Public Health and Workplace Safety Advocates Urge Passage of Emergency Paid Sick Time in MA, Calling it an ‘Essential Public Health Tool’ to Combat COVID-19 Pandemic

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

BOSTON – Public health and workplace safety advocates 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.

The recently-formed Emergency Task Force on Coronavirus & Equity, convened by the MA Public Health Association, submitted testimony signed by 56 public health, grassroots, civil rights, medical, labor, academic, and social service organizations, calling universal access to paid sick time “an essential public health tool.”

“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,” reads the Task Force’s testimony. “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.” 

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. Yesterday, Raise Up Massachusetts leaders and frontline workers submitted testimony about the urgent need for Emergency Paid Sick Time. Today, public health and workplace safety advocates submitted testimony, which can be viewed at https://www.raiseupma.org/emergency-paid-sick-time-testimony/.

“In New Bedford we see the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic each and every day. A large number of our patients work in low-wage jobs by the day and have little support for taking sick time, never mind with pay,” said Cheryl Bartlett, RN, CEO of the Greater New Bedford Community Health Center, Co-Chair of the Emergency Task Force on Coronavirus & Equity, and former Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. “We are aware that some individuals [who may be sick] continue to work because they cannot afford to lose pay. Help us stop the spread of coronavirus and support the expansion of paid sick time.”

“Economic security and public health are two sides of the same coin. This is true every day, but it’s never more true than in the middle of a pandemic,” said Maddie Ribble, Director of Public Policy of the MA Public Health Association. “Workers need and deserve the protections to stay home when they’re ill, to stay home to care for a family member or a loved one who’s ill, or to stay home if they may have been exposed to COVID-19. This is good for the health of workers, and it is good for the health of everyone in our community.”

“During the H1N1 pandemic a decade ago, researchers showed that workers without paid sick leave were more likely to go to work sick, spreading the virus and prolonging the flu pandemic,” said Jared Make, Vice President of national legal nonprofit A Better Balance. “Recent studies have also shown that businesses benefit from paid sick leave, since it boosts productivity and it reduces the costly and disruptive spread of illness in the workplace. The need for Emergency Paid Sick Time is clear, both from a public health perspective and to support the many workers living paycheck to paycheck.”

Tomorrow, the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition plans to submit testimony from additional frontline workers and from the broad coalition of organizations that support the legislation.

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.