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Massachusetts Voters Will Weigh In On Guaranteeing Paid Sick Days

By Bryce Covert on December 5, 2013 at 9:34 am

"Massachusetts Voters Will Weigh In On Guaranteeing Paid Sick Days"

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On Tuesday, activists and workers delivered enough signatures to the State House to get a question on the 2014 ballot about whether to guarantee that the state’s workers get paid sick days.

The proposal from Raise Up Massachusetts, the group organizing to get paid sick leave, would require employers to let workers earn one hour of leave for every 30 hours worked, capping it at 40 hours a year. The group says that nearly 1 million workers in the state don’t have access to paid time off if they or their loved ones fall ill.

The state requires about 70,000 signatures to get questions on the ballot, but the group says it collected nearly 270,000. Sen. Ed Markey (D) is the lead petitioner on the ballot proposal and it also has support from Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D).

They also delivered enough signatures to put a question on the ballot raising the state’s minimum wage from the current floor of $8 an hour to $10.50 an hour by 2016 and give tipped workers a raise. But action on the minimum wage may come sooner, as state Senators recently approved a hike to $11 an hour that would automatically rise with inflation. It still has to pass the state House and be signed by Gov. Deval Patrick (D), and the House could wait until January to take it up. But if it becomes law it would be the highest state minimum wage in the country.

If voters approve the paid sick days proposal, Massachusetts would become just the second state to guarantee that its workers get such leave, joining Connecticut. Three other states could also enact such a policy, with efforts from activists and lawmakers underway in Oregon, New Jersey, and Vermont. Six cities have also passed such laws — Jersey City, NJ; New York City; Portland, OR; San Francisco, CA; Seattle, WA; and Washington, D.C. — and Newark, NJ and Tacoma, WA could soon join them. Still, 40 percent of the country’s private sector workers don’t have access to paid leave.

But even with that momentum, the opposition has been pushing back by enacting ten so-called “preemption bills” in the states that block cities and counties from enacting paid sick days legislation, seven of them passed this year. They have also been introduced in at least 14 state legislatures and Pennsylvania and North Carolina are considering such proposals. These efforts have been fueled by model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group of big businesses and conservative lawmakers, and support from large business interests like local Chambers of Commerce, Disneyland, and Darden Restaurants, owner of Olive Garden and Red Lobster.

Yet while these opponents argue that providing paid sick leave would create an unbearable cost, a body of evidence from the current laws shows that they have little negative impact and can even been a boon to business.

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