Frontline Workers Testify to Joint Labor Committee About Urgent Need for Emergency Paid Sick Time in MA

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Raise Up Massachusetts Calls for Passage of Legislation Backed By Majority of Legislature

BOSTON – Frontline workers submitted testimony to the legislature’s Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development today as part 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.

“Last month my 19-year-old daughter tested positive for COVID-19 and my employer ordered me to stay home for two weeks, despite having a negative test myself,” said Edwin Rodriquez, a Mechanic and Welder at Baker Commodities in Billerica. “Now all my payments are late. The bills keep coming and I have to pay for my truck, credit card and other bills. We don’t know how long this is going to last, and we know it is important for people to quarantine if they have to, but people need to know they will be paid. Massachusetts lawmakers need to guarantee that all workers have access to emergency paid sick time that covers illness, quarantine, and taking care of your family during this time.”

The committee 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.

“In the face of the COVID-19 outbreak and the massive economic disruption it is creating, no worker should face a choice between going to work sick or losing the pay they desperately need to make ends meet,” said Beth Huang, Director of the Massachusetts Voter Table and a member of the Raise Up Massachusetts Steering Committee. “In order to ensure that all those who feel sick or have been exposed to COVID-19 can stay home and avoid exposing others to the virus, all workers must have the ability to miss work to care for themselves or their family.”

Today, Raise Up leaders and frontline workers affected by the need for Emergency Paid Sick Time submitted testimony, which can be viewed at https://www.raiseupma.org/emergency-paid-sick-time-testimony/. Throughout this week, the coalition plans to submit additional testimony from workers, public health experts, and the broad coalition of organizations that support the legislation.

“We are on the front lines, day after day. Many of us take care of our parents and our children and they rely on us for our check. They also rely on us to be healthy,” said Lisa Jerry, a Patient Care Assistant at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester. “We need the legislature to act and act quickly. Many workers do not have any sick time. People do not have a plan B if they become ill. Emergency Paid Sick Time should be part of that Plan B. Massachusetts needs to guarantee that all workers have emergency paid sick time to  ensure that we can all stay home and get healthy and not put others at risk.”

Several of the worker testimonies were recorded during a virtual town hall event hosted by Raise Up MA on April 29. 

“When the pandemic started, my company did not give me any kind of sick time at all. I think it’s so important that workers have a chance to take paid sick time so they can stay home if they’re sick or infected. Otherwise, we know that they run a risk of continuing to go back to work, infecting others, and spreading the virus,” said Yamileth Acevedo, a worker at Tichon Seafood in New Bedford. “There often are no other earnings that are coming into the home, but the bills don’t stop coming. One of those bills is the internet, which now education is dependent on for our students. It’s so important for workers to be able to take that time to recover, but also to be able to take care of a family member who may be sick.”

“Paid sick time so important for healthcare providers and for anybody who is working in Massachusetts,” said Kwesi Ablordeppey, a Certified Nursing Assistant at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home. “During this COVID crisis, I’ve realized that some of my coworkers are new and they don’t have sick time when they get infected with this disease. Paid sick time will help a lot of workers and their family members.”

Workers stressed the importance of Emergency Paid Sick Time as Massachusetts begins to ease certain COVID-19 public health restrictions on businesses.

“My center is very generous with benefits and is small enough that I should be covered [by the federal paid sick bill], but in order to make reopening successful, [paid sick time] needs to be universal,” said Katy Winning, a Pre-K teacher at a child care center in Boston. “It’s never easy to call out sick when families rely on you, but now more than ever, we need to trust that if somebody is at work, it’s because they’re healthy enough to be there. No one should have to choose between getting paid or making a responsible decision to stay home to keep everyone healthy. Our job is all about trust with the families, and so having these benefits extended to all child care workers means that families can trust that workers are making choices based on their health. This is not only the fair choice, but the responsible choice for everyone going forward.”

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.