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Madam Secretary: A Chat with Joanne F. Goldstein

Movers & Shakers

An abridged version of this article appeared in Labor Life’s September 2011 print edition.

EOLWD’s fight to rebuild, train and empower a vibrant Massachusetts’ workforce 

Mary F Goldstein

Many Guilders hailed Governor Patrick’s inspired choice of Joanne Goldstein as Secretary of EOLWD in January 2010. Throughout a pioneering career as Massachusetts’ first woman attorney to practice union-side labor law, Joanne fought for workers rights and social and economic justice. A 2000 Cushing Gavin Award recipient, she represented unions, and in 1996 became General Counsel for the Utility Workers Union of America. She entered public service, as Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Chief of the Fair Labor Division from 2007-2009 where she managed a team of 50 attorneys and investigators. At EOLWD, she leads the Departments of Unemployment Assistance, Career Services, Labor Standards, Industrial Accidents, Labor Relations, the Commonwealth Corporation, and the Workers’ Compensation system.

In her dynamic 20-month tenure as Secretary of the Executive Office of Labor and Work Development (EOLWD), Joanne Feinberg Goldstein has been on the frontlines of Massachusetts’ ongoing recovery from global recession. Her complex portfolio includes eight major departments that deliver high-profile programs and much-needed services to job seekers, apprentices, union members, claimants, employers, attorneys and researchers.

Collaborative, innovative, and determined, Secretary Goldstein leverages this powerful agency’s staff, policies and resources to get more people trained and back to work, and to spur Massachusetts’ job creation and economic growth.

How is Massachusetts faring? Gauging how Washington and Wall Street’s recent gyrations will impact our state and its recovery efforts will take time. “The good news is that Massachusetts is headed in the right direction,” Ms. Goldstein noted. “Our unemployment rate is currently 7.6% versus 9.2% nationally. Since June 2010, Massachusetts has added 50,000 jobs in total with 60,300 jobs in the private sector alone. Our recovery is faster and stronger than most of the nation. We ranked fourth in economic growth for 2010 among the 50 states.” While these hard-won trends are encouraging, she and her staff see the human cost of unemployment, day in, day out. “Ultimately, everything we do is aimed at improving employment conditions. Everything.”

I have a great bench. “My staff keeps me well informed,” she notes.”But getting out there to just look, listen and talk to people is invaluable.” She visits companies, training sites, and projects across the state to assess, evaluate and shine a bright light on the impact of Workforce Training Funds and other targeted agency programs and grants.

One day, she’s testifying before the Legislative in support of the Sick Leave Bill, or watching a union training center’s class on the latest green construction techniques. On other days, she’s intently listening to job seekers at any of her agency’s 37 One-Stop Career Centers that, as of June 30th, drew 1,042,169 walk-in visits in just one year.

One-Stop Career Centers “Our One-Stop centers are something of a hidden treasure in that they’re under the radar,” Goldstein notes. “They serve the unemployed, transitioning and displaced workers, as well as the underemployed and those seeking to switch careers. There are special programs for veterans, the disabled and older workers.”

She speaks of this One-Stop system and the Career Services Division with an amazed pride in the immense volume of citizen clients who are individually helped and prepared to land employment, often after extensive coaching and/or a training grant to build new employment skills. As a full-service delivery platform, One-Stops offer individual job search, training placements, job development and employer outreach, along with encouragement, digital and social media job search training, one-to-one coaching, job clubs, networking, and practical coping skills. They serve everyone from new graduates to senior executives.

Governor Patrick’s “Development Cabinet” As a core Development Cabinet member, Goldstein works across agency and department lines with Lt. Governor Tim Murray and four Cabinet Secretaries. “The degree of close inter-agency cooperation is remarkable in both formal and informal ways,” she says.  “With the Secretaries of both Economic Development and Education, we’ve launched new workplace development and training programs with businesses, unions, local technical (CS&Ts) schools and Community Colleges. We invest in pro-growth, pro-job initiatives in education, health care, infrastructure and workforce housing. We’re delighted with the traction, practical innovation, and wonderful results this is generating.”

