April 2, 2010
BOSTON – Janet Rapoza had to contend with sickness and her employer’s threats of termination during her 14 years of working at Wal-Mart.
“I was sick, fighting off two illnesses, and went over the three unpaid sick days multiple times,” said Rapoza, a New Bedford resident, during a rally Thursday at the State House.
The rally was held to show support for a bill that would require employers to provide paid sick time.
Although she fought, Rapoza said she saw “many people fired, including a woman whose son had asthma.”
More than 1.4 million workers in Massachusetts do not get paid sick days, and they have to choose between going to work sick or staying home and potentially losing their jobs, speakers said.
“This has to change,” said Victoria Reggie Kennedy, widow of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, as the crowd cheered. “It’s a family issue and a public health issue. …It’s a common sense issue.”
Legislation before the Joint Committee on Healthcare Financing would require all employers to offer paid sick leave to their employees. Employees would earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours of work.
Ellen Wallace, a senior attorney for Greater Boston Legal Services and a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Paid Leave Coalition, said she often assists people who have been fired for being sick.
“There was one woman who called her doctor and said she had flu-like symptoms,” Wallace said. “Her doctor advised her not come into his office and not go into work until she had no more symptoms. She was fired from her job for taking her doctor’s advice.”
Richard Meier of Abington-based Meier & Associates is among the small-business owners opposed to the bill.
“I like to give employees everything I can, and keep them employed,” Meier said. “The Paid Sick Leave Act will make it that much more difficult.”
William Vernon, director of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, said most small businesses already have paid sick leave benefits.
“I think the danger is the idea that the Massachusetts Legislature can determine what the benefits are for an employee,” said Vernon, who lives in Mansfield. “This bill is anti-business.”