As flu epidemic spreads, MASSACHUSETTS WORKERS CALL FOR EARNED PAID SICK TIMEJanuary 24, 2013
Workers Protest outside Local Dunkin’ Donuts Where Workers Do Not Have Paid Sick Time Following Senator Dan Wolf’s and Representative Kay Khan’s Re-Introduction of
Earned Paid Sick Time Bill
Group Calls for Measure to Protect Public Health, Boost the Economy, and Strengthen Financial Security for Working Families
January 24, 2013
BOSTON—In a strong show of support, hundreds of workers, small business owners, doctors, economists, and parents rallied on Thursday afternoon to call on the state legislature to pass the Massachusetts Earned Paid Sick Time bill. Introduced on January 18 by business owner and State Senator Dan Wolf, and State Representative Kay Khan, the 2013 Earned Paid Sick Time bill would ensure that the one million Massachusetts workers who do not currently have access to paid sick time are able to earn time off to be used when they or their families are ill. A May 2012 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) revealed that earned sick time would save Massachusetts about of $74 million annually with substantial benefits for employees, employers, and public health.
“It’s smart economics to make sure that working people can afford to stay home when they or a loved one are sick without fear of falling behind on bills or losing their job,” said Senator Dan Wolf, lead sponsor of the 2013 Earned Paid Sick Time bill. “I’m a business owner myself, and this bill is the result of collaboration with the business community. We’ve included protections for small business owners that will make sick time easy to implement. This is a bill where everybody benefits.”
Sen. Wolf and Sen. Pat Jehlen are leading the push for sick time in the Senate and Rep. Kay Kahn introduced the bill in the House. Across the street from the Statehouse, dozens of sick time supporters protested outside a Dunkin’ Donuts, a corporation which recorded more than $500 million in profits in 2012 and does not provide paid sick time to its employees, forcing many of them to choose to come to work sick rather than lose the income, or their jobs. Low-wage employees at profitable chains like Dunkin’ Donuts are some of the one million workers in Massachusetts who cannot afford to miss a paycheck and are forced to work sick.
In the middle of the worst flu season in a decade that has resulted in 18 deaths in Massachusetts alone, the urgent need for earned sick time and its immediate public health benefits are clear. The Center for Disease Control estimates that 7 million Americans were infected by co-workers who went to work sick during the 2009 H1N1 outbreak.
“As a Personal Care Attendant, I care a lot about my job and the people I care for. Unfortunately, sometimes I am faced with the dilemma of what to do when I get sick,” said Latoya Johnson from Boston. “Too often I have to go to work sick because I can’t afford to lose wages. Personal Care Attendants need paid time off for ourselves and for the people we care for.”
“I recently met with a 29-year old MBTA worker, whose job is to run back and forth between the office and moving the T trains. During her first overnight shift she began experiencing chest tightness, coughing, and difficulty breathing. She was having an asthma attack,” said Dr. Pooja Chitneni from Boston Medical Center. “A single mother with a three-year-old daughter, this patient had already used up the few hours of sick time she had for the year and was on probation. Because of all this, she completed the rest of her shift putting off getting the medical care she desperately needed for her asthma attack.”
“As a registered nurse I see a growing number of patients who are so sick with the flu that they require hospitalization. We strongly recommend that people who have the flu stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone,” said Ellen Smith, Vice Chair of Massachusetts Nurses Association Regional Council 2 and nurse at UMass Memorial Medical Center – University Campus in Worcester. “The flu would be far better contained and the public’s health better protected if sick people have the ability to stay home without putting their livelihood at risk.”
According to the CDC, the average cost of the flu to employers is $10.4 billion, but the cost of this year’s epidemic is expected to be much higher. It is for this reason that more small business owners are supporting earned sick time legislation in Massachusetts.
“My business operates on tight margins, and I’ve found that offering paid sick time to my employees is a policy that boosts my bottom line,” said Paul Eldrenkamp, owner of Byggmeister, Inc., a residential remodeling contractor in Newton with nine employees. “When one of my employees is sick, I want them to stay home, recover and come back focused and ready to work. Turnover is a huge cost for a business, and training new employees is expensive. My employees stick with me for years, and that helps my business run smoothly.”
