Monday, December 27, 2021

What 2022 could bring in Albany


Being able to predict what our state government will do is increasingly difficult.


Covid and responses to it have really upended what the expectations for government are – by it and the people. Also, the one-party rule that came to be in the November 2018 elections has loosened the reins for the Democrat Party allowing advancement of ideas once thought dead on arrival.


Then, there’s the wild card – Kathy Hochul. Since becoming Governor in August she hasn’t had to do the politicking side of public policy, so we don’t know what to expect when she presents her budget and works with the Legislature to develop her and their vision of the future.


If I had to take a stab at what could happen in Albany in the upcoming legislative session, amidst all this uncertainty, I’d bet on these five…


Bereavement leave: In 2018, the Legislature voted overwhelmingly (61-1 in the Senate, 111-32 in the Assembly) to add a bereavement leave benefit to the state’s relatively new paid leave program. Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed the bill that would have allowed up to 12 weeks of paid leave, at two-thirds salary, for someone who lost a family member. Cuomo was against it because it would have been too burdensome on employees (it’s worker-funded through premiums) and employers (12 weeks was considered an exorbitant amount of time). I wouldn’t be surprised if they go back to the drawing board and pass a leave package in the 4 to 6 week range.


Child care: There was a time when Hochul left the workforce due to child care, so she brings a perspective that Alpha Male Cuomo never understood or had been willing to understand. Child care has also become one of the hot topics of the day, especially with the ongoing labor shortage and many claiming it’s a result of the lack of access to affordable care. So, expect many such bills to come to the floor. The one that will likely get the most consideration was recently introduced by Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblywoman Sarah Clark. The Early Learning Child Care Act would provide free child care to families that earn up to four times the federal poverty level while also providing a sliding scale of aid based on income up to ten times the designation. This benefit would be funded by taxes of one-half to one percent levied against businesses with payrolls in excess of $2.5 million.


Auto mileage taxes: While a bill might not be passed in 2022, real conversations will and must be had about taxing electric vehicles for miles traveled, a revenue that would otherwise be gleaned from gasoline taxes other drivers pay. While electric cars represent just a small portion (88,000) of the 4.4 million personal and commercial vehicles registered in New York State, their number has grown almost fourfold since 2016 and they are our future: In September, Hochul signed into law a goal for all new passenger cars and light-duty trucks to be zero-emission by 2035. Thirteen years is the blink of an eye, and the state needs to ready itself immediately for the road to that goal.


Significant changes in benefit eligibility: Between the state raising the minimum wage to $15 on Long Island and $13.20 in upstate this Friday, and the incredible growth in wages in defiance of the labor shortage that has for all intents and purposes driven the de facto minimum wage dollars above those rates, New Yorkers from all sectors and regions are earning much more than they were a year ago. Once the dust settles from 2021, lawmakers will be taken aback by how high wages have gone and how that will, under current income thresholds, make many families ineligible for dozens of social welfare and support programs. The government can’t have that – it wants and needs people to be beholden to it and there are too many people in government earning an income or gleaning power from administering such programs. So, expect deep debates about making wholesale changes to the thresholds and raising them dramatically, especially since, one, they are big drivers of the budget and, two, inflation may have redefined what a living wage is.       


Covid vaccines for kids: Multiple times this month, whether on television talk shows or at public addresses, Hochul touched on a topic that’s one of the more divisive and controversial in public health – that is, mandating Covid vaccines for schoolkids. She made it known that she favors a mandate for children, but it’s not something she can do through executive order, especially since she’s stripped of the nearly-limitless powers Cuomo had. Such rules are at the behest of the Legislature. Given the number of bills already proposed for such an endeavor, and the support for such a thing from, especially, downstate lawmakers, expect this to become law beginning with the 2022-2023 school year.


2022 will be “interesting”, for sure. For the first time since January of 2011, there’s a new Governor in town, and that in itself will add to the reams of possibilities, never mind that we’re still trying to navigate a vast number of socioeconomic crises. Brace yourselves for the good, the bad, and the ugly.     



