Backers Hope Paid-Sick-Leave Laws Are Contagious

By Smith, Lauren | Roll Call, April 10, 2013 | Go to article overview

Backers Hope Paid-Sick-Leave Laws Are Contagious


Smith, Lauren, Roll Call


When Wanda Cobbs" two children fell ill for an extended period this winter due to complications from their Type I diabetes, the decision to stay home to care for them came more easily than it had in the past. Thanks to a Connecticut law that took effect last year, Cobbs, a school bus driver for the West Hartford public schools system, had access to paid sick leave for the first time.

"It was hard because you didn"t have anything to fall back on,' Cobbs said about previous decisions to stay home with her sick children. "You just had to lose that time from work and not be paid for it.'

Connecticut, which allows service workers who receive an hourly wage to earn one hour of paid sick time for every 40 hours worked, is the first state in the nation to mandate paid sick leave.

"Now I don"t have to choose: Do I want to work and get paid, or do I want to stay at home with the kids and get them well,' Cobbs said.

Many workers aren"t nearly as lucky. Laws mandating paid sick leave are only in place in a handful of places around the country, including the District of Columbia, San Francisco and Seattle; New York City is expected to soon follow.

But if Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., get their way, that will change for millions of workers across the country.

They are sponsoring legislation to allow workers to earn up to 56 hours, or seven days, of paid sick leave annually. Employees would earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. Employers can require workers to provide documentation supporting any request for leave longer than three consecutive days. Employers who already provide paid sick time will not have to change their current policies.

"A full 40 percent of private sector American workers have no access to paid sick days - meaning that they cannot miss a day of work without risking a day"s pay or even their job security,' Harkin said recently. "When illness or emergencies strike, millions of hardworking people must make an impossible choice between the job they need and their health and well-being - or that of their families.'

DeLauro, who hopes the policy in her home state will herald a national trend, has introduced the Healthy Families Act in every Congress since 2004. The legislation has more co-sponsors than ever before, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who had not previously backed it.

"Everyone should be able to take care of themselves and their families when they are sick without having to worry about losing their jobs,' DeLauro said.But mandated paid sick leave still faces an uphill battle. It's on the "kill list" of powerful business lobbying organizations such as the National Restaurant Association. The American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative nonprofit, is even helping state and local governing boards pass pre-emptive legislation to prevent the future adoption of laws mandating paid sick leave.

Another obvious hurdle is the Republican House, where business interests are well-protected.

"Clearly it's not going anywhere in the House," noted Marc Freedman, executive director of labor law policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who added that Democrats didn't make the issue a priority when they enjoyed larger numbers in Congress. "If they were so concerned with this issue, that was the moment they had. At this stage, it's hard for me to see they'll make a big push on it."

Even still, advocates are optimistic about the prospects for a federal paid-sick-leave law and they hope to capitalize on building national momentum, since so many states and cities are passing their own initiatives. …

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