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Massachusetts bill filed for hazard pay for essential workers



Chris Van Buskirk/SHNS

A Foxborough lawmaker is renewing a push to institute hazard pay for employees of essential services who worked outside their homes during the COVID-19 state of emergency.

Sen. Paul Feeney filed a bill (S 1195) that would pay essential workers one and a half times their normal rate for work done during the state of emergency. Rep. Maria Robinson filed similar legislation last session that was ultimately sent to study, effectively ending its bid to become law. “This bill recognizes that not every worker has the opportunity to work from home, to do what we’re doing right now, to get paid while on Zoom, to work remotely in the safety bubble of their own home,” Feeney said. “When we hand out money to businesses and institutions that some say are essential, I don’t think it’s beyond reach, I don’t think it’s radical to mandate that workers who have actually earned the designation of being essential are treated as such.”

The legislation does not apply to state workers or “bona fide” executive, administrative or professional personnel exempt from overtime under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. Feeney’s bill also directs Attorney General Maura Healey’s office to enforce its provisions and requires essential employers to provide personal protective equipment to employees.

Christopher Carlozzi, state director for the Massachusetts Small Business Association, said businesses are operating under capacity restrictions that result in fewer customers and less revenue. Hazard pay would ultimately increase the price of products because businesses would need to pay employees more for showing up to work, Carlozzi said. He recalled the early days of the pandemic when many people rushed to grocery stores to purchase things like toilet paper. “The toilet paper rush and all the essentials people were buying, well, if you remember, those products were higher priced because there was much more demand for some of these items,” he said. “Now couple that with businesses needing to offset the cost of paying their workers more for coming in through premium pay, well, that’s just going to increase the price of those products even more for people.”

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