Massachusetts voters approve earned sick time referendum

By Christine M. Williams, Anchor Correspondent

BOSTON — On Election Day, 60 percent of Massachusetts voters extended the right to earn sick time to all wage earners in the state. Those workers will soon be able to accrue one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked. The law, a result of the voters’ approval of Question 4, will take effect on July 1, 2015.

Lewis Finfer, director of the Massachusetts Communities Action Network, said the new law will allow almost one million workers to take care of themselves and their families. 

“It’s about fairness,” Finfer said. “We’re taught in our faith tradition to put our faith values out into the world, and I think this very much affirmed people’s values about the dignity of people.”

Many faith-based groups supported the measure, including more than 20 Catholic parishes in the Diocese of Fall River that collected signatures for the ballot measure.

A statement from United Interfaith Action of Fall River and New Bedford said, “No parent in Massachusetts will be forced to choose between going to work to put food on the table and staying home to take care of a sick child. No worker will risk losing their job because they need to see a doctor.”

The four bishops of Massachusetts supported the law, deeming it “reasonable and fair.” The law limits the amount of sick time to 40 hours per year and requires employees to work 90 days before using their first sick day. The sick time will be paid at companies with more than 11 employees, but small businesses need only provide unpaid leave.

James F. Driscoll, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, the public policy arm for the four bishops of the Commonwealth, said, “This is a benefit that is very much needed and deserved,” adding that the measure’s 20-point margin of victory shows that citizens from all over the state agreed.

Voters rejected Question 3, another ballot measure supported by the bishops, which would have overturned the 2011 casino law. Driscoll said that the bishops are “disappointed.”

“The results of the election show the influence that a lot of money can have on a particular issue. In this case, there were at least three casinos that poured millions of dollars into the campaign, and that’s a tough battle to fight,” he said.

In a statement after the election, Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, said, “One can’t help but think that casino industry money loaded the dice on this election. The polls showed a near tie in early September but a $14 million TV ad campaign by Wynn Resorts, Penn National Gaming and MGM Resorts convinced the electorate that there was gold at the end of their illusionary rainbow.”

With less funding than the casino lobby, the “Yes on 3” campaign spent three years working to get the measure before voters. They made two petition attempts, two signature drives and fought legal battles just to get the question on the ballot.

John Ribeiro, chairman of “Yes on 3” said, “We overcame a lot of obstacles that were placed in our way,” adding that the group would continue to “attack different aspects of the law.”

Supporters of a different ballot question also have plans for continued action. Massachusetts Citizens for Life will be filing a bill in January that would require all abortion clinics in the state to be licensed and inspected. Currently, there are at least 15 unlicensed facilities in the state.

In preparation for that bill, MCFL filed a non-binding ballot question that instructs local state representatives to vote for the bill to be filed in January. The question passed in all 11 districts where it appeared on ballots. Those districts were the 6th, 7th, 8th Bristol (Fall River, Freetown), 12th Hampden (Wilbraham, Springfield), 4th, 5th, 12th Norfolk (Braintree, Weymouth, Norwood), 5th Plymouth (Rockland, Norwell, Hanover) and 3rd, 4th, 16th Worcester (Fitchburg, Leominster, city of Worcester).

In eight of those districts, more than 70 percent of voters approved the measure. Patricia Stewart, executive director of MCFL, said the wide-spread approval shows that inspecting abortion clinics is “common sense.”

“In waging the battle against abortion, we have to remember that there are two lives to protect: that of the unborn child and his or her mother. This victory is the first step toward a new law that will protect the life of these women,” she said.

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