U.S. Senate candidate Kennedy tours region to discuss proposed initiatives

  • U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III stopped at Four Star Farms in Northfield on Thursday as part of a tour to hear feedback from families, workers and business owners on his newly released “Kennedy Jobs and Justice Initiative.” COURTESY PHOTO

  • U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, at left, examines some hops at Four Star Farms in Northfield on Thursday, where he stopped as part of a tour to hear feedback from families, workers and business owners on his newly released “Kennedy Jobs and Justice Initiative.” COURTESY PHOTO

  • U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III, at left, stopped at Four Star Farms in Northfield on Thursday as part of a tour to hear feedback from families, workers and business owners on his newly released “Kennedy Jobs and Justice Initiative.” COURTESY PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 7/10/2020 4:00:11 PM
Modified: 7/10/2020 4:00:00 PM

U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy III traveled across Western Massachusetts Thursday, hearing feedback from families, workers and businesses on his newly-released “Kennedy Jobs and Justice Initiative.”

Kennedy, a four-term Congressman running for the U.S. Senate against Sen. Ed Markey, announced the initiative Wednesday morning. His tour the following day, during which he sought feedback on the plan from residents and business owners, stopped in Leominster, Northfield, Charlemont, North Adams, Pittsfield and Springfield.

“It’s great to be out of my attic, and out on the campaign trail,” Kennedy said. “It’s nice to be going around the state talking to people, and to get a sense of how folks are immediately dealing with the COVID crisis, or what they feel still needs to take place.”

Multifaceted initiative

The Jobs and Justice Initiative proposes a large-scale public works and federal hiring program designed to both address the acute needs of COVID-19 response, and to remedy the injustices of the modern economy, which long predated the pandemic. Kennedy said “this plan is laser-focused on equality, internationality, anti-racism and continues the fight to reorient the American economy toward the workers that carry it on their backs.”

He said Thursday’s tour provided a chance to listen to community members, and hear how COVID-19 has impacted different people in different industries. One goal, he said, was to acknowledge and address the national and local inequities that have been calcified over years.

“We have the opportunity to tear down what was badly broken and build something better, fairer and stronger in its place,” Kennedy said.

According to Kennedy, the initiative would back municipal governments’ efforts to retain public employees, with a focus on teachers, firefighters, those in community development and other public servants. A second phase of the plan involves the public works program, and federal hiring and training programs aimed to boost the rates of minority and women workers in underrepresented fields. The initiative also aims to create training programs with community colleges, labor unions, workforce development groups and re-entry programs for formerly incarcerated people.

“This crisis has highlighted the myriad cracks in our system, the injustices and inadequacies of the modern American economy,” Kennedy said when announcing the initiative Wednesday.

He said the initiative’s hiring practices would be designed to “intentionally rectify racial disparities in unemployment and wages,” and “have rigorous evaluation metrics and regular public reporting requirements to Congress.” Kennedy said the feedback gathered on Thursday and from other tours will be used to further develop the Jobs and Justice Initiative.

Meeting residents

As part of Thursday’s tour, Kennedy stopped at Four Star Farms in Northfield. He spoke with the farm owners, the L’Etoile family, about the farm’s transition from growing grains, flour and turf, to a primary focus on hops as it builds a new brewery.

“Four Star Farms in Northfield has shifted their production to thrive in a pre- and post-COVID economy and to stand up to big agriculture,” Kennedy said. “I’m grateful for their input into our plan as we move forward.‬”

Kennedy and the L’Etoiles were joined by Just Roots Executive Director Jessica O’Neill and Bree-Z-Knoll Farm General Manager Angie Facey. Nathan L’Etoile said the group spent over an hour discussing barriers to rural infrastructure and aspects of agricultural issues ranging from labor and energy use, to healthy eating habits and federal health policies.

Kennedy said the L’Etoiles and fellow farmers had a simple request — make sure a senator comes out to Western Massachusetts to sit down and listen to the challenges that small farmers face and discuss ways to provide support.

A stop at Berkshire East Mountain Resort in Charlemont later in the day saw Kennedy discuss renewable energy. Speaking in a video posted to Kennedy’s Facebook page during Thursday’s tour, Berkshire East CEO Jon Schaefer said the resort generates 100 percent of its energy from on-site renewables and has been doing so for over eight years.

“When I was a kid I went skiing out there,” Kennedy said. “Now they make 50 percent of their revenue off summer activities.”

Kennedy noted that tourism-based businesses face challenges, in tandem with other local businesses, because the COVID-19 crisis limits the number of guests hotels can house and people traveling from out of state are encouraged to quarantine for 14 days. The decreased ability to capture revenue, along with increased costs from sanitation requirements, has a lasting impact.

“All of those costs are being passed onto small businesses that are already operating on small margins,” he said.

The rest of Thursday’s tour included a visit to Aaron Industries Corp. in Leominster, Greylock WORKS in North Adams, and the Methuselah Bar & Lounge in Pittsfield to discuss restaurant and hospitality recovery. Lastly, Kennedy toured small businesses with community leaders in Springfield.

Kennedy said the pandemic helped expose the injustice of the modern economy, and recovering from it will be the work of a generation. He said he’ll continue traveling across Massachusetts in the coming weeks to get more input from workers, business owners, minority and labor groups, and community leaders.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com.

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