Bishops back ballot measure for earned sick leave

By Christine M. Williams, Anchor Correspondent

BOSTON — The four bishops of Massachusetts have thrown their support behind a ballot question that would allow workers in the state to accrue sick time. Last week, they released a statement calling on voters to approve Question 4 on November 4.

A “yes” vote on Question 4 would allow all employees to earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked. They would need to work 90 days before using their first sick day. The sick time would be paid at companies with more than 11 employees. Small businesses with no more than 10 employees would be required to grant unpaid sick leave. The amount of sick time would be limited to 40 hours a year. The bishops deemed the law “reasonable and fair.”

Similar laws already exist in California and Connecticut and a handful of cities across the United States.

James F. Driscoll, executive director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference, the public policy arm for the four bishops of the Commonwealth, said the issue of earned sick leave is important to all workers but principally affects low-wage earners.

“This issue goes mostly to the least paid among us,” he said.

The bishops said that work enhances the dignity of the human person and that job security is essential so that workers can support themselves and their loved ones.

Earned sick time contributes to the dignity of every worker and allows them to take care of their own health and that of their family members. Often, it is the low-wage earners who do not earn sick time and fear they will lose their job if they do not go to work, the bishops said.

“Today, those without sick time are oftentimes forced to choose between going to work sick or losing a day’s pay, in many cases threatening the loss of their job. Tragically, many are forced to send a sick child to school to save their income or their job,” they said.

Margaret LaFleur, a parishioner at St. Michael Parish in Fall River and former elementary school principal, said she has witnessed this reality first-hand. Many parents would send their kids to school sick because they were afraid of losing their jobs. These parents loved their children and wanted to care for them but also needed to provide for them through their work.

“A lot of people who have the benefit of sick time don’t realize how hard it is for the working poor who don’t have this benefit,” she said. “We are responsible to help our brothers and our sisters who are less fortunate.”

Jack Livremento, a parishioner at Our Lady of Assumption Parish in New Bedford,” called earned sick leave a “justice issue.” Without it, employees cannot enjoy the fruits of their work.

The Catholic faith calls on its members to work toward establishing a just society. Part of that is making sure that all people, especially the poor who are most vulnerable, are treated fairly, he said.

“I’ve been lucky. Almost my entire employment career, I have had earned sick time as part of the job I was hired for. Over one million employees in Massachusetts do not have it,” he said. 

Livremento has been canvassing in support of the ballot measure and called the bishops’ recent support “encouraging.”

“I’m encouraged to feel that we’re on the same page here,” he said.

In their statement, the bishops added that allowing earned sick time will not only mean healthier workers and families, but it will also mean healthier workplaces and schools.

The bishops said that their support of the ballot measure is in keeping with the teachings of the entire Catholic Church. They cited Pope Francis in his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, “It is through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive labor that human beings express and enhance the dignity of our lives.”

Along the same vein, the bishops have previously supported increasing the minimum wage and ballot Question 3, which would overturn the 2011 casino law, which they say harms citizens.

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