID-19 crisis started to hit Suffolk, Commissioner Hart said, the department acted quickly, sending out memos to the community, including Spanish-language announcements to Latino communities. They also made robocalls to high schools to alert them of the virus.
“In March, we tackled internally,” she said. “We made sure plans were in place to make sure our essential programs were still running.” This included doubling the number of patrols, sending reports to Telserv rather than to the officers, and adding more beat patrol officers from graduating cadets. As a result, the department had a lower number of infections. “These officers took COVID seriously,” she said. “They were worried about bringing home the disease to their families.”
During the month of April, they reviewed the number of COVID cases in Suffolk. Meanwhile. they worked to get ventilators to hospitals. They also asked businesses to comply. She said, despite what was reported in the media, the noncompliance rate for businesses was only 4%.
In order to improve community relations, Commissioner Hart is requiring officers to record examples of community engagement in which they took part. It could be a pickup game of basketball or talking with a local merchant. In addition to recording crime statistics, officers will be recording statistics regarding community engagement. Going forward, she said, officers considered for promotion will be moved up based on their community engagement. “Community policing isn’t just attending fairs and picnics, it’s about identifying problems and solving them together,” she said.
Officers sat in on four three-hour listening sessions where they heard from local residents about their encounters with police and what could be improved. In addition, she sent out a community survey about interactions with the police. “It’s an opportunity for us to do a better job,” she said. “We aim to be a better department.”
There are other ways that policing has changed in Suffolk, Commissioner Hart said. That includes having 10% of the officers who can speak Spanish and one officer in the squad who is trained in crisis intervention.
In the wake of the death of George Floyd, there were over 240 protests in Suffolk, according to Commissioner Hart. However, there was no property damage and no major incidents. But when protestors marched on and blocked the highways, police had to clear the roads after a protestor was hit by a car. Rather than arrest the protestors, Commissioner Hart reimagined policing — as required by an executive officer by Governor Cuomo — by issuing tickets under the Vehicle Traffic Law, which prohibited protestors from blocking roads. That way, it didn’t criminalize protestors’ First Amendment rights.
In the event an officer is charged with unlawful behavior, Commissioner Hart said, the officer would be suspended without pay; she cannot fire the officer immediately. If the officer refuses to resign, the case would go to arbitration, which can be very expensive and time-consuming. However, she noted that the police do a great job and the positive news doesn’t generate that much publicity.
Of the challenges she sees as commissioner, she said the two are communications because of the size of the department and the operating budget, in which the revenue has been impacted by the coronavirus. Commissioner Hart is hoping that the incoming presidential administration will come through with federal funding.
On October 9, Patrick Guidice, the business manager for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1049, was the guest speaker at LIMBA (Long Island Metro Business Action). He discussed how organized labor makes a positive impact on Long Island’s economy.
IBEW Local 1049, which was formed in 1937, currently has 49,000 members. The union represents gas line mechanics, electric transmission workers, call center operators and customer service representatives for local utilities such as National Grid, PSEG and, most recently, Altice USA. In addition, the union is very involved in the community, supporting organizations such as United Way of Long Island and the March of Dimes. Local 1049 also works with veterans’ groups which provide assistance to veterans living with PTSD and other disabilities.
Mr. Guidice said younger people should look into joining a union because these jobs provide livable wages that make it more affordable for them to live on Long Island. Union benefits also include generous health and retirement plans. “That’s the best stimulus for our economy,” he said. “It’s all about the economy and getting people to invest in the local economy. By investing more, it helps everyone. It’s a cycle and we are proud to be a part of that cycle.” He also noted that some have taken these jobs later in life: one lineman used to be a lawyer and another worker was a trader on Wall Street.
He visits local high school and college students at career fairs in an effort to get them interested in the trades. Two public colleges — SUNY-Oneonta and SUNY-Cortland — offer line worker courses as part of their curricula. To work as a line worker or other union job, applicants must have a high school diploma or equivalent, a permit for a commercial driver’s license and no criminal record.
