As Essential Workers Continue Risking Their Lives Due to Lack of Paid Sick Time, Community, Faith, and Labor Advocates Stress Urgency of Passing Emergency Paid Sick Time Legislation Before Reopening Continues

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Virtual Hearing on Emergency Paid Sick Time Legislation Backed by Majority of Legislature Ends Today

BOSTON – Community organizations, faith-based groups, and labor unions across the Commonwealth, as well as national advocacy groups, submitted testimony to the legislature’s Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development today on the final day of a virtual hearing on legislation that would provide ten additional days of job-protected paid sick time to employees not covered by the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)’s paid sick time provisions. Advocates highlighted the need for universal access to additional paid sick time to protect essential workers now, and the urgency of passing legislation before reopening continues.

“Essential workers in Massachusetts have been reporting to jobs outside of their homes during this pandemic, in too many cases without the adequate personal protective equipment and testing they so desperately need. These workers are putting their health and the health of their families on the line each day, even as many are still struggling to pay their bills,” said Steven Tolman, President of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. “The Reopening Advisory Board acknowledged the crucial importance of people with symptoms staying home from work as our economy reopens. Yet this is not possible without the guarantee that nobody will lose their job or the ability to feed their families should they need to miss work due to COVID symptoms. Now more than ever, nobody should have to choose between going to work ill or risk losing their ability to take care of their families – and that is exactly the predicament that countless workers will find themselves in without state action.”

“Cities and states across the country have been working hard to close the enormous gaps left by Congress’ emergency paid leave provisions. These loopholes left out workers who are essential to our daily lives. They are risking their health to care for us and for our loved ones, to provide us our food and our medicine,” said Wendy Chun-Hoon, Executive Director of Family Values @ Work, a national network of coalitions in 27 states working to pass paid sick days and paid family and medical policies. “Massachusetts has been a leader on these critical policies for several years, and this is the moment to step up again. Massachusetts needs to pass Emergency Paid Sick Time for all workers because it is unconscionable to reopen without basic protections for all workers and workplaces.”

The Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development is hearing testimony this week on An Act Relative to Emergency Paid Sick Time (H.4700/S.2701), backed by the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition of community groups, faith-based organizations, and labor unions and officially co-sponsored by a majority of both chambers of the state legislature. On Tuesday, Raise Up Massachusetts leaders and frontline workers submitted testimony about the urgent need for Emergency Paid Sick Time. Yesterday,  public health and workplace safety advocates, including 56 public health, grassroots, civil rights, medical, labor, academic, and social service organizations that are part of the Emergency Task Force on Coronavirus & Equity, convened by the MA Public Health Association, submitted testimony calling universal access to paid sick time “an essential public health tool.” All testimony can be viewed at https://www.raiseupma.org/emergency-paid-sick-time-testimony/.

“Massachusetts was a leader in passing its Earned Sick Time law in 2014, but the 40 hours of sick time that workers can accrue over each year is hardly adequate to confront the unique threat of COVID-19: infected individuals can be infectious for 14 days or more. Public health guidance is unambiguous in stating that symptomatic people should isolate themselves for at least that long to avoid infecting others—and that guidance contains no exception for working people,” said Cindy Rowe, Executive Director of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action (JALSA). “Is it just to ask workers to choose between their health and their pay? And would any of us feel safe shopping at a supermarket, or entrusting an elderly relative to a care facility, where employees felt compelled to return to work part way through a case of COVID-19? Many of our communities have applauded for front-line workers. Now it’s time to show them that we really care by providing them with adequate paid sick time.”

“We just can’t wait. Our state is opening back up and we need to ensure that our most vulnerable workers who are being pushed back into work have Emergency Paid Sick Time so that at minimum, they have the time they need to prioritize themselves, their health, and their families,” said Anabel Santiago, Grassroots Coordinator at the Coalition for Social Justice. “It’s past time to finish the job and pass Emergency Paid Sick Time now!”

Background
The Raise Up Massachusetts coalition led the 2014 campaign to create Massachusetts’ Earned Sick Time Law, but the 40 hours of sick time it provides workers each year doesn’t meet the scale of this major public health crisis. Meanwhile, the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act has big coverage gaps that leave millions of front-line workers without paid sick time, including workers at companies with more than 500 employees, and many employees of health care and residential facilities. The Center for American Progress estimates that at least 1.8 million workers in Massachusetts are not covered by the FFCRA’s paid sick time protections.

An Act Relative to Emergency Paid Sick Time, filed by Representative Donato (H.4700) and Senator Lewis (S.2701), and co-sponsored by more than 100 members of the House and Senate, would provide ten additional work-days (80 hours) of job-protected paid sick time for immediate use during the COVID-19 outbreak. This Emergency Paid Sick Time would be available to employees not covered by the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)’s paid sick time provisions:
a) Employees working for a private employer with more than 500 employees; and
b) Employees working at health care or residential facilities that have the option to exempt themselves from the FFCRA.  

Workers taking Emergency Paid Sick Time would be paid by their employers at their regular rate of pay, up to a maximum of $850/week. Employers would then be fully reimbursed by the state. Emergency Paid Sick Time would be available, with no waiting period, for use:
a) For a worker to care for themselves if they are diagnosed with COVID-19, experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and awaiting a diagnosis, quarantined or self-quarantined, or reasonably believes their health is at risk; or
b) For a worker to take care of a family member, including a domestic partner or someone with whom the worker resides, who is diagnosed with COVID-19, experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and awaiting a diagnosis, quarantined or self-quarantined, or reasonably believes their health is at risk.

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Raise Up Massachusetts is a coalition of community groups, faith-based organizations, and labor unions committed to building an economy that invests in families, gives everyone the opportunity to succeed, and creates broadly shared prosperity. Since our coalition came together in 2013, we have nearly doubled wages for hundreds of thousands of working people by winning two increases in the state’s minimum wage, won best-in-the-nation earned sick time and paid family and medical leave benefits for workers and their families, led the campaign for the Fair Share Amendment to invest in transportation and public education, and started to build an economy that works for all of us, not just those at the top. Learn more at raiseupma.org.