From the 27 December 2021 Greater Niagara Newspapers, Batavia Daily News, and Wellsville Sun

Good health doesn’t have to be overwhelming


We’re to the point now that society has quietly come to grips with the fact that Covid isn’t going away. It’s endemic. It’s “seasonal.” It’s here to stay.


With that realization should come preparation for the future. We need to improve health outcomes, adding that to the arsenal of endeavors undertaken to combat this coronavirus, for Covid hasn’t been kind to those with health issues. So-called “comorbidities” like obesity, diabetes, COPD, and heart disease have conspired with the virus to bring a premature demise to far too many people.


It should be a primary goal of public health officials to highlight that and we as individuals to do the best that we can for ourselves -- and ultimately our families who could be left in Covid’s wake if we don’t.    


Because of that and the time of year, what with 2022 around the corner, there’s a chance that diet and exercise are on readers’ minds now.


But, sometimes, goals and achievement don’t go hand in hand. Surveys show that 80 percent of New Year’s resolutions fail by February 1st. It’s difficult to break old habits and make news one. A wholesale change of lifestyle can be a little overwhelming.


It doesn’t help that there’s an incredible amount of opinion. There are too many ideas out there of what you should and shouldn’t do and eat -- with a lot of those idea-makers looking to make a decent buck off you, for good or for bad.


I’ll add to that cacophony and tell you to take a step back. Simplify. Living a healthy lifestyle is far easier than what all the books, magazines, and gym rats will tell you. You can make your health a manageable priority by getting down to the basics.


I turned 47 this week. I’ve been pleased at where I’ve been, health-wise, in my middle age. Great blood pressure. A resting pulse in the 50s. A good BMI. This comes despite the constraints of running a business, volunteering, and coming home to a full house (not to mention everything that you expect to happen to your body as you age).


I’ve gotten to this point by really simplifying my approach to personal care a few years ago. I found the attainment of health to be easy under a handful of rules that will work for anyone, regardless of age or schedule.


Find exercise you’ll enjoy.


The best way to get physical activity is to make sure that it doesn’t feel like work. Find something you like doing that gets the blood following for at least a half hour at time, something that you won’t bore of and hate doing. You don’t need that expensive exercise bike or a full-featured gym membership – unless that’s your cup of tea. Choose running, kayaking, weightlifting, tennis; whatever you enjoy.


I like the outdoors and punching things. My workouts are either a brisk hour-plus hike or going 10 rounds with a heavy bag, mixing in pushups to exhaustion between each round. Those routines give me the aerobic conditioning, physicality, and added mental benefits that I need.


Realize that life happens.


It’s completely unrealistic for you, your doctor or trainer to expect you to get intense exercise every day. You have work, your kids’ activities, and your own social events. Don’t beat yourself up for missing a day here and there (it is believed that this guilt often drives people away from exercise because they haven’t met their or others’ expectations). If you get 5 days a week, even 4, consider yourself successful. You don’t have to live at the gym or on the trail to impact your well-being.


Eat a balanced diet.


Keto. Vegan. No sugar. High protein. Gluten-free.


Fad diets have become such a mess that some people, depending on the system, wrongly believe that fruits or all meats are bad for you.


Don’t rob your body and brain of necessary nutrients and energy. You’re always better off getting what you need not from vitamins and supplements but rather from a colorful and diverse palette of lean meats and fish, vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy and healthy fats. Eat a little bit of everything (except processed foods). The fresher and closer to nature, the better.


Practice portion control.


The most important part of maintaining appropriate weight and not developing obesity and all that comes with it is portion control. I pack my lunch, brining with me a single, appropriately-sized serving of whatever my gruel might be. Small glass or plastic containers keep me from overdoing it.


Similarly, if I do find myself having a business lunch I tend to bring half of it home with me. American restaurants treat consumers well -- too well! -- and you really shouldn’t eat all they give us in one sitting. Remember, leftovers are just as tasty the second day (and they save you money).


Keep a journal.


It’s human nature to think we do better than we actually do. We might think we exercise enough and eat appropriately. By maintaining a small notebook noting what you eat and how you exercise you’d be surprised at how often we don’t follow our own rules. A journal will keep you honest, show where improvements can be had, and give you the ability to celebrate successes.   


