PITTSFIELD, Mass. — After two violations of its tobacco retail license, the managers from Cumberland Farms on First Street say tobacco products will not be sold at all unless the customer has identification.
The city is imposing a $350 fine on the convenience store but is holding the seven-day suspension in abeyance, meaning it will be enforced only if there is another violation.
Health Director Gina Armstrong said there was a violation in March 2017 and that in November 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ran a compliance check and found another violation. Lastly, the Tri-Town Health Department found a violation in January of this year.
Armstrong said the violations included selling to minors and having clerks not certified to sell tobacco products doing so. She isn't sure what the FDA violation is because that data hasn't been released.
Nonetheless, there are two violations to the license and by code that would require a seven-day license suspension and a $350 fine. A third violation would result in a 14-day license suspension and a $500 fine.
Cumberland Farms appealed the violation. The managers didn't deny the violations but outlined a series of mitigating steps it had taken to ensure it doesn't happen again.
Regional Manager Thomas Coupack said the biggest thing was that they've taken the discretion of whether to ask for identification or not away. He said in the point of sale system there was an option to just click "of age" for products requiring identification that was used to speed up the process. That has now been disabled so clerks have to scan an identification or, if it is faded and won't scan, hand punch the birthday into the system.
"We've disabled that 'of age' ability. It will stop somebody from overriding the system," Coupack said.
He said the policy was implemented immediately when the company got the letter informing them of the violation. He said the policy does create issues with lines and with people who do not have identification cards. But, he said in other stores it has been implemented there hadn't been other violations.
A second aspect is that the employees weren't trained. Armstrong said it isn't just that one particular clerk sold tobacco products without being certified to do so but that "only a small percentage" of employees working for the company in Berkshire County had completed the required Tri-Town Health Department training.
"I feel like the employees are going through the motions," Armstrong said, saying it feels like the attitude in the company is one that doesn't take the training seriously.
The company said most of that was due to IT issues. District Manager Ross McGowan said Tri-Town's training program was linked into Cumberland Farm's training system. But, when employees would click into it, the program would fail. On Cumberland Farm's side, it marked the program as done but Tri-Town's side would still say incomplete.
McGowan said the company is working with the IT department to correct the issue but in the meantime held classes for everybody without a certificate. There is only one employee remaining at the First Street store without certification and McGowan said until that person completes the training, he will not be able to run the register.
He later questioned the efficiency of the training. Tri-Town's training has much that goes through YouTube and he said Cumberland Farms has to have its internet secured. He said it is complicated to secure such information as credit cards while still being able to connect with something like YouTube. He said the company moved to tablets to get the training done at one point but the secure connection remained an issue.
He said often it led to asking employees to do it from home. But, they aren't getting paid for it and they have to have internet.
"It is very difficult for an hourly wage person to get through," he said.
He said each employee has to go through some two hours of training to pass. He questioned why he couldn't have it done in a classroom setting to train multiple employees at a time, rather than each individually.
"I want my team members trained. I want them to have the right tools in the toolbag when they get to the register and have to make a decision," McGowan said but said Tri-Towns is not that user-friendly and he suggests other options to make it quicker and easier.
Armstrong refuted the technology aspect saying companies have been able to have employees take the course at Tri-Town Health or training have been made available closer to the store.
"In the past, accommodations have always been made," Armstrong said.
Nonetheless, company officials said 45 percent of their business is tobacco sales and often those who purchase tobacco products buy other items as well. They said a seven-day suspension of the licenses would make a huge economic impact to the store.
In September, the Board of Health upheld a seven-day suspension for Thing or Two Variety. But, in that case, the board hadn't felt like the owner had taken it seriously. In this case, however, the company had made an effort to ensure was done properly.
Board of Health member Brad Gordon suggested an abeyance option as one that recognizes the effort Cumberland Farms put in but also keeps the enforcement of the Health Department in place. The fine will also remain in place. Armstrong agreed that abeyance would be fitting for such a situation and the rest of the board agreed.
Should there be a third violation, the store would be slapped with a 21-day licenses suspension and a $500 fine.
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Markey is running for a second full term and has visited the Berkshires several times during the campaign.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Edward Markey drove straight from Washington, D.C., to Pittsfield on Tuesday at the tail end of his campaign for re-election to the U.S. Senate to condemn the Republican administration and promise better days if Democrats win next week.
"This is the birthplace of freedom, right out here in the Berkshires," he said. "In 1776, they declared independence. ... well, our declaration of independence is on Nov. 3, 2020, from Donald Trump."
He was greeted by more than a dozen supporters as he spoke about the importance of the general election just a week away. The Democrat is seeking a second full term against Republican challenger Kevin O'Connor.
Markey said the Democrats are in a revolution to rid the United States of President Donald Trump by voting for Joe Biden on Nov. 3. By doing this, he said, voters will be protecting health care for hundreds of thousands of Americans with pre-existing conditions, fighting for a livable wage, taking action to save the planet, having a future where where leaders believe in science
The progressive, who is known for proposing the Green New Deal with New York's U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, was supported by Mayor Linda Tyer, state Sen. Adam Hinds, state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, and City Councilors Patrick Kavey, and Helen Moon.
Tyer said she was notified on Monday evening that Markey would be driving from Washington to Pittsfield for this last-minute rally.
"What we all know is that this election is a train running down the tracks," Tyer said. "And for all of us that share the values that Senator Markey has exhibited in his time in the Senate, is important for us to come and recommit ourselves to all of those values and to stand with him today and with all Democrats who share these values because this election is probably going to be the most important election for many of us in our lifetimes."
On Monday, Markey was at the Capitol to vote against Amy Coney Barrett's appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court. Barrett was confirmed 52-48 by the Senate along party lines, with the exception of GOP U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who is in close race for re-election in Maine.
Markey opposed Coney Barrett, saying her appointment puts civil liberties on the chopping block, including marriage freedom, reproductive freedom, and voting rights for already disenfranchised communities. Democrats also believe that she will help gut the Affordable Care Act; the court is expected to hear arguments on its constitutionality on Nov. 10.
Referring to the protection of the Affordable Care Act, Markey got a chuckle from the crowd when he said. "We know that we can have the ACA, we can have the ACB, but we cannot have both, we cannot have the ACA and Amy Coney Barrett at the same time."
"In order to see this future we need to elect Joe Biden and usher in a new wave of diverse progressive leadership," Markey said. "And we need to remove the most racist and incompetent President in American history from the White House."
In a statement on the Senate floor on Monday, Markey said Coney Barrett's philosophy of originalism, which is looking back to what the Founding Fathers meant in 1787, is dangerous for the United States. Originalism is racist, sexist and homophobic, he said, and will lead to the pretense that allows the overriding of Roe v. Wade, the Affordable Care Act, Civil Rights and civil liberties that have progressed over generations.
"Yesterday, Trump and his Republican lapdogs steamrolled Amy Coney Barrett onto the U.S. Supreme Court. In doing so, Republican leadership violated their own rule which was that the Senate would not consider nominations for our Supreme Justice in the last year of a presidential term," Markey said, referring to the Republican-led Senate's refusal to consider President Obama's court choice in 2016. "Hypocrisy is too weak of a word to describe the sham that [Majority Leader] Mitch McConnell and Republicans have made out of this appointment process, any senator so blatantly breaking his or her own word on such a profound appointment is just plain wrong."
He was greeted by more than a dozen supporters as he spoke about the importance of the general election just a week away. The Democrat is seeking a second term against Republican challenger Kevin O'Connor.
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