Community, Faith, & Labor Advocates Call for Swift Passage of Public Health Protections for Workers with COVID Symptoms or Exposure
BOSTON – Massachusetts legislative leaders today announced an agreement to pass legislation that would allow Massachusetts workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to access emergency paid sick time, extending additional protection to all workers not covered by federal paid sick time provisions.
The Raise Up Massachusetts coalition of community groups, faith-based organizations, and labor unions, which has advocated for emergency paid sick time throughout the pandemic, plans to review the legislation to ensure it provides at least 5 days (40 hours) of job-protected emergency paid sick time, and for all workers in Massachusetts. The coalition released the following statement in response.
“As vaccinations continue and we move into a new phase of the pandemic, providing universal access to job-protected emergency paid sick time remains an essential public health tool. Ensuring that frontline workers can afford to stay home if they have symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19 will be critical to preventing additional surges and finally ending the pandemic,” said Peter MacKinnon, President of SEIU Local 509. “We appreciate Senate President Spilka, Speaker Mariano, Chairman Rodrigues, and Chairman Michlewitz’s work to reach an agreement that will deliver this much-needed benefit to hundreds of thousands of workers who currently lack the paid sick time they need to protect themselves, their families, and their communities.”
“Over the last year, thousands of Massachusetts workers faced immense financial pressure to go to work even when they might be sick, potentially exposing others. The people working in-person on the front lines of the pandemic response – disproportionately women, people of color, and immigrants – bore the brunt of our inadequate public health and economic protections,” said Deb Fastino, Executive Director of the Coalition for Social Justice. “Emergency paid sick time will help slow the spread of highly transmissible COVID-19 variants, save lives, and reduce the social and economic costs of the pandemic by allowing us to reopen more businesses safely. The emergency paid sick time provisions in this agreement are a clear-cut win for workers, businesses, and our entire society, and we urge legislators to adopt them swiftly.”
The state’s Earned Sick Time law, passed by the voters in 2014, provides 40 hours of paid sick time yearly, but for thousands of workers this isn’t enough to meet the scale and impact of this public health crisis. The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) provided 10 days of additional paid sick time for many workers, and it made a real difference: states that gained access to paid sick time under the FFCRA experienced about 400 fewer cases of COVID-19 per day, according to research from Cornell University and the Swiss Economic Institute. But the FFCRA has big coverage gaps that left 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.
In December, the FFCRA’s paid sick time protections expired, leaving all Massachusetts workers without access to emergency paid sick time benefits if they contract or are exposed to COVID-19. Massachusetts’s new paid family and medical leave program, which took effect January 1, allows workers with serious medical problems as a result of COVID-19 to receive partial wage replacement if they take time off from work to recover. However, the new program has a one-week waiting period to receive wage replacement benefits, which means it will not help lower-income workers who cannot afford to miss an entire week of pay to isolate or quarantine. They need emergency paid sick time now.
To ensure that those workers do not feel pressure to go to work when they may be infectious, the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition of community organizations, faith-based groups, and labor unions has worked for months to pass state legislation that would cover the gap in federal law, providing additional job-protected emergency paid sick time to Massachusetts employees not covered by federal paid sick time provisions.
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.