Massachusetts is not Wisconsin In 2011 several Midwest Republican governors and legislatures attacked the collective bargaining rights of public employees. “The fact that Massachusetts is one of a very few states with a Cabinet-level Secretary of Labor says a lot about the Governor’s–and this state’s—attitudes and values about labor. Unions are essential partners at the table and in our economy,” Secretary Goldstein said.

“We’re so fortunate to have a collaborative labor-management community here in Massachusetts,” Ms. Goldstein notes. “And the Labor Guild does so much to nurture that community.  As a state official, it’s a pleasure to operate in an atmosphere where the players might not always agree, but there’s a real and mutual respect. The focus here tends to be getting practical things done, that we all can live with.”

Public employees are not the problem “I am continually impressed by how hard our public employees work under complicated circumstances,” Secretary Goldstein said. “In all our divisions and in other executive agencies, I’ve personally seen the difference that these unheralded workers make in our citizens’ lives. I see how seriously they take their jobs, their sense of mission. How deeply they care about, and root for, the people they serve. So many misperceptions of state workers strike me as deeply unfair.”

Bridging the Skills Gap “My relations with employers and the various business trade associations are quite good,” Ms. Goldstein notes. “We may not always agree, but I find our discussions helpful. They get that I’m a pretty frank person, and what you see is what you get.”

Yet in the area of finding and retraining workers for key entry and mid-level jobs that employers need to run their businesses, they have a flat-out champion. “We are awarding grants to companies that provide on-the-job training,” Goldstein explains, “and our Commonwealth Corporation funds several programs such as the Adult Biomanufacturing Certificate Program at Minuteman Technical School in Lexington, an exciting program training adults for entry-level biotech jobs.”

“People get hung up on titles and labels like IT and say, ‘I don’t know how to write code, so that leaves me out.’, “she says. “That’s nonsense. A laid-off auto mechanic’s knowledge of computerized car components can transfer to the technology or medical device sectors. We try to match people with the right aptitudes in other mechanical or technical areas, and retrain them with new skill sets that employers and start-ups are struggling to find. And we want to do more of this.”

On occasion, employers have requested her assistance in stalled workplace disputes. With her strong background as a labor attorney and negotiator, she’s been able to help private section parties think through their options and reach agreement

A Worcester girl born and raised, Joanne Goldstein is a graduate of the University of Michigan and the Law School at Hofstra University. A Newton resident, she and her husband Edward Goldstein are the parents of three adult children: Michael (and his wife Lindsey), Janna and Jeffrey, and the delighted grandparents of Kaela and Zoe.

EOLWD’s 2011-2012 Plans Asked about her agency’s upcoming projects, the Secretary cited three major pushes.

  • Taking Stock EOLWD will undertake a strategic analysis of its operations and service delivery after several years of intense firefighting and improvisation to meet non-stop crisis-level demands.
  • DUA’s Online QUEST The Department of Unemployment Assistance’s entire QUEST system will come online in 2012, and benefit claimants will have online access to a faster, more streamlined and efficient process. Currently, employers are already online.
  • Joint Task Force on the Underground Economy and Employee Misclassification Secretary Goldstein manages this major Task Force working with Patrick-Murray Administration across state government to combat workplace fraud and protect exploited workers.  “We’ve commissioned a research study to evaluate and pinpoint fair, reasonable and effective techniques to detect serious employment fraud,” the Secretary said. “We find that if a business is using, and typically exploiting, undocumented workers, they tend to cheat in other areas as well.”

Allyson Every is a communications consultant, content marketer and writer who helps organizations tell their stories.  A Labor Guild past-President, she was president of the Boston Globe Employees Association (today the Boston Newspaper Guild Local 31245).  She’s been a writer for MIT, Technology Review magazine, and Sallie Mae, and a PR communications manager and a marketing manager for the Boston Globe. Her clients include businesses, entrepreneurs, non-profits, even a union or two.

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