Coalition urges swift passage of health protections for workers impacted by COVID-19

Coalition urges swift passage of health protections for workers impacted by COVID-19

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 five days (40 hours) of job-protected emergency paid sick time, and does so for all workers in Massachusetts.

“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’ 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.”

The Massachusetts Teachers Association applauded the legislation, including its inclusion of municipal employees.

“The MTA and our allies worked hard to make sure that this important legislation extends emergency paid leave benefits to all municipal employees. Municipal workers — including many school employees — have been on the job throughout the pandemic and deserve the protections this legislation offers,” said MTA President Merrie Najimy. “Workers across the board should never have to worry about suffering financial losses in order to take care of themselves or their loved ones. The MTA urges Governor Baker to move swiftly in signing this bill so our communities can continue to cope and eventually recover from the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Deb Fastino, Executive Director of the Coalition for Social Justice, said, “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.

She continued, “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 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 frontline 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 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.