Question 4:
Passage Would Control Sick Time

Related: WTBU Reporter DJ Rock spoke with Ryan Kearney who serves as General Counsel for The Retailers Association of Massachusetts, a group that adamantly opposes the ballot measure.

By Nicole Jacques
BU News Service

Some Fenway businesses have warmed up to a state initiative that would require more sick time for employees, an idea Bay State employers rejected nearly a decade ago.

In a University of Massachusetts, Lowell, poll released last week, 66 percent of potential voters said they favored Question 4, which proposes new policies on earning paid employee sick time. If approved, employers with 11 or more employees would have to allow workers to earn up to 40 hours of paid sick time per calendar year. For businesses with less than 11 employees, workers could earn up to 40 hours of unpaid sick time during that period. Employees would earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked.

If voters say yes to Question 4, the law would make Massachusetts only the third state with such a policy. California, Connecticut, and some cities already had sick leave requirements for employers. Legislators in Massachusetts have discussed the possibility of such a law for decades. Official legislation was first filed to the Joint Committee of Labor and Workforce Development in 2005, but it failed to pass because of strong opposition from businesses. Now, some employers say they don’t believe changing sick leave policies will be that much of an issue.

George Psikarakis, the manager of Fenway Café on Brookline Avenue, oversees a family-run coffee and beverage shop with fewer than 11 employees. Just one person runs the store at a time. He supports the proposed change, saying his store could handle a change in sick leave policies largely because his workers are mainly family members. He predicted it would be even less of an problem for bigger companies.

“Most big businesses, they have that already,” said Psikarakis. “If you have more than 11 employees, you’re really comfortable to do that.”

Carl Nilsson, field director of the “Yes on 4” campaign, said approving the bill would benefit more than just big business.

“[Question four] is good for small businesses, it’s good for big businesses, it’s good for the economy overall,” said Nilsson.

Managers at some larger businesses in Fenway agree.

“To my knowledge, it’s not an issue that would affect our company,” said Tim Pettit, floor manager at the Red Sox Team Store on Yawkey Way.

Pettit said his store, which is managed by the Forty Seven Brands company, already has sick time policies for the company’s more than 100 full time staff members.

In making the case for the sick leave initiative, Nilsson also pointed to studies by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, and others that showed cities with earned sick time policies saw more business growth.

Opponents of Question 4, however, argue that the proposed policy would do more harm than good to certain businesses.

Bill Rennie, vice president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, filed the official argument against the proposal to the Office of the Secretary of the Commonwealth.

Rennie said it is great if a company wants to offer these extended sick leave provisions, but they should not be legally mandated to do so.

“We’re not opposed to sick leave,” he said, “[but] this is taking a one-size-fits-all approach to a wide range of employers.”

Ballot Question 4
(Graphic by Katherine Lam)

According to a 2012 study published by the National Federation of Independent Business, passing an earned paid sick days bill into law could mean the loss of 16,000 Massachusetts jobs by 2016. Rennie said the local and statewide economy just could not handle that. He said the law would just mean more “red tape” for small businesses already struggling to make ends meet.

“Small businesses don’t have the resources that big businesses do to track paid sick time,” he said, adding that requiring all companies to compensate for sick time could also lead to lower wages at small establishments.

“The ice cream shop on the Cape shouldn’t have to abide by the same standards [as large businesses],” said Rennie.

Seth Samson, a manager at Giant Cycling World, did not have an opinion on the measure but said voters must remember to weigh the importance of the potential law’s effect on retail versus corporate employees before checking off yes or no.

“If one of us gets sick, it [hurts],” said Samson of his shop, which has roughly a half dozen employees.

Tiny businesses, he added, just don’t have a lot of latitude.



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