As the nation prepares to celebrate Labor Day, we honor our region’s essential workers, who continue to support and sustain all of us through this pandemic. We also renew our call to fight for policies like emergency paid sick time that strengthen our communities and working families.
Every year but especially in 2020, we recognize the many contributions and sacrifices of our region’s heroes—people who work in our grocery stores, hospitals, warehouses, restaurants, afterschool programs and childcare centers. These are the people most deeply impacted by COVID-19, and the ones leading our region’s recovery. Yet many essential workers are ineligible to receive basic protections like adequate paid sick time.
In Massachusetts alone, 1.8 million people are estimated to lack access to job–protected, paid sick time—leaving so many households vulnerable to job loss and further economic ruin. For these workers, staying home may mean losing the income they need to put food on the table, pay rent, purchase essential medications, and keep their lights on.
Universal access to emergency paid sick time is critical to the lives of working families and our region’s public health response. As our communities move from relief to renewal, all workers must be able to miss work to care for themselves or their loved ones, without fear of losing the pay they need to make ends meet. This is especially true for Black, Latinx, and Asian American people who are overrepresented in front-line jobs and have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
Fortunately, the Massachusetts State Legislature is considering a bill – An Act Relative to Emergency Paid Sick Time (H.4700/S.2701) – that would strengthen worker protections and expand eligibility to certain essential workers that have been shut out of these benefits.
In 2014, Massachusetts passed the Earned Sick Time Law, which provides workers 40 hours of sick time each year. However, this amount is insufficient to meet the scale and breadth of the current global pandemic. It is imperative to increase job-protected paid sick time by ten additional workdays (80 hours) and allow for immediate use during the COVID-19 emergency.
Importantly, this legislation also expands eligibility to many of our region’s heroes who are not covered by the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)’s paid sick provisions. This includes employees working for a private employer with more than 500 employees, and employees working at health care or residential facilities that have opted to exempt themselves from the FFCRA.
2020 has tested our spirit and resilience, while unveiling the systemic inequities facing low-income workers and essential employees across the region.
Especially during this public health emergency, no one should have to make the choice between going to work sick or losing the pay they desperately need. This Labor Day, we celebrate our region’s heroes and commit to building on the legacy of labor unions by advocating for policies that empower working families and our communities.