Both Local 1049 and Local 25 offer apprenticeships for young people to train them for certain positions. It is for three-and-a-half years and, once they complete the program, they will have the opportunity to work in the field. They will learn how to climb poles and how to work on an elevated position from 40 feet above the ground. The starting salary for a line worker is $28 an hour; every six months, they receive a step increase in pay. There is also overtime available. Mr. Guidice said that workers can expect to make six-figure salaries within three-and-a-half years.
However, “it’s not easy work and it’s not for everyone,” Mr. Guidice said. “Climbing up 40 feet is not a natural act.”
Those who are interested in being an apprentice must undergo an interview, similar to a job interview. They must look presentable, they have to answer questions whether they are a good fit for the program and they have to be prepared, which means learning what the prospective employer does. They also need to know which vocation they will enter into. “You can do anything you want to in life,” Mr. Guidice said. “You just need to aim for your goal.”
Mr. Guidice was asked about the diminishing numbers of unions and the low number of women and minorities in union membership. In response, he said, “We are omitted to ensure that we have the best-trained people, and we are adaptable to every emerging technology.” He also emphasized that his union has encouraged women to take on more nontraditional roles in the union, such as line and utility workers, and has seen more minorities join its ranks.
With the 2020 election season nearing the end next month, Mr. Guidice emphasized that they openly support candidates who, in turn, support organized labor, regardless of their political affiliation. He
thanked the Long Island Federation of Labor for its work in holding elected officials accountable.
On September 25, economist Dr. Martin Cantor spoke to members of LIMBA (Long Island Metro Business Action) about the future of Long Island’s economy. He said that the COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged the nation’s economy, especially on Long Island, where downtowns were “decimated” by the closures of small businesses in these areas.
With 70% of the nation’s economy being consumer-driven, Dr. Cantor said, fewer people were shopping out of “fear” of the pandemic. When people don’t spend money, retail establishments suffer. Even online sales cannot save them.
Dr. Cantor also noted that a lot of the businesses that closed down did not have enough cash reserves to cover their losses. As a rule of thumb, he recommends to his business clients that they keep at least six months of cash reserves.
According to Dr. Cantor, 152,000 jobs were lost on Long Island due to the pandemic. Most of those jobs were in the restaurant industry. With the fall season coming and limited indoor dining, he said, many restaurants are closing their doors. Another 50,000 jobs were lost in the tourism, hotel and small retail industries, which, Dr. Cantor said, will not be returning to Long Island.
“There are a lot of businesses I see that pay 100% of the rent, 100% of the utilities, yet they are only operating at 25-50%,” Dr. Cantor said.
Airlines have been impacted as well, with 40,000-60,000 jobs lost, said Dr. Cantor. These losses also affect the surrounding communities. Each job loss in that industry equals 1.5 jobs lost in the local economy.
The pandemic has also impacted county governments. Dr. Cantor said that the Nassau and Suffolk County governments have combined deficits of over $1.5 billion. He credited the Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA) for overseeing Nassau’s finances and ensuring that spending would be kept in check. If it weren’t for the COVID-19 pandemic, “Nassau would’ve had a balanced budget,” he said. Suffolk, however, has “made no concerted effort” to rein in spending. County government expenditures should only be used for public health and public safety and not for redundant services provided by the state.
Dr. Cantor talked about plans by elected officials to raise taxes on the top 1% to plug the budget holes, but he said that wouldn’t work because millionaires “can’t pay for everything.” He also opposes “congestion pricing,” which imposes surcharges on fares for taxis and ride-shares for driving into certain parts of New York City. He said that “people can’t afford it.”
