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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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As progressives across the country struggle to beat back a wave of right-wing statewide legislation, their Connecticut counterparts are poised to celebrate a historic victory: the signing of a bill making their state the first in the nation mandating paid sick days. After passing Connecticut’s House and Senate over the past few weeks, the bill is headed to the desk of Governor Dan Malloy, who has backed it since his campaign. The Connecticut victory has emboldened activists pushing for similar legislation in New York City, Denver, Seattle, and Philadelphia – where the city council will vote on its own bill Thursday.

The Policy

The Connecticut bill requires service sector employers to provide employees at least one hour of paid sick time for each 40 hours they work. Workers can use these days to take care of themselves or a sick family member. The bill exempts businesses with under 50 employees, construction businesses and non-profits. Similar laws already exist at the municipal level in San Francisco, Milwaukee and Washington, DC.

Advocates have embraced paid sick leave as a policy that protects workers’ job security, families’ economic security, and public health, without cost to government.  Analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data by the National Partnership for Women and Families shows that 40 million Americans work in jobs where they will never be eligible for paid sick leave. In a University of Chicago survey, the majority of workers without paid sick days reported having gone to work sick, and they were more than twice as likely to have gone to the emergency room because they lacked time off to go to a doctor’s office.

“It’s very hard to stand up and say people should go to work or send their kids to school sick,” said Andrew Friedman of Make the Road New York, “because it’s a public health nightmare, and any close look at it shows that it’s more expensive in the long run.”

Kia Murrell, who lobbied against paid sick leave for years for the Connecticut Business and Industry Alliance, claimed the bill will lead to lost jobs, worsened benefits and workers replaced by machines. She said businesses don’t offer paid sick days “because they can’t afford it,” and that if service workers working sick were a real threat to public health, “we would all be sick all the time.” Murrell suggested workers really come to work sick because they’re saving their sick days “for pleasure.” She also faulted workers for being too quick to call in sick: “A high-powered executive, if they get a cold, is more likely to tough it out.”

But analysis by the Drum Major Institute shows that since San Francisco passed the nation’s first citywide paid sick leave law, job growth and business growth there have outpaced the five surrounding counties, including Santa Clara Country, home of Silicon Valley. Four years after businesses mobilized against the bill, a study by the Economic Opportunity Institute shows that two-thirds of San Francisco employers now support the law.

The Connecticut Campaign

How has this campaign been able to gain momentum at a moment when progressives are fighting just to hold their ground against attacks on labor and public health?

Paid sick leave advocates in six states all pointed to the importance of strong coalitions; coalitions with breadth from drawing in many different communities and depth from months of outreach to turn voters into supporters and supporters into activists. Jon Green, director of Connecticut’s Working Families Party and the allied Working Families Organization, sees it as a “fertile issue” in part because it “intersects with a wide cross-section of constituencies, some of whom don’t always work together.” Local coalitions include public health advocates, educators, labor, business owners, clergy, and women's, senior citizens, domestic violence survivors, and LGBT groups.

 
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