Big Business is fighting legislation around the country that requires companies to offer paid sick days to workers.
(Photo: Aldon Hynes / Flickr)In a victory for working families, New York is poised to become the largest U.S. city to require businesses offer paid sick days to workers. Community activists and labor leaders struck a deal with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to allow a vote on a paid sick leave ordinance that would cover almost 1 million people. But workers in more than 700 other large American cities must choose between spreading their illness and getting paid.
Advocates have helped pass paid sick days laws in cities like San Francisco, Washington DC, Seattle and Portland, but big business has been pushing back. Corporate-backed bills have passed at the state level in Wisconsin, Louisiana, and Mississippi that would preempt (or as one GOP operative put it, “deliver the kill shot” to) local laws requiring paid sick days. Similar bills are on the legislative docket in Florida, Arizona, Indiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Washington. This paid sick days preemption effort can be traced back to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).
Paid Sick Days Help Keep America Healthy
Workers who do not have access to paid sick days are one-and-a-half times more likely to go to work sick with a contagious illness, putting their co-workers and customers at risk, and costing an estimated $160 billion each year in lost productivity. Children are more likely to go to school sick when their parents can’t get off work to care for them, causing illness to spread. Delaying treatment for illness can cause conditions to worsen, leading to more emergency room visits and increased costs for public health insurance programs.
An estimated 40 million workers, or forty percent of the workforce, cannot take sick days without losing wages or possibly their jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) only provides for unpaid leave, and only applies to employers with more than 50 employees. Approximately forty percent of workers do not qualify for the FMLA, and those who do often don’t take sick days for financial reasons.
Seventy-nine percent of food industry workers — who are especially likely to spread illness if they go to work sick — don’t get paid sick days, according to a Food Chain Workers Alliance study. A recent Centers for Disease Control study found that more than half of all norovirus outbreaks can be traced back to sick food service workers.
In response to this public health and economic issue, cities and counties have proposed ordinances that require employers allow workers to call-in sick without losing their jobs or wages. And corporate interests are pushing back. In New York City, business lobbyists managed to get City Council Speaker and mayoral hopeful Christine Quinn to block the legislation for three years, before a long-term campaign by worker’s advocates put her in the hot seat and made it politically untenable to continue blocking the bill.
Big business has also lobbied the statehouses, in many cases successfully, to disregard “local control” and nullify and permanently preempt paid sick leave ordinances passed at the local level. And the legislation appears to have spread thanks to a bill promoted and passed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and shared at an ALEC meeting in 2011.
Walker’s Anti-Paid Sick Day Law in Wisconsin Brought to ALEC…