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Finally, CT to Become First State With Paid Sick Leave Legislation; Now What About the Rest of the Country?

Activists across the country are pushing their cities and states to follow Connecticut's lead.

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Advocates also stressed the importance of using creative actions to engage the public and garner earned media, using research to debunk opposition claims; and working closely with elected officials to address their concerns and engage them in moving their peers.

All of those factors came into place in the victory in Connecticut, which Green described as the product of “strong strategy, good friends in the right places, lots of hard work and a little luck.” Progressives in Connecticut have spent years laying the groundwork through canvassing, coalition-building, and education efforts directed at politicians and the public. Tactics included protests outside restaurants owned by wealthy chains that offer no sick leave, including Starbucks (Slogan: “No Coughing in My Coffee”) and the Olive Garden (“Infinite Breadsticks But No Sick Days”). In 2008, they got it through the state senate, but not the state house. In 2009, they got it through the state house, but not the state senate. In both sessions, it faced a promised veto by Governor Jodi Rell.

With Rell retiring, the multi-year push for paid sick days forced gubernatorial candidates to take sides on the issue during the campaign, and the election results created an opportunity for the cause to get across the finish line. Ned Lamont, who drew national attention running an anti-war campaign against Joe Lieberman in 2006, came out against paid sick days in a bid to recast himself as a centrist businessman. Lamont’s primary opponent, Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy, embraced paid sick days, won the primary in an upset, and beat Republican Tom Foley in November.  

Votes Malloy won on the ballot line of the Working Families Party exceeded his margin of victory over Foley, and Green says Malloy became “an increasingly full-throated and public advocate” for paid sick leave (Connecticut has fusion voting, which allows qualifying third parties the option of placing a “major party” candidate on their own ballot line). Progressives stepped up the pressure on new and returning politicians for a paid sick leave bill following the election, and this month their work paid off.

A Movement’s Moment?

Advocates in New York, Seattle, Denver, and Philadelphia have all declared the Connecticut bill a shot in the arm for their efforts to win paid sick leave in their own cities. Most of those efforts should come to a vote by the end of the year. 

In Denver, activists are about to begin gathering signatures to put a citywide ordinance on the November ballot. Erin Bennett, executive director of Denver 9to5, said that after seeing the influence the business lobby was able to wield against statewide legislative efforts, progressives chose to go the citywide referendum route first. Last month supporters held a lunchtime downtown rally highlighting the lack of sick days for workers at nearby restaurants.

In Seattle, activists expect to see their bill introduced in City Council this month. Last month they held a community forum which drew 250 people, including staff representing each member of Council. “The system isn’t working when little children are crying in the school nurse’s office begging them not to call their mom,” said coalition director Marilyn Watkins. “I’d love to have [the bill] in place before the next flu season and school year starts.”

In Milwaukee, paid leave activists are on defense after Scott Walker signed a statewide bill of questionable legality which would preempt implementation of the citywide law voters passed by referendum in 2008. That battle is now in the courts. “For people who ran on the concept of local control to pass legislation that preempts what 70 percent of the population wanted is ludicrous and hypocritical,” said Vicki Shabo of the National Partnership for Women and Families.

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