Best of luck in the New Year and in the coming years. Hopefully these simple rules can help you get the results you want.


From the 20 December 2021 Greater Niagara Newspapers, Batavia Daily News, and Wellsville Sun.

The right to disconnect


Wireless technology has been a boon to businesses as it gives them unprecedented access to clients and workers while considerably speeding-up various functions.


That same technology has also been a bane to their workers. The ubiquitous smartphone has become a ball-and-chain, weighing them down and making them accessible to their bosses, customers, and the grind of work at all hours of the day and night and even while on vacation.

In my personal and professional dealings, I’ve witnessed far too many people frustrated, even burned out, over the unfretted access that their employers have to them. I’ve had many a meeting interrupted by someone’s phone going off. I’ve watched as my friends have had to take calls or answer emails long after they’ve left the office. This 24/7 routine can sap the enjoyment out of work -- and life.

Surveys have shown that after the close of the workday 40% to nearly 50% of white-collar workers remain connected right until the next. Other studies have shown that people can’t get away, even when they are away. More than 80% stay connected to the office while on vacation, checking in at least once a day.

It’s an epidemic and it’s not just Corporate America that is to blame. I’ve seen small businesses and non-profits exert the same amount of unnecessary pressure on their workers. No one can rest. If they do, they are blasted by supervisors or ripped by their customers. Many workers are willing participants in this mess, feeling guilty if they haven’t checked their emails or messages in the evening or on the weekend.

Why is this expected of everyone? Just because the technology exists, it doesn’t mean we should abuse it.


I have a policy at Confer Plastics, often given to needy customers, that says my coworkers are off-limits after hours, on the weekends, and on vacations. We don’t want them to take their work home with them because quality of life is contingent on a good job and it’s also contingent on a life outside of that job. Plus, a fulfilled employee, one who can maintain a free personal life, is a better employee overall. The rule at the office is that our people must follow the same standards when dealing with our customers and suppliers. We can’t bother them on their time, either.

It may seem old-fashioned or outdated to some business managers since we live in a 24-hour world. But, everyone needs to realize that constant connectedness with cellular technology is maybe 15, 20 years old. The business world did just fine before that and it will be just fine when today’s technology goes the way of the telegraph.

If we can do it with a 24/6 facility and products that are sold to and competing against companies from all over the world, other employers can do it, too. If they keenly focus on what matters most during business hours - high levels of effective customer service and the very best product quality - there is no need to harass employees after they’ve punched out for the day. Let them be people – and not just assets to your company – and you’ll find they’ll be more productive and they might even stay with you for a while.

Likewise, workers need to disconnect when not at the office. How many of you willingly, even subconsciously, glance at your aggravating smartphones and pine for simpler times? That bygone era is just one power button away. Use it. Turn off the phone at night when you are trying to relax or spend time with your children. Be you on the weekends. Make a vacation an actual vacation. Your workplace will still be there the next day and so will the work -- get it done then.


I bring all this up now because we shouldn’t have to go down the public policy path of recognizing the ability to disconnect as a worker’s right; it should be private policy. But, we’re on the way to that, as precedent was set last week north of the border, where the Ontario government a passed law that other North American governments will choose to emulate.


The Working for Workers Act requires Ontario businesses with 25 people or more to have a written policy about employees' rights when it comes to disconnecting from their job at the end of the day. These workplace policies would include expectations about response time for emails and phone calls, while encouraging employees to turn on out-of-office notifications when they aren’t working, all while opening the door to appropriate compensation for after-hours activities.


It’s not out of the question that New York lawmakers will follow suit in the upcoming session or the next. In recent years, the Assembly and Senate have dabbled in countless forms of worker-focused legislation from the passed (like paid family leave and paid sick leave) to the proposed (such as predictive scheduling and bereavement leave). The right to disconnect fits with that motif.


In the meantime, and without that legal pressure, if you put undue pressure on your workers, suppliers, or self, just stop. There’s a new year coming up, resolve to approach the work-life balance in new ways. Disconnect and let others do the same.    


From the 07 December 2021 Greater Niagara Newspapers, Batavia Daily News, and Wellsville Sun