No Worker Should Have to Choose Between Their Job and Their Health

Wednesday, May 26, 2020

Chairwoman Jehlen, Chairman Hay, and Members of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development: 

My name is Jonathan Cohn, and I am the chair of the Issues Committee of Progressive Massachusetts. Our organization and our 16 chapters around the state advocate for shared prosperity, racial and social justice, robust democracy, and environmental sustainability. 

We are writing today to urge you to give a favorable report to SD.2918/HD.5039: An Act relative to emergency paid sick time

Our top priority over the past two months has been to ensure that the Commonwealth’s response to COVID-19 is equitable and leaves no one behind. A guiding principle of an equitable response is that no worker should be forced to choose between their health and their livelihood. 

There are clear income and class divides in who has access to robust benefits at work and who has the ability to work from home. Healthcare and long-term care workers, janitorial workers, food service workers, child care workers, and many gig workers do not have the luxury to work from home as many in the finance, tech, and media sectors (among other industries) do. And they are also the essential workers that have kept society running over the past few months and have always done so. By having to show up in work in person, they have had to put themselves at risk, or face the risk of greater economic insecurity -- an untenable dilemma. 

As our state embarks on a premature, phased-in “reopening,” it is important that we have in place the health and safety measures to prevent a second surge. That requires filling the gaps in paid sick leave legislation so that no worker who is sick (or has a sick loved one) feels compelled to go into work in order to make ends meet. 

Massachusetts’s landmark 2014 earned sick time law does not provide enough hours to meet the scale of the crisis, and the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) has big coverage gaps that leave millions of front-line workers without paid sick time.

Emergency paid sick time legislation would provide ten additional work-days (80 hours) of job-protected paid sick time for immediate use during the COVID-19 outbreak for all workers not covered by recently passed federal legislation. It would be available, with no waiting period, for a worker to care for themselves or a family member, domestic partner, or household member if they or said love one is diagnosed with COVID-19, experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and awaiting a diagnosis, quarantined or self-quarantined, or reasonably believes their health is at risk.

This crisis has shown clearly that the health of each one of us is connected (the mantra of public health professionals for decades). And to have a sound public health response, we need people to stay home if they are sick -- and to be able to afford to do so. 



Jonathan Cohn

Chair, Issues Committee

Progressive Massachusetts

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