Today in Massachusetts, almost one million workers can't take a single day of paid sick time to visit the doctor, take care of a sick child, or help an elderly parent. This represents about one in three workers and over half of workers earning under $35,000 a year.
On Nov. 4, we can guarantee access to earned sick time for all workers in Massachusetts by voting yes on Question 4.
A recent study from Mass Budget and Policy Center outlines the local rates of workers in Massachusetts who do not have paid sick time, and shows that this issue affects people in communities across Central Massachusetts.
It's not a big surprise that 37 percent of working people in the city of Worcester have no paid sick time. Likewise, 38 percent of workers who live in Northeast Worcester County (including Leominster, Fitchburg and Gardner) have no paid sick time. In the rest of Worcester County, between 30 percent and 34 percent of workers can't take a single day of paid sick time.
Employees without access to sick time are often left having to choose between taking care of the child they love or the job that puts food on the table. Question 4 would allow them to take time to take care of their health or the health of a family member without fear of losing their job or a day's pay.
Many successful employers already provide earned sick time, and these businesses will not have to make any changes to their policies. Question 4 simply sets a basic standard that all employers must meet, and prohibits employer retaliation against workers who take time off due to illness. It provides a basic level of dignity for all.
At companies with 10 or fewer employees, workers would earn up to 40 hours of unpaid sick time to visit the doctor or take care of a sick family member. At companies with 11 or more employees, workers would earn up to 40 hours of paid sick time.
And Question 4 protects employees from being fired or penalized just for using their earned sick time.
Large and small Massachusetts businesses, like Beth Israel, Cape Air, and Boyd's Direct, support earned sick time because they know it makes workers healthier, more productive, and more loyal to their employers. Businesses that implement earned sick time find that it reduces employee turnover, increases productivity, and helps their bottom line.
It also keeps money in the pockets of families, who can then spend it in their neighborhood on a haircut, new clothes for their kids, or eating lunch at a local diner. This is critical to boosting our local economies, especially in struggling parts of the state.
In places that already have earned sick time, like San Francisco and Washington, D.C., job growth has been higher than in neighboring communities without the policy. Research from the Institute for Women's Policy Research finds that existing earned sick time laws in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Connecticut and Seattle keep families financially secure and make business and economic sense. That's why the Alliance for Business Leadership and the state's leading hospitals and health care providers support Question 4.
Question 4 is good for businesses, and it's good for families. Any teacher or school nurse can tell you about kids who are sent to school sick because their parent has to go to work. Some students even refuse to go to the nurse's office because they know their parent will be called to come pick them up, and their parent can't leave work without risking their job.
Question 4 will ensure that no child or parent is put in that situation.
Think about the people you know who don't have earned sick time. Maybe it's your sister; maybe it's your neighbor; maybe it's the man who bags groceries for you every week, or the woman who keeps your office building clean.If you think they deserve better, vote yes on Question 4 on Nov. 4.
Deb Fastino is with the Coalition for Social Justice and Phil Edmundson is with the Alliance for Business Leadership.