Big win for workers in Massachusetts: Paid Sick Days

By Paul Drake, Massachusetts Interfaith Worker Justice

Last Tuesday, Massachusetts voters strongly approved a ballot question guaranteeing workers five days worth of earned sick time. Starting July 1, 2015, all workers will be able to start earning one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked. This will bring into the fold nearly one million Massachusetts workers who cannot earn sick time currently, a full third of our workforce.

Actualizing this strong public support for earned sick time was the final step in a long struggle that began more than eight years ago in the state legislature and culminated in the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition's grassroots campaign to put humane labor standards at the forefront of public policy making here. Earlier this year we were able to use our other ballot initiative to win passage of an $11 minimum wage via the state legislature. And since low-wage workers are also those least likely to have sick time, these two measures together will help redeem some of the deep insecurity of those on the margins of our economy. Respectively, these two policies will be the strongest state minimum wage and earned sick time policies in the country, once fully implemented.

As people of faith, we know policies like earned sick time and healthy minimum wages right core wrongs in our economic relationships, but so does the public at large. Voters approved progressive measures like minimum wage raises and sick leave standards from coast to coast on Tuesday. Here in Massachusetts, nearly 60 percent of voters approved the sick time question. And therein lies both our hope and our responsibility: people fundamentally feel the economic brokenness that surrounds them, and they will act on this, given the opportunity.

Our task as communities of faith is to tap into this recognition and help build constructive opportunities to actually address our shared vulnerability, instead of unhealthy responses that fail to address its core dynamics. Here in Massachusetts, the ballot initiative tool has proved a powerful means of doing just that, by allowing volunteers to engage voters directly on the issues: petitioning, knocking on doors, making calls, drawing out stories, and building actionable consensus. This process has been incredibly empowering for communities of faith here, by providing us a tangible way to lift up some of the core vulnerabilities people face as workers and a means to publicize our collective voice for justice in a way that fosters concrete, redemptive action.

IWJ affiliates are mobilizing faith communities and worker advocates to win earned sick time throughout the country. New Labor, an IWJ-affiliated worker center in New Brunswick, N.J., is using the energy from successful Trenton and Montclair sick leave campaigns to push for legislation in New Brunswick and also state wide. You can learn more about how to support New Labor here.

Learn more about how to get involved in sick leave work in your community here.