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Patrick signs law to benefit Mass. workers


Patrick signs law to benefit Mass. workers

Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law last week the Majority Authorization bill, a pro-worker bill that will enable Massachusetts laborers to more easily organize.

Joined by Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Suzanne M. Bump, AFL-CIO President Robert J. Haynes and legislative leaders, Patrick signed the legislation Sept. 27 at the AFL-CIO’s 50th convention celebration.

“This bill is about leveling the playing field between labor and management,” Patrick said. “It affirms the Commonwealth’s policy of supporting workers who should be able to bargain collectively for fair wages, decent health care and on the job protections.”

The Majority Authorization bill permits public sector employees to become unionized through a “card check” written option, instead of only through secret ballot elections.

The Massachusetts law is a modified state version of the national Employee Free Choice Act, sponsored by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. In a letter to the U.S. Congress earlier this summer, Patrick signaled his support for the Free Choice Act, which is floundering and recently failed to gain Senate approval in a bid to become federal law.

“By giving individuals the ability to join a union confidentially, without the fear of repercussions, this legislation enables working Americans to more freely assert their legal rights,” said state Sen. Robert O’Leary, D-Cape and Islands, the lead Senate sponsor of the bill.

“This is why working people fought so hard to elect a governor who would take our concerns to heart … Together with the Legislature, we have won a major victory for workers in Massachusetts,” Massachusetts AFL-CIO President Robert J. Haynes said. “Before the ink dries on the governor’s signature, working people’s chances for a better life in Massachusetts will already be improved.”

CDC awards $35M to support HIV testing, increase early diagnosis among blacks

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have awarded $35 million in funding to state and local health departments to increase HIV testing opportunities among populations disproportionately affected by HIV, primarily African Americans.

Massachusetts is one of 23 states that will receive awards, ranging from $690,000 to $5.4 million.

The program aims to test more than a million people in order to increase early HIV diagnoses. Despite comprising just 13 percent of the U.S. population, African Americans account for approximately half of the more than 1 million Americans estimated to be living with HIV.

“HIV among African Americans in our nation remains a major public health crisis,” said Dr. Kevin Fenton, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Diseases and Tuberculosis Prevention.

The CDC estimates that a quarter of those living with HIV — more than 250,000 Americans — do not realize they are infected. The testing effort is intended to identify undiagnosed individuals, especially among those populations disproportionately affected by the disease.

The program’s administration is hopeful that it can diagnose as many as 20,000 people, according to Fenton.

“HIV testing provides a critical pathway to prevention and treatment services to prolong the lives of those infected and help stop the spread of HIV in the hardest hit communities across the United States,” said Fenton.

As part of CDC’s efforts to accelerate progress in reducing HIV among African Americans, the program is being targeted to areas of the nation where blacks have been most severely impacted.

Through the program, HIV tests will be available primarily in clinical settings like emergency rooms, community health centers, STD clinics and correctional health facilities. Facilities receiving funding will follow the CDC’s 2006 Revised Recommendations for HIV Testing of Adults, Adolescents, and Pregnant Women in Health-Care Settings.

Ministers start fund to help homicide victims’ families

The Boston Ten Point Coalition, in consultation with clergy and area funeral home directors, announced the creation of the Ten Point Memorial Fund at a press conference held Tuesday at Eliot Congregational Church in Roxbury.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino joined community leaders and funeral home directors at the conference announcing the fund, set up to assist families facing financial difficulties in the process of burying loved ones lost to homicide.

“Many people, already going through the horror of burying their child, find themselves compounding the grief scrambling with scarce resources to find enough funds to bury their children,” said Rev. Jeffrey Brown, interim executive director of the Ten Point Coalition. “After having conversations with funeral directors, we see a need for the community to respond with aid and assistance.”

To provide that assistance, the fund’s managers are urging churches to give annual support and seeking donations from Boston-area individuals and organizations.

“This is an opportunity for the city to be supportive of families who are often uninsured and unprepared for this level of tragedy,” said Brown. “If you read about or watch these funerals on TV and wonder to yourself, ‘How can we help,’ this is a sure way.”

