Mass. lawmakers seek hazard duty pay for quarantined, infected first responders
A bipartisan proposal would prevent affected first responders in the state from needing to using their sick, personal or vacation days while they are unable to work
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Christian M. Wade
The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.
BOSTON — Police, firefighters, nurses and other first responders shouldn't have to dip into their work benefits if they get COVID-19 or come into contact with the coronavirus, according to some lawmakers who want more protections for those on the front lines of the pandemic.
A bipartisan proposal backed by nearly 50 lawmakers would allow first responders to get "emergency hazard health duty" pay if they are hospitalized or required to quarantine themselves due to infection or exposure to COVID-19. The measure, if approved, means they wouldn't have to use their sick, personal or vacation days if they are "incapacitated" or can't work.
Lawmakers backing the changes say are needed to help those most at risk of contracting the virus that has infected 6,620 people and killed 89 in Massachusetts as of Tuesday.
"Given all that they are doing, working long hours and putting themselves at a higher risk than the rest of the population, we need to do everything we can to help them," said Rep. Tram Nguyen, D-Andover, one of the bill's co-signers. "We need to give them the support they need to continue this important work."
Another co-signer, Rep. Linda Campbell, D-Methuen, said it's "the least we can do" for public sector workers who must remain on job during the health crisis.
"You have to assume that these people are going to be exposed to the virus while they're out there protecting us," she said. "We need to do whatever we can to protect them."
Besides police and firefighters, the proposed changes would cover fire and police dispatchers, correctional officers, EMTs, paramedics and nursing professionals.
The legislation is backed by the New England Police Benevolent Association and the Massachusetts Coalition of Police, both which represent mostly rank-and-file officers.
Meanwhile, another legislative proposal would provide time-and-a-half pay for "essential" state and local government employees who are required to work outside their homes during the state of emergency.
The legislation, filed by Rep. Tackey Chan, D-Quincy, would alternatively allow public workers who are required to report to work to get a half-day of leave for each full day on the job.
Gov. Charlie Baker ordered non-essential executive branch employees to work from home as part of his state of emergency declaration on March 10. He also set strict restrictions on travel and meetings.
House and Senate leaders took similar steps for legislative branch employees, and many Statehouse offices are running with skeleton crews.
Still, a number of public employees remain on the job, supporting efforts to prevent spread of the virus.
Public sector unions say those workers are being asked to put themselves at risk and should be compensated.
"They're putting themselves and their families at risk for the greater good," said Jim Durkin, a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 93, which represents about 45,000 workers in Massachusetts and other states. "We're grateful for any efforts to reward them for their contributions."
©2020 The Eagle-Tribune (North Andover, Mass.)