Business, Community and Activists Come together in MA to Fight Paid Sick DaysFebruary 4, 2014
In honor of the 21st anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act, we’ve asked activists around the country to reflect on what FMLA means in their states, how states are taking action to improve upon this seminal law and where we still need to do work. Visit the FMLA 21st Birthday Blog Carnival for blogs from around the country.
Joe Di Mauro
“I’ve seen many of my friends drop out of college because they couldn’t go to school and provide for themselves at the same time, or because their parents lost their jobs and could no longer help them through school. My boyfriend is one of these cases. He lives in North Brookfield, an hour away from the nearest community college, and a part-time job at this minimum wage will barely cover his gas and car insurance, let alone groceries, phone payments, and other living expenses. He has to make a choice between going to school or surviving, a choice I’ve seen too many of my peers have to make.”
– Alex Marceau, Intern at CSJ. Fall River resident.
We as a coalition are regularly reminded by our colleagues, friends and family that what we’re doing is right for people like Alex’s boyfriend, who has to choose between working and surviving or getting an education. Whether it’s fighting to raise the minimum wage or win earned sick time for workers, what we do is morally correct and just.
Over 1 million workers in Massachusetts are forced to go to work sick. That’s nearly a third of the working class in our state. What we’re fighting for is the right to stay home and take care of yourself or a sick loved one. When we win, workers will earn an hour of sick time for every thirty hours on the job. The maximum hours earned a year would be 40, or up to a week. Studies show that on average, workers with paid sick time use only 2.5 days out of the year.
While gathering signatures for earned sick time and to raise the minimum wage, voters greeted us with respect and excitement. Even those hesitant at first were willing to sign after engaging in a conversation with us. Ultimately, access to earned sick time is critical not only for Massachusetts workers and their families, but also our public, business and fiscal health.
Think about this: If those without earned sick time were to gain access, about 27,450 emergency department visits would be prevented each year, reducing healthcare costs by $23.4 million annually. That includes $13.8 million in savings to the public health insurance systems.
We have many business partners in this fight. Here’s what State Senator Dan Wolf, owner of Cape Air, said when he stepped out of his role as chair to submit his own testimony in support of the legislation: “To me, as an employer, being part of a pro-business state and Commonwealth means that it is a great place to work as a worker. The people who make these businesses successful are the ones who come in every day and stand behind the ticket counter, fly the airplane, serve the ice cream or work the register in a retail establishment. Part of being a pro-business state is making sure that people have a great place to come to work every day.”
James Freeman, owner of Blue Bottle Coffee, added this thought about the impact on public health: “The last thing we want is for a sick employee to come to work, potentially infecting fellow employees and customers. In a customer service business, this is crucial. When employees are ill and cannot come to work, they should not be worrying about whether they will be able to pay their bills.”
People with the flu go to work sick because they worry about being fired. Parents send their children to school sick because they worry about losing their jobs. Others watch their aging parents suffer, unable to shuttle them between doctors’ appointments. Nearly 1 million people wake up every morning and carry these burdens.
As a part of leadership in the Raise Up Mass campaign, we are proud to that we collected 285,000 signatures statewide in support of raising the minimum wage and earned sick time, all with the help of nearly 5,000 volunteers, coalition partners, faith groups, and unions. Earned sick time will be on the ballot, and we’re currently fighting to get the minimum wage bill passed through the legislature.
Every day we think of not just the workers, but their families and their employers who will benefit from this change towards social justice. Whether it’s fighting to raise the minimum wage or win earned sick time for workers, what we do is morally correct and just.
Visit http://raiseupma.org/ to find out more about the campaign.