At a meeting Thursday, September 17, the Board of Selectmen heard a proposal from Sandra DeBow-Huang, the director of the Human Resources Office, to allow a version of what she called “sick leave” for some of Brookline’s nonunion employees. It looked designed to resist Article 7 at the town meeting on November 17.
Earned Sick Time: At the state election of November, 2014, three out of four Brookline voters said Yes to Question 4. They joined other voters statewide to enact the Earned Sick Time law, which went into effect July 1. The new law governs most private companies in Massachusetts with 11 or more employees. However, it does not apply automatically to cities and towns.
Massachusetts towns can adopt the Earned Sick Time law and follow its state regulations through votes of town meetings. That is what Patricia Connors, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, and Cornelia “Kea” van der Ziel, a Precinct 15 town meeting member, propose in Article 7. Their explanation is straightforward.
“This law allows employees to use Earned Sick Time to look after their own medical needs or the needs of family members, or to address issues related to domestic violence. It requires an employer of eleven or more employees to provide a minimum of one hour of earned paid sick time for every thirty hours worked by an employee, up to 40 hours of earned paid sick time in a calendar year.”
Proposed benefits: An effort to resist Article 7 began this summer. Apparently seeing that outright opposition could easily be overcome at town meeting, Ms. DeBow-Huang proposed some concessions. The document that emerged on September 17 showed signs of haste. Obvious mistakes included grammatical errors, dangling phrases and duplicated paragraphs. Instead of “Earned Sick Time” it used several different terms, without defining them clearly.
The focus of the proposal was a favored set of nonunion employees who currently lack Earned Sick Time benefits–specified under Brookline’s Classification and Pay Plan, a policy document Ms. DeBow-Huang does not publish on the municipal Web site. Rather than hour-by-hour accruals of Earned Sick Time, Ms. DeBow-Huang proposed periodic “lump sum” accruals, which are also recognized under the new state regulations.
An item-by-item examination of the September 17 proposal found over a dozen items for which it was more restrictive than the new state law and regulations: reducing benefits or denying benefits to some employees. There looked to be no item that expanded on those state standards. On September 17, Ms. DeBow-Huang claimed the proposal was “generous,” but the examination showed the opposite. A subtext hinted by the September 17 proposal was trying to set a model for negotiations over union contract renewals.
Union employees: Most Town of Brookline employees belong to unions. Some of the “regular” employees–working more than half-time–have gotten Earned Sick Time benefits through union contracts for years. However, there can be different benefit policies, since there are different union locals representing employees. The contracts are public records, but Ms. DeBow-Huang does not publish them on the municipal Web site, making it tedious and costly for anyone outside her office to compare them.
The November town meeting will consider whether the September 17 proposal corresponds with what Brookline voters expected when endorsing the Earned Sick Time law. It looks likely that the Board of Selectmen will oppose adopting the new law and instead will support the September 17 proposal or some variant.
– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, September 25, 2015
Sandra DeBow-Huang, Paid sick leave, Brookline Office of Human Resources, September 17, 2015 (reformatted for readability and annotated, items examined highlighted in red)
Craig Bolon, Issues with proposed policy in lieu of Earned Sick Time, September 25, 2015
Earned Sick Time law, Office of the Massachusetts Secretary of State, 2015
Earned Sick Time regulations, Office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, 2015
Warrant for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015
Article explanations for November 17, 2015, special town meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, September 8, 2015