Emergency Paid Sick Time Legislation Advances With Unanimous Bipartisan Vote of Labor & Workforce Development Committee

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As COVID-19 Cases Rise, Advocates Call For Quick Passage of Legislation to Fill Gaps in Federal Paid Sick Time Bill

BOSTON – The state’s Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development voted unanimously yesterday to give a favorable recommendation to Emergency Paid Sick Time legislation backed by the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition which would provide ten additional work-days (80 hours) of job-protected paid sick time for immediate use during the COVID-19 outbreak to workers not covered by federal paid sick time protections.

As states that began their economic reopening earlier than Massachusetts experience a surge in new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, and as Massachusetts’ case numbers have risen in recent weeks, the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition urged the legislature to quickly pass this legislation to protect workers and their families.

“With Massachusetts’ COVID-19 case numbers rising over the past few weeks, we need to do more to stop the spread of the virus before we’re in the middle of another deadly surge. But as our economy reopens, tens of thousands of Massachusetts workers lack adequate paid sick time, and feel pressure to go to work even when they might be sick,” said Anabel Santiago, Grassroots Coordinator for the Coalition for Social Justice and a member of the Raise Up Massachusetts Steering Committee. “We’re glad to see a unanimous bipartisan vote of the Labor and Workforce Committee to support our Emergency Paid Sick Time legislation, and urge the Legislature to bring it to the floor for a vote quickly. Massachusetts workers can’t afford to wait any longer for this critical public health measure.”

“The current paid sick leave is not enough to meet the needs of the pandemic, so I hope we can get an extra ten days of emergency paid sick leave to relieve the family and financial pressure caused by the epidemic,” said Andee Huang, a Room Attendant at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel and member of the Chinese Progressive Association. “Because of different rules and regulations, some workers insist on going to work even if sick in order to keep their jobs. There are also those who go to work because they need income for their families. This is not only bad for workers themselves, but also for their families, coworkers, and customers.”

“The administration’s ‘Reopening Massachusetts’ plan repeatedly stresses the importance of individuals staying home if they feel sick. But for thousands of Massachusetts workers, staying home without pay means losing the income they need to put food on the table, pay rent, purchase essential medications, or pay their utility bills,” said 56 public health, grassroots, civil rights, medical, labor, academic, and social service organizations in testimony submitted to the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development earlier this year. “Without universal access to paid sick time, workers will feel the need to go to work even when they might be sick. Sick workers could easily spread the virus to their coworkers and customers, leading to a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, and more deaths…Massachusetts will not be able to defeat the coronavirus or safely reopen our economy if tens of thousands of workers feel the need to go to work even when they might be sick.”

Background

The Raise Up Massachusetts coalition of community groups, faith-based organizations, and labor unions 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. Many workers had already used their limited sick time to deal with a personal health issue, or haven’t accrued more than a few hours of sick time this year. And even for those with the full amount of time available, five days is simply not enough to get through a 14-day COVID-19 quarantine period.

The federal government has provided additional paid sick time for many workers through the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), but it 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.

The Emergency Paid Sick Time legislation (HD.5039 / SD.2918) 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. The legislation creates a COVID-19 emergency paid leave time fund with an initial deposit of $55 million. 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.