The Honorable Barry Finegold, Senate Chair
The Honorable Jerald A. Parisella, House Chair
Joint Committee on Public Service
State House, Boston

Testimony on H. 4631 via Electronic Submission

Dear Chair Parisella, Chair Finegold, and Members of the Committee,

On behalf of the cities and towns of the Commonwealth, the Massachusetts Municipal Association is writing to submit electronic testimony regarding H. 4631, An Act relative to state employees performing core functions. This bill would require public employers to pay time-and-a-half compensation, or provide paid compensatory leave instead of additional salary, to public employees for every day they are required to work outside their homes during the COVID-19 state of emergency. The bill is written to be retroactive, and thus would include all days that employees have already been required to work. As this measure is before your committee for consideration today, we kindly ask you to consider the very difficult position in which the response to COVID-19 has left municipal employers, and the many safety nets that have already been implemented for municipal employees that make such legislation unnecessary.

Governor Baker declared a state of emergency on March 10, 2020, to give the Commonwealth needed flexibility to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. Yesterday, Massachusetts entered the projected peak of the surge of COVID-19. Six weeks into the state of emergency, Massachusetts citizens still face enormous uncertainty about how matters will unfold in our society and economy. The timeline for returning to business as usual in Massachusetts remains uncertain, especially as we respond to one of the largest outbreaks in the nation. To be sure, municipal employees factor prominently into economic projections, because much of the response to the virus is being borne at the local level. The objective of local government leaders is to ensure that essential services remain in place and that the fewest number of employees are impacted.

Realistically, however, municipalities are facing a reduction to services and personnel as revenues continue to plummet and public resources are increasingly strained. Economists project a deep global recession and the Massachusetts Legislature continues to grapple with adjustments to its forecasting in order to create a budget. This uncertainty is also affecting local officials as they try to develop budgets for fiscal 2021. With billions of dollars in lost tax revenues due to the COVID-19 economic shutdown, local and state governments will be struggling mightily to protect essential services and municipal workforces in the coming months, and it is clear that there will be widespread budget pressures that will force difficult and painful decisions.

In the best of days, H. 4631 would be totally unaffordable. In the face of a budget crisis, H. 4631 would be impossible to implement. A detailed financial analysis is not necessary to reach this conclusion – an order of magnitude estimate will suffice. Cities and towns employ roughly 200,000 workers, and let’s assume that the average wage is $40,000 to $50,000, that the COVID-19 emergency lasts 4 months, and that only 15% of municipal employees work outside their homes during this time. With these basic assumptions, H. 4631 would impose a new unfunded mandate of $200 million to $250 million on cities and towns. The actual cost would likely be much higher, as these inputs are low estimates. The option of compensatory leave would not lessen this unfunded mandate, because when essential employees take leave time they are replaced with other employees to ensure adequate staffing during the shift. The bill’s result: widespread layoffs of public employees in every corner of Massachusetts, including essential employees who are providing front-line services that protect the public during this pandemic.

To be clear, cities and towns are doing right by their employees, yet we all recognize that communities will need significant fiscal relief and adequate funding to support continued employment as this crisis continues. Six weeks into the state of emergency, the majority of municipal employees continue to be paid in full, but municipal attorneys are beginning to advise employers on layoffs and furloughs, as revenue losses and COVID-19 expenses pile up. H. 4631 would escalate this process.

Municipalities are taking whatever steps they can to ensure the safety of employees who are assigned to work outside their homes. Cities and towns are providing personal protective equipment to the best of their ability, staggering work schedules, limiting personnel that can work together on the job or at the same work site, closing public buildings, and implementing social distancing policies. There are measures in place to cover employees on the front line under newly-enacted federal legislation for paid sick leave and expanded FMLA benefits under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. Insurance carriers in our state have announced they will cover COVID-19 related claims fully. There are also pending bills that would further cover employees affected by the virus through quarantine or treatment. In sum, there is a lot going on to help lessen the impact of the pandemic on public employees.

We urge Committee members to oppose this unaffordable legislation, as its impact would decimate municipal budgets and erode the essential services that our residents expect and deserve.

We recognize the incredible commitment and hard work that municipal employees are providing during this difficult, uncertain and unprecedented time. We ask the Committee to oppose new burdens that would drive up municipal personnel costs, which already make up at least two-thirds of municipal budgets. A fifty percent increase in employee pay is simply not achievable, and would lead to the elimination of thousands of municipal jobs, including police officers, firefighters, first responders, teachers, public health professionals and many, many more.

If you have any questions or need additional information, please do not hesitate to have your office contact me or Senior Legislative Analyst Lisa Adams at ladams@mma.org or 617-721-3676 at any time.

Thank you very much for your dedication and service during this unprecedented emergency.

Sincerely,

Geoffrey C. Beckwith
Executive Director & CEO