New York State leads all other states in the number of residents moving to other parts of the country, according to Dr. Cantor. Most of those who leave the state are the upwardly mobile, including the wealthy and the upper-middle class. Last year, 50,000 Long Islanders left the state. The exodus could be attributed to rising home prices and the lack of houses on the market. Some of these homes that aren’t being sold are occupied by seniors who wouldn’t be able to afford a new house f they were to sell their current one.
With more people working remotely, Dr. Cantor foresees a decline in commercial real estate and construction because of less demand for office space. He also noted that New York City residents are able to work out of their second homes on the East End without having to check into the office.
Dr. Cantor said it would take between six and 12 months for the economy to return to normal. Further, it would take the “bold leadership” of elected officials to lead their localities through the economic morass; doing do would allow these municipalities to be economically sustainable with federal funding by 2021.
Labor Day 2020- Ernie Fazio
As I was typing these words I looked down at my hands pecking away at the keyboard it occurred to me, that these hands are capable of creating wealth. The skills of these hands and the brains of all who work are the source of all of our wealth. The portent of that realization is profound.
It begs major questions about the way that society values our work.
But these days the person on the scaffold , the person operating the drill press, the scribe who is writing the book, the grocery store clerk, and the hospital employee is undervalued and that is a threat to a democratic society. Anyone who works a 40 hour week and has a steady employment should be able to afford a place to live, feed his family, educate his children and take a vacation.
Under the administration of Franklin Roosevelt laws were put on the books to protect the workers. FDR saw the effects of runaway power of the corporations. Then as now, the financial power was in the hands of too few. He was also convinced that the concentration of financial wealth was responsible for “The Great Depression” The theory being that when there is a financial contraction there is no distributed pool of wealth in the hands of the ordinary citizen to keep the economy going.
The Wagner Act was the major legislation that gave legitimacy to the labor movement and it included the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) It became a powerful tool to right some of the inequities that existed in 1929. That legislation gave rise to the robust economy that emerged for many years after its passage.
Unfortunately, ever since then, and especially since the 1980’s administration after administration has weakened the power of labor. This administration installed an anti-labor lobbyist as Secretary of Labor. As labor grew weaker, income inequality grew more pronounced. The result of having weak labor put us in a situation now that was similar to 1929. Union membership today is lower than it has been in the last 50 years, and the people are poorer.
When the Covid 19 pandemic paralyzed the economy it took no time at all to trash it because the population had so little reserves to fall back on. When a large portion of the citizens have no savings it does not take much to cause economic calamity
The lesson we should have learned is that without the power to negotiate we cannot look forward to equity in the distribution of wealth. Unions provide that avenue. We cannot, and should not rely on government to distribute the benefits of a capitalist society. A minimum wage law is useful, but it is not the answer.
What is the Wagner Act?
The Wagner Act, also known as the National Labor Relations Act of 1935, prohibits employers in the private sector from engaging in unfair labor practices and gives employees the right to establish labor unions, conduct strikes and negotiate benefits, working conditions and compensation.
On September 4, former New York State Chief Justice Sol Wachtler was the guest speaker at LIMBA (Long Island Metro Business Action). Mr. Wachtler shared his views on the current judicial system and the political landscape that he believes has compromised the judicial system.
During the Korean War, Mr. Wachtler was stationed as a military officer in Georgia. At that time, all branches of the armed forces were integrated. His first case involved a Black soldier who was arrested for disorderly conduct, destruction of property and resisting arrest. He received a phone call from the local police department asking if they should hold him; Mr. Wachtler said that the MPs will pick him up and return him to the base. (Soldiers who are arrested by local law enforcement are then turned over to the military to stand trial.)
While living in the rural South, Mr. Wachtler said, he witnessed “bigotry beyond comprehension.” He saw how Blacks were not allowed in restaurants and made to use separate facilities from white people. When he spoke to the police officer, Mr. Wachtler said, he used a racial epithet in reference to the soldier. He also said he experienced prejudice firsthand; as a child, he would be beaten up in school because he was Jewish. The evangelical churches in the area also exhibited an animosity towards Catholics.
