And some business groups (we're among them) are worried that federal support programs like the PPP that kept the employers afloat during the last surge won't be available this time.
Welcome to a special short work week Monday edition of Need to Knows. There's going to be a lot we all need to know this week.
Biden’s vax-or-test rules are back (for now) The Biden administration's vax-or-test rules (requiring on-site employees at companies with 100-plus workers be tested weekly, if unvaccinated) are back in play.
It had been on hold since Nov. 6, just one day after the OSHA rules were released, after dozens of lawsuits were filed in an effort to stop it because, well, that's how we respond to a public health crisis these days, with lawsuits. (That and mouthwash.)
The rule (often erroneously referred to as a "vaccine mandate," it's not) was supposed to begin Jan. 4. Over the weekend the Labor Department said OSHA won't issue citations for "reasonable, good faith" noncompliance with the testing requirement before Feb. 9, according to NPR.
An added OSHA rule requiring that unvaccinated workers at 100-plus companies wear masks was supposed to kick in Dec. 5. That's now been pushed to Jan. 10.
Several challengers immediately said this weekend that they planned to file, or have filed, appeals with the U.S. Supreme Court.
Inevitably that's where this will be decided.
So far, the Supreme Court seems to be supportive of vax rules. Last week, it refused to block New York’s requirement that health care workers be vaccinated even when they cite religious objections.
Happy hollandaise: Egg crisis averted! It’s looks like that State House stalemate that would have led to shortages of eggs and pork products starting on New Year’s Day has been resolved.
House and Senate negotiators say they’ve agreed on compromise legislation and could send a bill to Gov. Charlie Baker as soon as today, according to Chris Lisinski at State House News.
How our members feel about mask mandates Gov. Charlie Baker ended last week the same way he began it: Saying he has no plans to bring back a statewide masks mandate. Instead, he prefers that individual cities and towns, set their own rules.
In this newsletter last week, I asked if you agreed with Baker's and the Retailers Association of Massachusetts' (RAM) opposition to reinstating a statewide indoor mask rule, or agreed with a growing number of medical experts and lawmakers who are advising the state to reinstate an indoor mask mandate.
Here’s a sample of what you said:
“Bring it on!!! People do not comply voluntarily, so we need a mandate.”
“Hard 'no' to a mandate. Hard 'yes' to advising those with chronic conditions, immune compromise etc. to always wear N95 or better in public. We all take far greater risks every day than being fully vaccinated and unmasked. If you're not vaccinated, I'm sorry for your choice. But it's your choice.”
“If a retail establishment (or town) doesn’t have a mask mandate, then we aren’t going inside. My husband just visited a theater in Watertown for a Met Opera screening. Half of the (well over 70) audience was unmasked, so he turned around & got his ticket refunded.”
“Most people are not at life-threatening risk from this illness. Health care facilities are now being squeezed more by lack of staff due to Ill-advised mandates and catching up on care postponed by fear of the virus."
“I believe there should be a mask mandate by the governor. This helps protect the individual stores from potential 'crazy' people if you can point to the overarching authority...aka the state.”
“COVID is now endemic and people have to accept that and look out for their own health by getting vaccinated and taking care of their basic health needs like staying in shape and practicing good hygiene and nutrition.”
“Newton has a mask mandate (which I am thankful for) - yet one town over they do not... silly! If we try to work together for the greater good, we can fight this COVID and maybe get back to a bit of the 'now' normal.”
“I disagree with RAM president John Hurst. The idea that ‘the views of employees’ should have impact on community health decisions, or that small business owners somehow know more than government officials on matters of public health are, frankly, absurd."
“We cannot repeat last year’s government-led mandate fiasco. Small family-owned businesses, in particular restaurants, that somehow got through last year will be crushed if they must go through another winter of it.”
“I find it ridiculous that some small businesses object to requiring masks. It’s such a minimal thing to do. I won’t go to any shops in Wellesley or Needham that don’t require masks. It’s an easy decision when masks are required in Newton.”
“If a business wants its on-site employees to be vaccinated and tested and wear masks, they are free to make it their policy. If an employee doesn’t like it, then they are free to go to another employer.”
“Dead people tend not to be good consumers, [a mask mandate is] not a difficult choice.”
Needham startup connects students with mental health support A startup operating out of the Needham Workbar (which is also home to your favorite chamber) has raised $5.25 million in angel funding, according to BostInno.
UWill is building an app to connect college students with licensed therapists, that’s currently in use by University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, Fairfield University, University of San Francisco, and the Massachusetts and Michigan state university systems.
Founded in 2019, the company says it has grown by 600% in clients and 2,400% in revenue over the past year.
West Newton Armory plan moves forward The City of Newton is moving forward on a plan to redevelop the West Newton Armory into 100% permanently affordable housing, Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller announced.
Metro West Collaborative Development/Civico Development has been tapped for the project which will include 43 units deeply affordable units for intergenerational family housing. The historic front of the building will be preserved with an addition built behind it.
Opening is expected in 2025.
Other need to knows
Needham’s Planning Board is seeking applications from individuals interested in filling a vacancy on the Design Review Board. A background in landscape architecture, landscape design, or horticulture is preferred. Details.
The MBTA’s reports that its Riverside Line transformation project is complete. The $101.6 million project replaced 25,000 feet of track and 6.5 miles of signals from the Riverside Green Line station in Auburndale/Lower Falls to the Beaconsfield Station in Brookline.
PPP borrowers: If your loan is $150,000 or less, you may be eligible to apply for direct forgiveness through SBA’s online portal. Watch this video for how to use the portal.
Reminder: Minimum wage rises with new year Finally, a reminder thatMassachusetts’ minimum wage increases again on Jan. 1.
Minimum wage increase to $14.25 per hour (currently $13.50)
Tipped wage increase to $6.15 per hour (currently $5.55)
Retail Premium Pay mandate reduces to 1.1 times the employee’s regular hourly rate for work. Blue Law info here.