Yesterday, rather than signing legislation passed unanimously by the Massachusetts Legislature that would allow all Massachusetts workers to access five days of emergency paid sick time for COVID-related sickness, quarantine, caregiving, and vaccination, Governor Baker sent it back to the Legislature with amendments. They include excluding municipal employees from the legislation and decoupling employer tax credits from the provision of benefits. 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, today issued the following statement in response:
“The Governor’s proposed amendments would deny Emergency Paid Sick Time benefits to municipal employees – workers who are on the frontlines of the pandemic response and deserve the same protections as private-sector workers. That’s unacceptable. As we continue to analyze the Governor’s additional amendments, we urge the Legislature to move quickly to return legislation that covers all workers, including municipal employees, to the Governor’s desk.
“Each additional day that goes by without Emergency Paid Sick Time legislation in place means that more workers will go to work even when they might be infectious, because they can’t afford not to get paid. Many essential frontline workers need paid sick time so they can recover from the side effects of the COVID vaccine. In order for us all to recover from the pandemic, all Massachusetts workers need access to Emergency Paid Sick Time now.”
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 had 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 were 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.
The new state law will fill this gap and ensure that workers do not feel pressure to go to work when they may be infectious. The legislation requires all Massachusetts employers to provide 40 hours of emergency paid sick time to a full-time worker, and an equivalent amount for part-time workers. The sick time can be used for COVID-related sickness, quarantine, caregiving, and vaccination, and it is job-protected, meaning that workers cannot be fired or otherwise penalized for using it.
The costs to employers are covered in one of two ways:
- Employers with fewer than 500 employees, as well as government entities, will be eligible to receive a tax credit from the federal government to cover the cost, as part of American Rescue Plan Act signed by President Biden this month.
- The state legislation provides state reimbursement to employers with over 500 employees, and creates a $75 million state fund for reimbursement.
Between the state and federal governments, all businesses will be eligible for either state reimbursement or the federal tax credit.
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.