SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

May 14, 2014

Mandated sick leave could go on fall ballot

BOSTON — Sara Dudley has no choice but to clean houses when she’s sick. Dudley, 32, works for a contractor who doesn’t offer sick pay, and she can’t afford to lose a day’s wages, she said.

“Nobody likes going to work with a cold, but what can you do? The bills aren’t going to pay themselves,” said Dudley, a Middleton resident who balances house-cleaning with taking online business courses and caring for her 6-year-old son.

Dudley is among an estimated 1 million workers — roughly one-third of the state’s private-sector workforce — who don’t have sick-leave benefits, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

A coalition of unions, advocacy groups and religious leaders started collecting signatures this weekend to put a sick-leave referendum on the November ballot.

Their measure would force companies with more than 10 employees to offer two weeks of paid sick leave, while companies with fewer than 10 employees would have to provide two weeks of unpaid time.

Workers wouldn’t be able to claim sick days until after the first 90 days of employment, and unused time couldn’t be rolled over into the next year.

Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said small-business owners are struggling to afford state-mandated health care for employees, workers compensation and unemployment insurance. Mandated sick pay would only add to their financial burden, he said.

“Employers need to have the flexibility to do what is right for them and their workers. They don’t need government to dictate what those policies should be,” said Hurst, a Beverly resident. “If we continue to do that, our main streets are eventually going to go dark.”

Hurst said powerful labor groups, including the AFL-CIO and Service Employees International Union, are using Massachusetts as a testing ground for mandated sick leave and similar initiatives, including efforts to raise the minimum wage.

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