“They figure Massachusetts is their best shot for getting this approved,” he said. “This would be a first-in-the-nation mandate.”
The sick-leave petition drive is beginning after lawmakers failed to act on sick time legislation by a Wednesday deadline. If supporters collect 10,800 signatures by June 18, as those on both sides of the issue expect, the question will go to voters.
“We’ve been pushing this issue on Beacon Hill for years, and it’s never really gotten anywhere,” said Steve Crawford, a spokesman for the advocacy group Raise Up Massachusetts, which is organizing the ballot measure to raise the state’s minimum wage. “This time, we’re going to the voters.”
Crawford said big-business interests are driving opposition to mandatory sick-leave benefits.
He noted that people in Massachusetts are proud to claim the mantle of being among the first states to adopt universal health care. “But if you can’t get off work to go to the doctor or pick up your sick child at school, is that really universal access?” he asked.
Bob Luz, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, said business owners are most concerned with a provision that would allow workers to take sick leave for a few hours at a time. “In the retail world, that’s totally unmanageable,” he said.
Restaurant owners who offer paid sick leave say most employees don’t use the benefit — or end up abusing it, Luz said.
“Most people don’t use sick days when they’re sick; they bank them and try to use them as vacation days,” he said.
Erin Calvo-Bacci, owner of The Chocolate Truffle, employs fewer than 10 workers at her store in Reading and a small manufacturing facility in Swampscott. She provides paid sick days to employees who work more than 20 hours a week on a case-by-case basis. She said she worries that mandating sick leave would lead to abuses in the workplace and a loss of productivity.