Coalition Calls on Legislators to Ensure Earned Sick Time for All

Workers, small business owners, and health care officials testified at a legislative hearing today in favor of a bill to allow all Massachusetts workers to earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked. The hearing highlighted the widespread support for this legislation, which will help over one million Massachusetts workers, almost one third of the state’s workforce, who are currently unable to take a single sick day to care for themselves or their families, without risk of being fired.

“As a Personal Care Attendant and a health care worker I am committed to providing the best care possible to my client,” said Emily Rodriguez. “I do this work because I care about people and I want everyone to be able to live full, healthy lives. Due to the lack of earned sick time there have been times I was sick with a virus and I had to go to work anyway. I could not afford to lose wages by calling out sick so I went to my consumer employer’s house to take care of him – which not only made me feel worse but also put him in danger of getting sick as well. As low wage health care workers, the only way we can provide the best care is if we are also able to care for ourselves.”

Senator Dan Wolf, lead sponsor of the bill, said he recognizes the value of earned sick time both as an elected official and a business owner. His company, Cape Air, started with six employees, has grown to over 1,000, and has always included earned sick time for employees.

“Earned sick time should be a standard for all businesses and a right for all workers,” said Wolf. “I’ve found with my own company, businesses are the true beneficiaries of earned sick time because it reduces employee turnover, keeps workers healthy and productive at work, and increases morale.”

Other cities and states across the country have adopted sick day policies to improve public health and ensure that when workers are sick they will not lose pay – or worse, their jobs. New York City has an earned sick time law, as does our neighboring state of Connecticut.

“Earned sick time legislation is a moral and economic imperative,” said State Treasurer Steven Grossman, who testified in favor of the bill today. “My family business has had it for more than 25 years and it has strengthened our entire workforce.”

“I support earned sick time as a matter of basic fairness for workers,” said Attorney General Martha Coakley. “When people get sick, they should be able to get treatment without being penalized at work. It also allows people to better seek preventive health care that will control health costs for businesses and families in the long-term.”

The earned sick time legislation is gaining momentum in Massachusetts and currently sits before the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, which is co-chaired by Senator Wolf and Representative Tom Conroy. The bill heard today varies from the ballot question approved by the Attorney General to appear on the 2014 ballot.

“No Massachusetts worker should have to choose between caring for a family and earning a day’s pay,” said Steven Tolman, President of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO. “Clearly, our state needs a new basic workplace standard to accommodate the needs of today’s working families. If we believe in family values, then we should demonstrate that by valuing families and providing earned sick time.”

“We adopted our earned sick time policy at SnoOwl since learning about the bill from community members,” said Jasiel Correia, II, founder of SnoOwl and also a business incubator set to launch in Fall River in early October “By offering sick time to my workers, I show them that I respect their loyalty and value their commitment to this company. As a small business, it is the most important benefit I provide.”

“We proudly claim that Massachusetts residents have universal access to health care,” said Elizabeth Toulan, senior attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services. “The truth is that one out of every three Massachusetts workers earns no sick time and risks losing their job if they stay home sick or to care for a sick child.”

If the legislature fails to pass the pending bill, Raise Up Massachusetts, a statewide coalition of community, faith and labor organizations, will continue working toward putting earned sick time on the November 2014 ballot. Hundreds of volunteers skipped today’s hearing to be at the polls, gathering the signatures needed to place the question on next year’s ballot.

The ballot initiative protects workers from being fired if they need time off from work because they are sick or need to care for a sick child, parent, or spouse. Workers can also earn time for preventative care measures such as doctor’s appointments, eye exams, and yearly physicals.

“We always warn people to stay home if they’re sick. It’s a message you’ll hear us repeat more and more as flu season rolls around,” said Dr. Anita Barry, Director of the Infectious Disease Bureau at the Boston Public Health Commission. “But the reality is that only works when people can afford to stay home. Too many folks, especially low-wage earners and people of color, run the risk of losing their jobs by following what we know is sensible public health advice, and that has to change. This is about more than public health. It’s about fairness. Earned sick time should be a basic right to all workers.”

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