SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

May 14, 2014

Mandated sick leave could go on fall ballot

(Continued)

“We’re a small company, and if someone calls in sick, I have to scramble to backfill that position. In most cases, that’s me,” she said. “When we have orders to be filled, people don’t want to hear, ‘I couldn’t do it because someone was sick.’ It ends up costing me.”

Supporters of mandated sick leave say their hopes are buoyed by success elsewhere. New York City, for example, in April became the latest municipality to make businesses pay sick workers. Cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, Newark, N.J., and Portland, Ore., have also adopted local laws on sick pay.

So far, Connecticut has the only statewide requirement. The law, approved two years ago, allows workers up to five paid sick days a year if they work at a business with at least 50 employees.

Still, business groups have fought back with their own proposals, including legislation that has passed in 11 states — Florida, Arizona, North Carolina and Wisconsin, among them — that prohibits communities from enacting paid sick leave ordinances.

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, 39 percent of American workers get no paid leave. The ratio more than doubles in the lowest-paid tenth of the workforce.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act allows up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave a year for an employee to recover from a health condition or care for a loved one. But the law covers only workers at companies with 50 or more employees.

Labor groups are also trying to get a referendum on the November ballot to raise the state’s minimum wage from $8 to $11 an hour. Lawmakers in the House and Senate are also weighing increases to the minimum wage, but it’s unclear whether anything will be approved before the end of session on July 31.

A sick-pay campaign is expected to draw big money from both sides. “A lot of eyes will be watching what happens with this referendum,” Hurst said.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse. He can be reached at cwade@cnhi.com

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