Frontline Workers, Legislators, & Advocates Rally Support for Legislation to Fill Gaps in Federal Paid Sick Time Bill
BOSTON – A majority of both chambers of the state legislature has officially co-sponsored Emergency Paid Sick Time legislation backed by the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition, as pressure builds to 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 week, frontline workers and the legislation’s lead sponsors joined a virtual town hall with more than 125 activists from across the state to share their stories and rally support for the Emergency Paid Sick Time legislation.
“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.”
“I’m very proud to have sponsored this legislation. It’s very important, and especially important to the low-income workers who are out there every single day doing their job, but at the same time trying not only to protect their families, but to care for them as well,” said State Representative Paul Donato, the bill’s lead House sponsor. “It is imperative that we get this legislation passed so that we can accommodate those who desperately need help and let them not only take care of themselves, but just as important, take care of their families and their loved ones.”
“I’m super excited to be the lead sponsor of this legislation. Just in one week, we already have tremendous support from our colleagues,” said State Senator Jason Lewis, the bill’s lead Senate sponsor. “We need to build on the success of the 2014 Earned Sick Time law and the new federal paid sick time law, and ensure that all workers in this public health emergency have access to the job-protected paid sick time that they so desperately need.”
“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.”
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. 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.
During Wednesday’s virtual town hall, policy experts and frontline workers described the need for all Massachusetts workers to have access to Emergency Paid Sick Time, both now for essential workers, and in the coming weeks and months in order for businesses to begin reopening. A video of the virtual town hall is available here.
“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.”
“Over 125 employees of the MBTA have tested positive for COVID-19, but the reason why the MBTA is still running is to get our frontline workers to work,” said Bobby Brown, an MBTA bus mechanic and Executive Board member of Machinists Local 264. “Many people don’t have any other options but to ride public transportation and potentially expose themselves to COVID-19. In order to protect our frontline workers and their families we need to pass this bill as soon as possible.”
“I am a single parent of an eight-year-old autistic son, and I am also the caretaker of my 32-year-old sister, who was adopted about 30 years ago and has fetal alcohol syndrome,” said Joel Henderson, a Residential Behavioral Health Specialist at Eliot Community Human Services. “It’s my main responsibility to keep those two safe, and due to their disabilities it’ll be hard for me to send them to day care or a day program without them touching their face or interacting with people. [If they were sick], I would need to use paid sick time to keep them safe.”
Activists then called and emailed their legislators during the virtual town hall, urging them to swiftly pass the legislation and fill the gap left by federal inaction.
“I’m thinking tonight particularly of those people who have stepped into the breach and are caring for the most vulnerable in our community: the homeless and those in our nursing facilities, who were vulnerable to begin with and are made more vulnerable by the presence of the coronavirus,” said Reverend Aaron Payson, a minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Worcester and a member of Worcester Interfaith. “Those who we call heroes in our communities – those who are caring for our neighbors, who have placed their own health and wellbeing on the line in service to others – might also be at risk for job loss because of exposing themselves or their families to this illness. They deserve the protection of paid sick time. Not only is this important and necessary, it is ethical and it’s a moral imperative.”
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:
- Employees working for a private employer with more than 500 employees; and
- 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:
- For a worker to care for themselves if they arediagnosed with COVID-19, experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and awaiting a diagnosis, quarantined or self-quarantined, or reasonably believes their health is at risk; or
- 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.
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.