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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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In New York City, advocates built a veto-proof majority on Council last term, and are lobbying Council Speaker Christine Quinn to stop blocking a vote on their bill. Their campaign has included direct action targeting city council members, including gathering postcards from fellow congregants outside their churches and handing out bottles of hand sanitizer outside their chambers. Early in the campaign, 700 people marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall.

Asked whether Speaker Quinn was right to see the strength of the economy as a relevant concern in deciding whether to allow a vote, NY Paid Leave Coalition chair Donna Dolan replied diplomatically: “It’s a relevant concern to the speaker, and that’s what’s key here.” Dolan also noted that unemployment is worsened when workers lose their jobs for getting sick. Family Values @ Work executive director Ellen Bravo was more critical, saying that Quinn’s been making “the wrong calculation about whose support she needs” for a mayoral bid. Bravo suggested that Quinn will eventually realize the importance of paid sick leave to “groups without which her political ambitions will not advance,” including women and the LGBT community. Quinn is meeting regularly with the councilmember sponsoring of the legislation.

In Philadelphia, after a series of delays for amendments, a city council vote on paid sick days is scheduled for Thursday. Mayor Michael Nutter has indicated his opposition but has not said whether he would veto the bill. This year activists built a coalition of 100 organizations to help lobby City Council and gathered 17,000 postcards which they strung around the perimeter of City Hall. Marianne Bellesorte, senior director of Policy for Pathways PA, said she expected “a tight vote” Thursday, but expressed hope that the bill would pass and that Mayor Nutter would decide against a vetoing a policy with demonstrated popular support.

Bellesorte’s hopes were echoed by Dewetta Logan, a former social worker who now directs the Smart Beginnings Early Learning Center. “A child is not to supposed to be in our care if they have certain illnesses,” she said, “but there’s nothing I can do if a parent just can’t leave” to pick a sick child up.

The victory in Connecticut has strengthened the hopes of activists pushing for similar local laws– and hoping one day for national legislation. Several compared this campaign to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and increases in the minimum wage – campaigns which began with legislation in a few states, spread to others, and culminated in new federal law. The prospects for such a trajectory for paid sick leave are stronger now than they were a few weeks ago; how much stronger will become more clear over the next six months. The next test is on Thursday, in Philadelphia.

Josh Eidelson is a freelance writer and a union organizer based in Philadelphia. Check out his blog or follow him on Twitter.

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