News & Media Coverage

Interfaith group rallies in Brockton for sick leave measure

October 19, 2014  |  The Boston Globe

ByTodd Feathers

BROCKTON — Chefiatou Falana’s 5-year-old daughter has sickle cell anemia, a disease that flares up at unexpected times and requires frequent trips to the hospital.

Falana, 34, is a single mom who works through a temp agency in customer service positions. She receives no sick days, and in the past has had to give up jobs at Comcast and Wendy’s because they would not give her paid time off to care for her daughter.

“I’ve been there and I know what it’s like to not have the money to take care of your child,” Falana said.

She joined more than 40 people Saturday afternoon at a rally in Brockton to support Question 4 on the Nov. 4 ballot. The measure would require that all public and private employers of a certain size allow employees up to 40 hours of paid sick leave each year.

On the steps of Brockton District Court, Falana and other members of the Brockton Interfaith Community, which backs the measure, said such a law is necessary to ensure that low-income workers have equal opportunities to hold steady jobs and stay off government assistance.

“As a single mom, having no support, the only thing you rely on is God and the strength he gave you to work,” Falana told the crowd.

If passed, Question 4 would mandate that every employer with 11 or more workers guarantee employees one paid sick day for every 30 hours they work, up to 40 total hours of sick leave per year.

Companies with fewer than 11 employees would be required to provide up to 40 hours of unpaid sick leave. The law would apply to both full- and part-time workers, as well as employees of nonprofits and government agencies.

Opponents of the measure, like Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, say that mandated sick leave is not necessarily a bad thing, but that in its current form the ballot measure would have little effect on big corporations while posing a significant threat to small businesses.

“It applies a one-size-fits-all for employees and employers alike, and, therefore, harms small businesses,” he said.

Hurst’s three teenage children worked for a local YMCA. If Question 4 were passed, teenagers like his kids would also receive mandatory sick time.

“If someone calls in sick, you’ve got to find somebody to cover that swim class, you’ve got to have a certain number of lifeguards,” Hurst said.

He added that for a nonprofit like the YMCA, it could be difficult to pay two employees, one of whom is not actually working.

“A small employer or not-for-profit is not the same as a big state agency or a union-organized employer,” Hurst said.

He said he would prefer that any sick leave law be passed by the Legislature, not as a ballot measure, and resemble a Connecticut law passed in June that only requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide paid leave.

Outspent and behind in the polls, Hurst and his allies seem to be fighting an uphill battle.

According to a MassINC/WBUR poll last month, 56 percent of respondents favored the measure, with 25 percent opposed and 18 percent undecided.

And since last year, the pro-Question 4 group Raise up Massachusetts has spent more than $450,000 backing the measure while the No on 4 Committee has spent nothing.

The ballot measure also has the support of many unions, which are the primary financial backers of Raise Up Massachusetts.

In Brockton on Saturday, the rally split up around 1 p.m. as supporters set off into the city to knock on doors and canvass in the area.

Betty Girardin, who is retired but was at the rally with the Brockton Interfaith Community, said the response in the city has been overwhelmingly supportive.

“This is a city of workers, a lot of part-time workers, minimum wage workers, low-income workers,” she said.

“If they’re sick, they go to work sick or else they lose their job.”

Todd Feathers can be reached at Follow him on Twitter@ToddFeathers.