Submitted by Rep. Ken Gordon (D-Bedford)
Rep. Ken Gordon’s efforts to bring paid family and medical leave to workers and small business throughout the Commonwealth took a big step forward last week when his bill passed with unanimous approval from the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development.
The lead bill, filed by the Democrat from Bedford and attached to similar legislation filed by Sen. Karen Spilka (D-Ashland) and Rep. Antonio Cabral (D-New Bedford) will provide up to 12 weeks of partial salary reimbursement to working parents upon the birth or adoption of a child or a serious illness or injury to a child requiring hospitalization or consistent medical care. It will also provide partial wage replacement to workers who must take time to care for a seriously ill or injured spouse or parent.
“If this bill passes, working parents will no longer have to choose between spending time together upon the joy of a new baby, or the stress of an ill or injured child,” said Rep Gordon. “If they are met with the heartbreaking news that a husband or wife is facing critical care, they can sit by their loved one’s side, and not kiss they goodbye as they head off to a job they need.”
Workers would be paid a portion of their salary through a fund administered by the Treasurer. Premiums would be paid half by the worker, half by the employer. Lower-wage workers would be paid most of their salary, higher wage workers would get a smaller portion, to a cap of $650 a week. Workers who are ill or injured themselves will have up to 26 weeks of job-protected leave through the program, with confirmed medical documentation.
The bill will not only ease the pressure for workers, it will do the same for the owners of the business that employ them, said Gordon.
“In these situations, a small business owner suffers almost as much stress as the workers themselves. I spoke to a dozen small businesses in Burlington, Bedford and Wilmington. I hosted a Chamber of Commerce round-table, along with business forums that included the US Labor Secretary, Tom Perez, and another with Deputy Secretary Chris Lu. After hearing the details of this bill, every employer who began our conversation with skepticism wound up either supporting the bill, or becoming neutral to it.”
The program will cost an average of $3.24 per week, which means $159 per year for each full-time employee, split between the employer and employee. The premium for a minimum wage employee will be $71 per year, and the premium will be capped for employees who reach the $650 per week limit.
Taken against the current costs employers face when their employees take leave, this program can provide a savings for small business, along with security for both the owners and the employees, according to Gordon. “Whether they realize it or not, there is a cost to employers when a worker takes leave. I spoke to the owner of a local sandwich shop, who pays his workers on leave and makes up for the shifts by extending the hours of part-timers. Essentially, he pays both the worker on leave and the part-timer for the same shift. If this plan is passed in to law, the program will pay the worker on leave and the only will pay the part-timer. The difference is a savings to the owner.
“I spoke with the owners of two Bedford businesses who have less than 10 employees each. They described the stress they feel every day, because they are worried that if a full-time worker leaves to take care of a family member, they will be forced to replace them or keep their job open by paying them and a replacement at the same time. One told me in a joking way he’s just getting too old for the stress.”
The bill is headed for the House of Representatives. If it receives a successful vote, it will be taken up by the Senate before it makes its way to the Governor’s desk.