The time to act is now

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Robert Haynes is president
of the
Massachusetts AFL-CIO.

Our nation’s severe economic recession and the ongoing jobs crisis have changed the context of many policy debates. We face times unlike those that anyone has faced since the Great Depression; now, more than ever, it is imperative for our leaders to take bold steps that will help assure job creation and sustained revenues.

There is a piece of pending legislation that seems all but guaranteed to create a substantial number of good jobs and generate significant public revenues. That legislation centers on expanded gaming here in Massachusetts.

In Massachusetts, nearly 6 out of 10 adults do not hold a college degree. The recession has exacerbated the already frightening trend of blue-collar job loss, and unemployment remains the nation’s most pressing short-term problem.

The Legislature has the opportunity to lead us out of this dire situation. Proposed legislation to expand legalized gaming in Massachusetts will create tens of thousands of new jobs and benefit our cities and towns by generating much needed revenue at a critical time for working families in the Commonwealth. Most importantly, the jobs created by gaming would be accessible to workers who do not have a four-year degree – both in the construction phase and in the permanent staffing of gaming facilities, as well as in a broad range of related industries that will see a boost, such as transportation.

Further, we have the ability as a Commonwealth to ensure that the jobs created by this legislation are good ones, providing a quality standard of living through project labor agreements, job quality standards, employer-funded training programs that promote career advancement, and responsible procurement policies. Nationwide, the gaming industry is heavily unionized, and collective bargaining agreements provide a quality standard of living for workers in this industry. We can ensure this is the case in Massachusetts as well by ensuring fair election procedures for workers who wish to organize.

The cities and towns of Massachusetts are facing budget shortfalls that threaten education, public safety, and infrastructure. Revenues that would help to plug budget gaps are currently going to neighboring states that have already established gaming industries. It is time that we stop being a supplier of revenue to other states and start being a receiver of revenue ourselves. The expansion of gaming in Massachusetts will support the needs of our communities for years to come.

The Massachusetts AFL-CIO does not support the creation of “casinos for casinos’ sake,” but for the number of high-quality jobs that will be created as well as the revenue generated for the state. We also recognize and support the need for programs associated with addiction to drugs, gambling, and alcohol.

Our Legislature has made immense progress in getting the proposed gaming legislation to the point it is at now. The House, Senate and governor should all be commended for their thoughtful proposals to ensure that a maximum number of quality jobs would be created as a result of the legislation.

By passing gaming legislation in the Commonwealth, the biggest need of our state will be met: jobs. Economic and workforce development will result. Better schools will result, and a better standard of living for middle-class families will result. The devastating effects of joblessness and declining revenue are too great not to act now.

We recognize that every issue and idea should come under scrutiny. However, when you weigh the pluses and minuses of expanded gaming in Massachusetts at a time when our state desperately needs an economic shot in the arm, we simply do not believe that there is any responsible choice but to go forward and secure passage of expanded gaming legislation. We encourage our Legislature to act on behalf of our fellow citizens in a way that ensures our economic growth. While there are still differences to be worked out in conference, no one should disagree that workers need legislation passed this session.

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