Category Archives: Blog Aaron Agulnek

End Discrimination in the Commonwealth

While Jeremy is in Israel for professional development opportunities, we offer some reflections on an important legislative priority from our Director of Government Affairs, Aaron Agulnek.

At the beginning of every two-year legislative session in the Commonwealth, upwards of 7,000 bills are filed by Senators and Representatives, covering almost every issue imaginable (and likely, many that you may not have known were even issues). Each year we consult with our partners, networks of allies and legislative champions to identify where to focus our attention amongst the competing priorities. Our process is guided by the interests of the organized Jewish community, the opportunities to deepen ties with our allies, and our mandate to move an agenda that promotes a more inclusive and just Commonwealth. This is often an imperfect science, and requires focus on what is moving and where our voice is needed.

This year, one piece of legislation we are supporting is HD779/SD922 An Act Prohibiting Discrimination in State Contracts (PDF). Filed by Senators Cindy Creem, Representative Paul McMurtry and Representative Steven Howitt, it is currently supported by a bipartisan coalition of over 50 co-sponsors. While we have a longstanding commitment to oppose discrimination in any form, this current political climate compels us to ensure that discrimination is not subsidized by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on the basis of who somebody is.

So, what exactly does this bill do? At it's core, this legislation is another step forward in Massachusetts' leading commitment to the principle of anti discrimination. First, that anyone seeking to do business with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts must affirm that they are in compliance with the Massachusetts Anti-Discrimination Laws, which prohibit discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations, based on someone’s race, color, creed, religion, sex, national origin, gender identity or sexual orientation; second, that they will not refuse to do business with someone based solely on these same immutable traits. To put it simply, if you want to enjoy business with the state, don’t discriminate.

Joined by 38 other local Jewish organizations, We recently issued a statement expressing our grave concern about recent Executive Orders on immigration and refugees, one of which banned refugees from seven targeted countries from coming to the United States. We all witnessed the incredible harm that discrimination based on national origin can wreak on individuals and society as a whole. The Anti-Discrimination legislation, if enacted into law, seeks to prevent the very damage such divisive acts inflict and would make it clear that people who seek to contract with the state cannot refuse to do business with another simply because of their nation of origin.

This bill also protects LGBTQ business owners who face threats of boycotts of their businesses, solely because of who they are. It protects women-owned businesses, Muslim-owned businesses, Asian-owned businesses, African-American owned businesses, and yes, Israeli owned businesses, from being discriminated against based on who they are.

In the face of bigotry, delegitimization, and forces that seek to define and judge people based on who they are, rather than what they do, we stand up and say that this invidious discrimination has no place in the Commonwealth.

Please visit JCRC’s Action Alert and let your Senators and Representatives know that our Commonwealth should not subsidize those who seek to tear our communities apart and thank those who have already signed on. We are stronger when we stand together.

Shabbat Shalom,

Aaron

This is What a Feminist Looks Like | A Message From Our Government Affairs Director

I am a feminist, raised in a family and brought up in a community where paternalistic impulses of “gender roles and expectations” have long been cast aside. My mother is an entrepreneur, starting and building her own window shade business out of her home and running it successfully for coming on 32 years. I was taught that just because something was, does not mean that it should always be and that society is in a constant state of reinvention and that tradition must sometimes give way to progress.  Our faith tradition and cultural connections are replete with examples of women assuming leadership roles to advance societal goals, whether they are workers’ rights, economic policy, or civil rights. These goals were not limited to so called “women’s issues” but extended to broader areas of civil society.

My wife and I are both trained as attorneys, she in the private sector, while I’ve been in both government and the non-profit sector. Like more and more women, my wife is the primary breadwinner in the family. We are reliant on her compensation to meet the expenses of our young family, with two kids in day care, a mortgage and an endless supply of student loans.  It has been estimated that women earn close to 75 cents per dollar earned by men. This gap only increases for women of color and is exacerbated each and every year when raises and bonuses are considered.  I can assure you that the bank holding our mortgage did not give us a 25% discount.

A twenty five percent loss of income compounded over a lifetime would undermine our ability to meet our financial goals if my wife were not paid like her male colleagues. This is of course heightened for women who are the sole breadwinners and impacts women at every level of the economic ladder.  If my wife desires to be on a corporate board someday, she should not be penalized for having two kids and for being a mom, just like I would not be for being a dad. In our family, her role as a mom and mine as a dad are a partnership, with responsibilities allocated towards our individual strengths.
But the ground continues to shift here in the Commonwealth and throughout the country.  Strong women and men are coming together to demand an end to discriminatory inequity based on long debunked myths of gender roles. And, this is what happened in Massachusetts. The 2015-2016 session of the Legislature marked a turning point for feminists across the Commonwealth. For the first time in Massachusetts history, a majority of our Constitutional Officers were women.

I was proud to work with JCRC leaders like Fredie Kay and Jesse Mermell, who both played integral public roles in passing the Pay Equity law. I was inspired by the passion and tenacity of legislators like Representative Ellen Story of Amherst and Senator Harriette Chandler of Worcester who had fought for decades for equity.  I was moved by the pleas of Attorney General Healey and Treasurer Goldberg, speaking for young girls and boys throughout the Commonwealth. And finally, as a man, I was heartened that Governor Baker, Senate President Rosenberg and Speaker of the House DeLeo all prioritized this legislation, because they, like me, recognized that men also have an important role to play in speaking out for gender parity.

As the Director of Government of Affairs at JCRC, I am often in the position to translate our community’s perspective on a wide array of legislation, whether it is on economic opportunity, civil rights or issues of justice and equality. Sometimes I speak from personal experience, other times I share the wisdom and expertise of leaders in our community and beyond, and most often it is a blend. I know that the issues transcend me and my personal network. I believe that your daughter has the right to pursue her career ambitions without people questioning her commitment to family. I believe that your granddaughter should be able to dream of starting her own business, or curing cancer, or being a coder for the latest tech startup. And, I believe that every young girl in this country should dream of being a Senator, an Attorney General or even the President of the United States.

Shabbat Shalom,

Aaron Agulnek