As Fall COVID-19 Surge Arrives, Advocates Call For Passage of Budget Amendment to Fill Gaps in Federal Paid Sick Time Bill
As the expected fall/winter surge of COVID-19 cases arrives and Massachusetts is preparing to reopen field hospitals to manage a rise in hospitalizations, a supermajority of the Massachusetts House has cosponsored a budget amendment that would help ensure that all Massachusetts workers can take paid sick time if they are diagnosed with COVID-19 or need to quarantine to prevent spreading the coronavirus.
“We’re in the middle of the expected fall COVID surge, but there’s still time to act and prevent more hospitalizations and deaths this winter,” said Lew Finfer, Co-Executive Director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network (MCAN) and a co-chair of Raise Up Massachusetts. “Tens of thousands of Massachusetts workers have used up their existing paid sick time or never had any to begin with, and they feel financial pressure to go to work even when they might be sick. This amendment would allow workers to stay home and avoid spreading COVID to their coworkers and the public.”
The amendment (#231), filed by Representative Paul Donato and backed by the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition, would provide ten additional work-days (80 hours) of job-protected paid sick time for immediate use during the COVID-19 outbreak to workers not covered by federal paid sick time protections. The amendment is co-sponsored by 107 House members, including 102 Democrats and 5 Republicans.
“We’re glad to see the overwhelming bipartisan support for this critical public health measure and urge the House to bring it to the floor for a vote this week,” said Deb Fastino, Executive Director of the Coalition for Social Justice and a co-chair of Raise Up Massachusetts. “It’s no accident that the communities where many people work in essential in-person jobs are the same communities hardest hit by the coronavirus. Emergency Paid Sick Time is urgently needed to reduce the spread of COVID-19 this fall and winter.”
Over the past few months, dozens of workers, experts, and activists have shared testimony about the need for Emergency Paid Sick Time, including testimony from workers who lost pay because they stayed home from work due to COVID-19 exposure or diagnosis.
“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,” said 56 public health, grassroots, civil rights, medical, labor, academic, and social service organizations in testimony submitted to the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development earlier this year. “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 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. Many workers had already used their limited sick time to deal with a personal health issue, or haven’t accrued more than a few hours of sick time this year. And even for those with the full amount of time available, five days is simply not enough to get through a 14-day COVID-19 quarantine period.
The federal government has provided additional paid sick time for many workers through the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), but it 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.
The Emergency Paid Sick Time amendment (#231) 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. The legislation creates a COVID-19 emergency paid leave time fund with an initial deposit of $55 million. 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.
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.