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Veteran campaigner for paid family leave takes reins at Boston chapter

December 10, 2021

Simmonds elected president of the Boston Water and Sewer Commission chapter as she and other leaders negotiate a new contract.

Damali Simmonds said she did not know much about unions when she started at the Boston Water and Sewer Commission 10 years ago. Now she’s the Local 888 chapter’s new president.
“Throughout these years, I have learned that if you want to change things for the better, you must speak up and be a part of making it happen,” added Simmonds.
She cut her teeth as a union activist by campaigning for paid family and medical leave. She was deeply committed to the issue, and went on to testify before the Boston City Council and a couple of times up at the State House.
Her passion for reform became a study in determination.
The first time she testified at a public hearing, at Boston City Hall, Simmonds had just given birth to a girl only five days earlier. The second time, in October 2015 at the State House, she had her 6-month-old daughter, Malia, on her lap.
"It is a struggle to take care of a baby who needs our undivided attention, emotionally and physically," Simmonds told legislators. "The first few months after a child is born are an essential bonding time between parent and child. The absence of a paid family leave policy adds more stress to an already stressful situation.”
And what’s a single-mother mother to do if a child gets sick and can’t be sent to day care — and time off has been used up? Malia had three ear infections and a bout of conjunctivitis before her first birthday.
Important reforms, however, do not come quickly.
In 2017, Simmonds testified again at the State House. She told lawmakers, as reported by The Spark: "I had to return to work three months after I gave birth to my beautiful daughter. I simply could not afford to take more time off work without pay or I would risk eviction. Mothers are forced to make terrible choices – paid leave would allow me and so many other mothers to stay with their infants when they are most needed."
Ultimately, the Massachusetts Legislature approved the state’s Paid Family and Medical Leave Act in June 2018. The legislation was a big win for Local 888 and the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition that it belongs to. Union members and community activists had campaigned extensively for the measure for years.
The PFML program is funded by contributions from both employers and employees, a setup that went into place in 2019. The law, which only took effect this year, means that Massachusetts employees may be eligible for up to 26 weeks of paid leave per benefit year.
The law makes Massachusetts a national leader in support of working families.
As for Simmonds, she is also on her water-commission chapter’s bargaining committee — with negotiations on a new contract now underway. She has held other union leadership positions over time, including that of steward and as a Local 888 Executive Board member,
The union leader spoke this month at one of Local 888’s Membership Welcome Orientations. The 45-minute orientation provides key information on the rights and responsibilities of union members. For info on future such events, see