Legislation Filed to Implement Emergency Paid Sick Time for MA Workers

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Community, Faith, & Labor Coalition Supports Legislation to Fill Gaps in Federal Paid Sick Time Bill

For Immediate Release
April 20, 2020

Contact: Andrew Farnitano, andrew@crawfordstrategies.com, 925-917-1354

BOSTON – The Raise Up Massachusetts coalition of community groups, faith-based organizations, and labor unions – responsible for passage of the Commonwealth’s Earned Sick Time and Paid Family and Medical Leave laws – announced the filing of legislation on Friday that would implement Emergency Paid Sick Time for Massachusetts workers, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The legislation, sponsored by State Representative Paul Donato and State Senator Jason Lewis, 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.

“The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act has big coverage gaps that leave millions of front-line workers without paid sick time. Massachusetts needs to pass Emergency Paid Sick Time legislation to ensure that all workers can take paid sick time during this crisis,” said Deb Fastino, Executive Director of the Coalition for Social Justice and a Co-Chair of Raise Up Massachusetts. “Anyone who feels sick or may have been exposed to COVID-19 should be able to stay home and avoid exposing others to the virus. But many workers can’t miss work to care for themselves or their family because they’d lose the pay they need to make ends meet.”

“Low-wage workers are our first line of defense against COVID-19. Healthcare and long-term care workers, janitorial workers, food service workers, child care workers, municipal workers, adjunct faculty, gig workers, and others on the front lines are critical to supporting our communities during the outbreak,” said Pablo Ruiz, Deputy Director of the SEIU Massachusetts State Council and a Co-Chair of the Raise Up Massachusetts Grassroots Committee. “But far too many front-line workers lack basic economic protections including adequate paid sick time. We thank Representative Donato and Senator Lewis for filing Emergency Paid Sick Time legislation, and urge the Legislature to pass it swiftly.”

The Emergency Paid Sick Time legislation 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.

“In hospitals, grocery stores, and nursing homes, essential workers are doing heroic work fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, but many of our essential workers lack the ability to stay home with pay if they are sick,” said State Representative Paul Donato (D-Medford). “We need to do everything we can to protect Massachusetts workers on the front lines of the pandemic, including passing this legislation to fill in the gaps in the federal response. No worker should feel the need to come to work sick and risk infecting others.”

“Protecting the health and safety of Massachusetts residents is our top priority in this crisis. That means ensuring that no worker has to come to work when they may be contagious, just because their job was left out of the federal paid sick days guarantee,” said State Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester). “I look forward to working with my colleagues to pass this legislation and ensure that all Massachusetts workers have the protections they need and deserve.”

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.

“Ensuring that people have access to paid sick days is not only a public health obligation – it’s also a moral one,” said Cindy Rowe, Executive Director of JALSA (the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action), a member of the Raise Up Massachusetts Steering Committee. “We are asking people to take huge risks right now so that they can work in hospitals, grocery stores, operate public transit, and do what is essential for our community. If they get sick, or someone in their family gets sick, we owe it to them to step up as a society and treat them with the dignity and respect they so rightfully deserve.”

In 2014, Raise Up Massachusetts led the 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.

“The hard working men and women who are keeping our vital infrastructure running, ensuring our healthcare professionals can get to work safely, and are selflessly putting their health at risk during this difficult time should not have to worry about facing economic ruin as a result of their efforts,” said Mike Vartabedian, of International Association of Machinists-District 15. “Legislation to provide paid sick time to working people left out of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act is vital to ensuring that nobody has to make the decision between taking care of their own health and the health of a loved one or facing economic ruin while potentially putting the public at risk.”

“No one should be forced to decide between their health and the need to make money to put food on the table, especially during this crisis,” said Jaime Wilson, an adjunct instructor at Lesley University. “Massachusetts has been a national leader in ensuring access to paid time off. We need our lawmakers to step up once again and fill the gap left by a federal response that fails to cover all workers.”

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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.