EIGHT OF MASSACHUSETTS’S nine members of the US House of Representatives have signed a letter to State House leaders in support of a group of Beacon Hill staff members of color, who demanded reforms to create a more inclusive environment for diverse staffers.
“As members of the Massachusetts Congressional delegation, we stand in solidarity with these staffers and affirm Beacon BLOC’s demands for greater inclusion and equity in the workplace,” the members wrote.
The letter was spearheaded by Reps. Ayanna Pressley and Joe Kennedy and signed by Reps. Richard Neal, Jim McGovern, William Keating, Katherine Clark, Seth Moulton and Lori Trahan. The only member of the state’s all-Democratic House congressional delegation not to sign was Rep. Stephen Lynch.
The letter was addressed to House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Karen Spilka, and Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin, whose office oversees Beacon Hill lobbyists. It was set to be sent to them on Friday.
In July, a new group calling itself Beacon BLOC, for Building Leaders of Color, released a four-page letter in which they said they have all faced “hostile moments of thinly veiled (if not overt) racism” on Beacon Hill.
They asked the Legislature to create a central office on diversity, equity, and inclusion; to establish a standardized staff orientation process; to create a mechanism for reporting racial harassment and discrimination; and to suspend lobbying privileges for workplace misconduct. The group called for a paid internship program and for civic engagement programs that aim to recruit diverse staff. They also demanded some things that go beyond workplace conditions, like asking that the state library and State House cultural displays adequately represent black history.
In August, the group announced that they had support from 40 organizations – including unions, faith groups, and civil rights groups –– and 300 current or former staffers. The letter from the members of Congress says they, too, support the reforms proposed by the Beacon BLOC.
The congressional letter says that as the nation is facing a reckoning on race, and communities are calling for a dismantling of racist policies, “It is critical that in this moment, every institution, particularly institutions of power charged with crafting the very laws and policies that govern our Commonwealth and our country, look inward and examine their own contributions to the persistent inequities plaguing our communities.”
The members note that of 200 seats in the Massachusetts House and Senate, only 20 are held by people of color.
“The lack of diversity at the staff level is felt daily by current and former staff of color,” they wrote. “Their experiences are dismissed and incidents of harassment not necessarily handled appropriately as the State House lacks the adequate infrastructure to measure issues related to diversity and retention.”
The group also expressed concern “about retaliatory consequences that threaten additional staff of color from being vocal about their concerns and experiences within the Massachusetts Legislature.”
So far, two of the group’s demands – a legislative paid internship program and an evaluation of State House art with an eye toward diversity – were proposed as Senate budget amendments, but did not pass.
In October, House Speaker Robert DeLeo sent an email to House members and staff informing them that he was creating a new working group to help us engage with all employees from all backgrounds. “This working group will help determine how we can move forward as we continue to incorporate the fight for racial justice and enhance diversity and inclusion in the House,” DeLeo wrote.
The group includes state Rep. Kate Hogan, who is a member of DeLeo’s leadership team, the chairs of the House committees on personnel and rules, representatives of caucuses representing black and Latino lawmakers, Asian lawmakers, female lawmakers, and members appointed by the Republican minority leader.
The members of Congress described the House working group as a “positive step.” That group does not include representation by legislative staff.
After prior reports of sexual harassment in the State House, both the House and Senate have revamped their human resources policies over the last couple of years. DeLeo’s email mentioned those changes, which he said established clearer processes for addressing complaints and investigations and ensured appropriate treatment of complaints of harassment, with the creation of several new human resources-related positions.
The Senate in April hired Diana Kasule as a human resources manager of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Her job description, laid out in the Senate rules, says she will “promote policies to direct and guide offices to recruit, hire, train, develop, advance, promote and retain a diverse workforce.”
Antonio Caban, a spokesperson for Spilka, said the Senate has been moving to implement many of the new group’s goals. “Many of Beacon BLOC’s goals align with the Senate’s and we are grateful to continue our discussions with them as we work towards the objectives laid out in our hiring announcement of the Senate’s Manager of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion,” he said.
Galvin spokesperson Debra O’Malley said all the staffers’ demands would require legislative action, and the Legislature has not updated lobbying laws to give the secretary additional authority or discretion over registration or discipline of lobbyists.