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Every day, workers across the Commonwealth have to make a tradeoff between their paycheck and caring for themselves or their family. Some are fortunate to be able to stay home with pay when they or their loved ones are ill. Paid sick leave, however, is far from universal. In Massachusetts, more than half of private sector employees (nearly 1 million people) don’t have access to paid sick leave.

Pending legislation before the Massachusetts legislature would address this situation. The bill, An Act Establishing Paid Sick Days, would require all employers in the Commonwealth to offer at least seven days of paid sick leave to their employees.

Paid sick days are beneficial for public health, business productivity, and reduced healthcare costs. Paid sick leave would help prevent the spread of contagious diseases like H1N1. Unfortunately, workers without access to paid sick days often have to go to their job when they are unwell. This practice has negative consequences for everyone. Their presence in the workplace can expose coworkers and customers to illness. Sickness decreases a worker’s productivity and effectiveness, and their inability to rest prolongs the problem by slowing recovery. A health impact assessment conducted by Health Impact Partners showed that people who have paid sick days visit the emergency room less often and delay necessary medical care less frequently, which both help keep healthcare costs down.

When a company doesn’t offer paid sick days, it negatively affects a worker’s entire family. Parents without paid sick leave are often unable to take time off when their children are not well, which has been shown to lead to worse health outcomes for kids. Some workers are penalized or even fired for taking time off work when they are ill, putting their livelihood at risk. Many low-wage workers, who are least likely to have access to paid sick days through their jobs, have to make tradeoffs between medical care and food for their families.

Although nearly half of legislators support An Act Establishing Paid Sick Days, Speaker DeLeo and Senate President Murray have not prioritized the bill. Last session, the bill was voted out of the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development favorably. However, influential business lobbyists worked hard to prevent the bill from getting to a vote. These delay tactics have continued this session, and they are harmful to workers, their families, and their communities around the state.

Although some businesses oppose offering this benefit, not all companies agree. Many employers already recognize the importance of paid sick leave and have implemented such policies. A 2009 cost-benefit analysis found that under the proposed legislation, Massachusetts businesses would actually save $130 million annually from reduced turnover costs. Our legislators on Beacon Hill must stand up against the business lobbyists who oppose the bill, and listen to their constituents. There is widespread public support for such a policy. A poll by Lake Research Partners showed that 89% of voters nationwide “favor paid sick days as a basic labor standard.” This support crosses party and gender lines.

Workers need Massachusetts to be a leader and pass this legislation. We should join the three major cities in the United States that have already passed similar policies (San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington DC), as well as the 145 different countries around the globe that guarantee some form of paid leave. The Commonwealth already recognizes the importance of paid sick leave by offering it to state employees. But for the nearly a million private sector employees in the state without access to paid sick days, that’s not enough.

Just a few years ago, we improved the lives of countless working families in Massachusetts by passing and implementing health care reform. Now it’s time to be a leader again and show that Massachusetts stands with all workers by passing An Act Establishing Paid Sick Days.

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