City, state elections on tap for October and November

The next five weeks will see three local and state elections. The special state election for the Middlesex, Suffolk and Essex Senatorial District will be held on Oct. 9; the special state election for the First Suffolk Representative District will take place on Oct. 23; and the citywide municipal election will be held on Nov. 6.

Polling locations in the City of Boston will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. on election days.

With the elections themselves just weeks away, deadlines for voter registration are fast approaching. The last day to register to vote in the First Suffolk Special State Election is Oct. 3, and the last day to register to vote in the citywide Municipal Election is Oct. 17.

The Boston Election Department will be open until 8 p.m. on both dates to accommodate last-minute registrants. Voters wishing to make address changes or name changes should also make an effort to do so before the deadlines.

The Elections Department is making use of online forms, available at
, to encourage voter registration and verification. The public can download mail-in voter registration forms and check their registration status online. This service is also available in Spanish and Chinese by clicking on the appropriate language selection link.

Commonwealth to receive nearly $12M in emergency energy assistance

Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Mike Leavitt announced last Thursday that Massachusetts will receive over $11.9 million in emergency energy assistance from the federal government’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).

The funds are targeted to help control the expected rise in heating costs as temperatures drop in the coming weeks.

The $11.9 million is Massachusetts’ share of more than $131 million that is being distributed nationally. Of that amount, some $25 million is targeted to states like Massachusetts, in which low-income households primarily use fuel oil to heat their homes. Cold-weather states were the biggest winners in the division of that $25 million; other recipients include Alaska, Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

“The Bush administration is determined to keep the heat on in Massachusetts,” said Daniel Schneider, acting assistant secretary for the Administration for Children and Families. “These funds demonstrate our ongoing commitment to providing for those most in need.”

LIHEAP funding is administered to states through the Office of Community Services in the Administration for Children and Families under HHS. These funds help eligible low-income homeowners and renters meet their heating, insulation or cooling needs.

“Low-income households are more likely to need assistance in the wintertime when temperatures drop,” Leavitt said. “This emergency aid will provide extra resources so Massachusetts can better support its most vulnerable citizens, whether young, elderly or disabled.”

BU names leading virologist to biolab post

Boston University recently announced the appointment of Dr. Elke Mühlberger as associate director of the Biomolecular Production Core Laboratory and investigator at the National Emerging Infectious Diseases Laboratories (NEIDL) currently under construction on the university’s medical campus in the South End.

Mühlberger, a renowned expert on the Ebola and Marburg viruses, is the third specialist named to a high-level post at the biolab facility in a span of less than three weeks, joining husband-and-wife tandem Dr. Thomas W. Geisbert and Joan Geisbert, who were tapped last month.

Dr. Geisbert started his new position as both NEIDL’s associate director and director of the lab’s Specimen Processing Core Laboratory on Monday. Ms. Geisbert will begin her appointment as associate director of the Specimen Processing Core Laboratory and associate director of the NEIDL Training Simulator in February.

Mühlberger will also join the faculty of the BU School of Medicine as an associate professor of microbiology when she assumes her post on March 1, 2008.

Mühlberger comes to BU from the University of Marburg in Germany, where she is currently an assistant professor in the school’s Department of Virology, and she has extensive experience with the type of pathogens that the NEIDL will focus on, overseeing the biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) training program for postdoctoral scientists and graduate students.

BSL-4 is the highest classification of pathogens, referring to dangerous and exotic agents that pose a high risk of disease, such as Ebola.

“Dr. Mühlberger is one of the world’s leading molecular virologists studying the hemorrhagic fever viruses,” said Mark Klempner, M.D., director of the NEIDL and associate provost for research of Boston University’s Medical Campus. “With over 14 years of experience in high-containment BSL-4 laboratory environments, she is also an outstanding mentor for scientists who are working toward understanding how hemorrhagic fever viruses cause disease.”

As associate director of the NEIDL’s Biomolecular Production Core Laboratory, Mühlberger will oversee the day-to-day administrative and research activities of a lab specializing in infectious virology research with a focus on how viruses spread and the molecular biology of infectious viruses.