As State Experiences COVID-19 Surge, Advocates Highlight Dec. 31 Expiration of Federal Paid Sick Time Benefits, Call for State Action
As the winter surge of COVID-19 cases continues and federal paid sick time benefits have expired, Senate President Karen Spilka today called for passage of emergency paid sick time legislation in the new legislative session, saying “it is clear that the time is now for emergency paid leave, and so the Senate will begin working on solutions with our partners in government, business and labor as soon as this session is underway.”
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, released the following statement in response.
“With Massachusetts hospitals nearing ICU capacity and a new highly transmissible coronavirus strain likely present in our state, ensuring universal access to job-protected emergency paid sick time has never been more important,” said Janine Carreiro, the new Executive Director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network and a member of the Raise Up Massachusetts steering committee. “Thousands of Massachusetts workers lack access to emergency paid sick time and face immense financial pressure to go to work even when they might be sick, potentially exposing others.”
“With vaccines on the way, we need to do everything we can to get through the winter without overwhelming our hospitals and health care system. And ensuring that frontline workers have the ability to take a paid sick day if they have symptoms, have been exposed, or after receiving the vaccine will be critical to ending the pandemic,” said Tim Foley, Executive Vice President of 1199SEIU and a member of the Raise Up Massachusetts steering committee. “We stand ready to work with the legislature to quickly pass emergency paid sick time and ensure that workers have the benefits they need to keep themselves and others safe this winter and spring.”
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.
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 ten additional work-days of job-protected emergency paid sick time to Massachusetts employees not covered by the federal FFCRA’s paid sick time provisions. But despite bipartisan supermajority support in both chambers of the Legislature, the proposal did not come up for a vote in the 2020 legislative session.
Now, the situation has gotten worse: the FFCRA’s paid sick time protections expired at the end of December, 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.
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.