In talking about how government functions, Mr. Wachtler said he is glad to see a system of checks and balances in place — that is, no branch of government can have power over the other. When he was appointed chief state justice by then-Governor Mario Cuomo, he said the governor could not influence him to make certain decisions. When President Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, once they joined the Court, the president could not force them on rule on a case in a certain way.
When he ran for Nassau County Executive in 1967, Mr. Wachtler’s campaign hired a pollster to determine what his message should be. This was the time of the “Long Hot Summer,” when race riots broke out throughout the country. The pollster urged Mr. Wachtler to run on a law-and-order platform (similar to what President Trump is doing during his reelection campaign), saying the nation is very divided. He told the pollster that he didn’t want to mention anything about the riots, but rather focus on coming up with solutions to fix the county’s problems.
One of the attendees asked why there are so many unqualified state judges sitting on the bench. Mr. Wachtler said that, in New York State, the judges are elected, not appointed, which he calls “a travesty.” He added that people vote for these judges without knowing who they are or what they stand for. Further, the candidates are appointed by the political parties. Mr. Wachtler said that only “the best and brightest minds” should be worthy of judgeship.
On August 21, Huntington Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci was the guest speaker at LIMBA (Long Island Metro Business Action). The main topics included the town’s response to the coronavirus pandemic and the proposed settlement with the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA).
Mr. Lupinacci said Huntington Station was a “hotspot” at the time of the pandemic and so he had to make sure the town continued to provide essential services. He was in constant communication with Huntington Hospital for guidance and kept in touch with county officials and the village mayors within the town.
Town Hall closed down after a couple of employees tested positive for the virus. After a few months, after consulting with medical officials, it reopened, but Mr. Lupinacci emphasized it was a slow reopening.
Mr. Lupinacci talked about the precipitous drop in coronavirus cases in the state and on Long Island. However, he said, people should be ready for a second wave of the virus and urged everyone to continue wearing a mask.
He acknowledged that the virus impacted the government’s revenue collection efforts. Because construction projects were put on hold, there was a drop in revenue from building permits. The town also suspended paid parking to boost the local economy, but the town never received any money from the parking meters. The biggest hit, he said, was the sales tax collections. To make up the shortfall, he is implementing a hiring freeze within the town.
Two months ago, in an effort to revitalize the town’s economy, Mr. Lupinacci formed a Small Business Task Force. He worked with local Chambers of Commerce to help restaurants plan for outdoor dining. Indoor dining is also allowed, he said, but only at 50% capacity.
Another effect from the coronavirus was food insecurity. Mr. Lupinacci noted how people have lost their jobs and are unable to buy groceries. He has worked with local nonprofits, churches and religious institutions to get grant money to help those in need. Seniors receive five frozen meals a week. In addition, HART, the town’s bus system, assists in delivering meals to those financially affected by the virus.
Mr. Lupinacci addressed the controversy with LIPA. According to the supervisor, LIPA sued the town claiming the property where the utility’s Northport power plant is located was overassessed. As part of the lawsuit, LIPA sought a 90% reduction of its property taxes. He said a public forum was held on the proposed settlement and another one will take place on September 3.
He also discussed some of the latest developments in Huntington. This include an 80-unit apartment building north of the LIRR station in Huntington Station which, he said, is in the final stages. There is also work on a sewage line south of the train station that runs along the Route 110 corridor and ends at Bergen Point in Babylon Town. Mr. Lupinacci added that he is working to attract local businesses on Route 110, where there is available office space.
During Tropical Storm Isaias, Mr. Lupinacci said, more than 1,200 trees came down and, of the 80,000 residents and businesses who were PSEG customers, half of them lost power. For those people, it took them seven to nine days to get their electricity back. He urged residents and businesses to contact the Public Service Commission and their local state Senator if they had a bad experience with PSEG in getting their power back. If a tree falls on their property, they should call the town, and the town will reach out to the proper agency.