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When voters head to the polls in November, they'll be asked to decide on four ballot questions.
Question four asks, should Massachusetts businesses be required to provide employees with paid, earned sick leave? California and Connecticut have already passed similar laws. But the United States as a whole stands virtually alone globally on this — there are no federal requirements for paid sick leave.
Here in Massachusetts, 1 million workers lack paid sick time. And nearly one in four say that they've been fired, suspended or punished for taking time off due to personal illness. On the other hand, many small business owners say they can't afford to offer paid sick leave and that if they had to, they'd be forced to raise prices or cut other benefits to make up the difference.
Two Perspectives On Question Four
On why to support/oppose question four:
Steve Crawford: "One out of every three workers in Massachusetts does not earn a single day of paid sick time, and that has an impact not only on their family but also on their community. When a worker loses that day's pay, that money is not available for them to buy a pair of shoes or get their hair done or buy something at the local five and ten. So, it impacts their family's needs but also the businesses in their neighborhood."
Bill Vernon: "We believe the paid sick leave mandate goes to the very heart of what it means to own and manage your own business by essentially removing any flexibility that the business owner and the employee have in developing an appropriate pay or benefit packages. This will cost money...and therefore, it's going to be a trade-off. And it either comes from the consumer of the product that the business is producing or from the worker in the business, whether it be vacation time, wages, health care benefits, retirement benefits. There is a cost, and in fact we think the proponents admit there is a cost."
On the cost question:
BV: "We did a study a couple of years ago with the proposal that was before the legislature at that time...and that said that Massachusetts would lose 16,000 jobs and it'd be about $8.4 billion in economic activity over a period of eight years."
SC: "San Francisco and Washington, D.C. are communities that have had earned sick time for a long time, and the economic impact on those communities is negligible, perhaps positive. Those local economies are doing better than their surrounding communities and a number of studies have shown the same thing. I've never seen the study quoted by Mr. Vernon. We have a similar study that says that it will cost the state $25 million each year if we don't implement earned sick time and I think it's common sense for people, if you can't get the time off, even if you have insurance, you're going to the emergency room with your kids at the most expensive rate."
On businesses having to face a double cost with paid sick leave:
SC: "I think the example given is laughable. It's a suggestion that the person who works at a day care center should go to work and get all the kids sick, we all know that they're sharing germs anyway but I mean it's kind of, it's a laughable example. I run my own small business, I have fewer than five employees, one thing I know is that when I'm sick, I get paid. And the people who fill in for me, I make sure that they get paid too because it encourages loyalty, it's better for productivity, and I find it's better for profitability and I know that there are small businesses like mine — retail and a bunch of industries — that are successfully providing paid sick time to their workers because they think it gives them an advantage. Question four levels the playing field so that everybody is playing by the same rules."
BV: "I think this points out that there are different kinds of businesses. There are businesses in which you can substitute or switch shifts and come back and do extra hours — there are businesses where that cannot happen."
On recent regulations imposed on small businesses in Massachusetts:
BV: "I know that small businesses will adapt, they always do. But the fact of the matter is that in Massachusetts, we've raised the minimum wage, we have the highest health care cost in the country, we have very high energy costs that are really hurting our manufacturing sector and the sick leave bill is another straw on the camel's back that has, in fact, affected job creation."
SC: "I think a lot of small businesses have an informal policy — particularly the successful and responsible ones. That if you work there for a long time and you're a good employee and you're sick or your child's sick you can take time off but a lot of businesses don't have a policy or are not as responsible as some of us would like and...this levels the playing field. It creates a standard so that all employers and all employees know what they're entitled to when they go to work somewhere."
On how question four could impact existing paid time off:
BV: "I'm all for sick time. Actually, the more progressive HR program today is probably paid time off, and that whole system of, you get so many days a year and the employer doesn't ask whether it's vacation, personal, sick, you get these many days a year. That whole thing is called into some sort of legal limbo because now we're going backwards to a system where people get so many hours of sick time. And the comprehensive nature...of this proposal is such that it does apply to state workers, so the taxpayers will be paying for this. It does apply to part-time seasonal workers so, they also earn sick time...[It's] the most comprehensive mandate in the country and I think when you get into these aspects of the bill, I think people have to take a second look."
SC: "It's just not true that this would impact flex time proposals. This is a scare tactic that's been used nationally. If your employer provides an equal or better benefit from what's provided in the bill, it doesn't change your sick time benefit or your flex time benefit at all, whether they're an in-state employee or out-of-state employee."
- "Massachusetts voters will be asked to answer four questions on their ballots in November. The fourth asks if they approve of a proposed law that says Massachusetts employees would be able to earn sick time and use it to miss work if sick or caring for an ill child, parent, or spouse."
This article was originally published on September 23, 2014.
This segment aired on September 23, 2014.
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