GOP's Baker offers alternative sick leave plan

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BOSTON (AP) — Republican candidate for governor Charlie Baker on Monday offered an alternative version of an earned sick time proposal that will go before voters in November, arguing his plan would protect workers without hurting the state's job market.

Question 4, if approved, would allow workers to accrue one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of 40 hours of paid sick time in a year. Companies with 10 or fewer workers would be exempted but would have to offer unpaid sick leave.

Baker, a former Harvard Pilgrim Health Care executive, opposes the ballot question. He said if elected governor he would ask the Legislature to approve a plan exempting larger companies — those with 50 or fewer employers — from the paid sick time requirement.

Baker's plan would allow workers to earn one hour of sick time for every 40 hours worked and would create a three-month waiting period before workers could begin accruing sick time. Under the ballot question, workers could begin accruing time immediately but would have to wait three months before using it.

Baker said he believes Massachusetts should have a paid sick time law that "protects families and allows workers to take care of their health and wellness without suffering financially."

"This balanced approach ensures the job market continues to thrive, getting more people back to work and on the path to economic independence," he said in a statement.

Baker noted his proposal would be in line with a Connecticut law that exempts businesses with 50 or fewer employees. His plan also would provide an exception for some workers covered by collective bargaining agreements, as California did in a recently approved law.

Supporters of the ballot question say it would give Massachusetts the nation's strongest paid sick time requirement, and they criticized Baker's plan as falling short of protecting workers.

"Question 4 provides earned sick time for all workers and protects them from employer retaliation if they need to take time off when they're sick," the Coalition for Question 4 said in a statement. "Charlie Baker is clearly opposed to guaranteeing earned sick time for all workers."

The Democratic nominee for governor, Attorney General Martha Coakley, supports the ballot question.

Bill Vernon, Massachusetts director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, called Baker's proposal a "step in the right direction." The federation is among several business organizations opposing Question 4.

Incumbent Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick is not seeking a third term.

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