Numerous studies show the positive impact that earned sick time has on businesses and the economy, and cities and states have been adopting earned sick time policies to help improve public health and bolster the economic recovery over the past year. Economists say job retention policies like earned sick time help reduce unemployment and strengthen economic recovery, including 45 Massachusetts economists who signed a letter to the legislature in support of earned sick time last year. After six years with an earned sick time law in San Francisco, more than two in three San Francisco businesses support the local law with six in seven reporting no negative impact on profitability. In October, San Francisco was named by PricewaterhouseCoopers as one of the Top 2012 Cities of Opportunity for its sustainability, livability and quality of life.
“This Earned Sick Time Bill is good for working people, good for the economy, and good for business,” said Elizabeth Toulan, coordinator of the Massachusetts Paid Leave Coalition. “We need earned sick time to prevent a public health crisis like this flu from becoming a financial crisis for working families.”
“The untold story of this flu epidemic will be the toll it took on families who are getting by paycheck to paycheck,” said Deb Fastino, Director of the Coalition for Social Justice. “Everybody gets sick sometimes, and earned sick time will make sure that no one gets fired for catching the flu.”
Across the country, cities and states have been adopting paid sick days policies to help improve public health and bolster the economic recovery. In the summer of 2011, Connecticut passed the first statewide paid sick days law, followed soon after by a city-wide law in Seattle adding to the existing laws in San Francisco and Washington, DC, and to growing momentum from active campaigns in, Philadelphia, New York City, Portland, and others.
The Massachusetts Paid Leave Coalition includes: AFL-CIO – Massachusetts, Asian Task Force, AFSCME Council 93, Arise for Social Justice, BLET Local Div. 57, Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center, Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association, Boston Women’s Commission, Boston Teachers Union (AFT), Boston Tenant CoalitionBoyd’s Direct, Byggmeister, CHAPA, Charles Group Consulting, Children’s Law Center, Chinese Progressive, Association, City Life/Vida Urbana, Coalition Against Poverty/Coalition for Social Justice, Community Action Agency of Somerville, Community Legal Aid, Cradle, Dean’s Beans, Disability Law Center, Disability Policy Consortium, Eastern Mass OWL: The Voice for Midlife and Older Women, EMERGE, Equal Exchange, Inc., The Family Center, Flagraphics, Greater Boston Labor Council, Greater Boston Legal Services, Greater Southeastern Mass. Central Labor Council, Grenier Print Shop, Hampshire Franklin Central Labor Council, JALSA – Jewish Alliance for Law & Social Action, Jewish Labor Committee, Jobs With Justice, Johnston Associates, Mass. Affordable Housing Alliance, Mass. Commission on the Status of Women, Mass. COSH, Mass. Interfairth Worker Justice Committee, Mass. Law Reform Institute, Mass. NOW, Mass. Nurses’ Association, Mass. Public Health Association, Mass. School Nurse Organization, Mass. Senior Action, Mass. Women’s Bar Association, MassEquality, Merrimack Valley Central Labor Council, MetroWest Legal Services, MomsRising, MotherWoman, National Assoc. of Social Workers, MA Neighbor to Neighbor, MA Neighborhood Legal Services, New England United for Justice, North Shore Labor Council, One Massachusetts, Our Bodies, Ourselves, PACE, Painters District Council 35, Pioneer Valley Central Labor Council, Public Policy Institute, Plymouth Bristol Central Labor Council, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, SEIU Local 509, SEIU Local 615, SEIU Local 888, SEIU Mass. State Council, Somerville Commission for Women, South Coastal Counties Legal Services, South Mountain Company, Springfield Partners for Community Action, Take Back Your Time/Mass.Council of Churches, Teamsters Local 122, UAW Mass. CAP Council, UAW Local 1596, UAW Local 2320, UAW Local 2322, UFCW Local 791, UFCW Local 1445, UNITE HERE, Joint Board, UU Mass Action Network, William Gallagher Associates