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Mass. residents rally for seven paid sick days per year

March 30, 2012

Chanting “sick time now,” supporters of sick paid leave rallied on the steps of the Massachusetts State House on Tuesday in support of a bill that would require businesses to provide state workers with at least seven paid sick days per year.

There is no standard requirement of paid sick days in the Commonwealth.

About 100 people listened to speeches from community members who argued the bill was good for the state, employees and families, including Massachusetts Sen. Daniel Wolf, of Harwich.

If passed, the bill would require companies with six to 10 employees to provide workers with up to 40 hours of paid sick time per year, while businesses with more than 10 employees would need to offer up to 56 hours per year, according to a press release.

Employers with fewer than six workers would only be required to offer up to 40 hours of paid leave, according to the press release.

Wolf, who has been a businessman for 30 years, said his company has always offered paid sick time, from when it had six employees until this year, when it has 1,000.

“All along the way as the company has grown, we have offered paid sick time because we do not want our employees to have to make the choice between taking care of a loved one [by] staying home [and] going to work [to put] food on the table,” Wolf said. “And that is the situation for so many of those million people.”

Wolf said the best way to have healthy businesses is to have the best workers in the state, a goal passing this law will help.

Dean Cycon, founder and CEO of Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Company in Orange, said he did not see what the big deal was.

“If you really respect workers, the people who work with you, the people responsible for our success as businesses, they deserve respect,” he said.

Cycon said one of the many ways to show respect is by giving people earned sick time.

“For [more than] a decade, we’ve done it. We’re surviving – we’re thriving,” Cycon said. “If Dean’s Beans can do it, Dunkin’ Donuts can do it.”

Tami Hale, a school nurse in Worcester, said she sees children coming to school every day when it is obvious they should be home in bed.

“It’s not because they have irresponsible parents who don’t know they’re sending a sick child to school,” Hale said. “They have responsible parents who have to balance the needs of work and family. But for these parents, the balance is skewed.”

Hale said a day off for some parents means losing pay that puts foods on the table and, in the worst case, could cost them their jobs.

“The message is simple – no person should have to choose between being a good employee and a good parent,” Hale said.

About a million Massachusetts workers are unable to take a single paid sick day, said Elizabeth Toulan, coordinator of the Massachusetts Paid Leave Coalition and senior attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services, who was listening in the crowd.

Toulan works with all of the stakeholders, including business owners, policymakers, medical professionals, public health experts and economists, she said.

She said these stakeholders have an interest in seeing these workers “get the job protection and the pay that they need so they can work and also take care of their health and that of their family members.”

But the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, an independent non-profit that advocates for the rights of center economic and fiscal issues, opposes the bill, according to a press release.

MFA Executive Director Paul Craney said in the release a recent CNBC study found Massachusetts to be the 41st least-expensive state to operate a business in and the 41st least-expensive state in terms of cost of living.

Craney said the sick leave bill “will only further alienate Massachusetts from being competitive on a national level.”

But supporters of the bill spoke of its economic benefits.

Workers and businesses save money because the bill reduces turnover, increases productivity and reduces spread of disease in the workplace, Toulan said.

David Gardner, a crowd member who owns Boyds Direct in Stoneham, said the opposition is from larger corporations and may be from people who feel these things should not be legislative.

“Why would we, as businesses that are here to serve our customers, not want to serve our employees as well? After all, it is clear that taking care of our employees in the best way to ensure that they take care of each other and our customers,” Gardner said. “And isn’t that what our ultimate goal is?”