Movement for Paid Sick Leave Gains Ground

By Gregory N. Heires

Grassroots campaigns for local and state laws requiring employers to provide their workers with paid sick days are gaining steam.

In the latest sign of the growing movement, the New York City Council approved legislation that would make 1 million workers eligible for paid sick days.

The passage of the bill capped a three-year fight for the legislation by unions and health-care advocates.

But the legislation faces a possible veto by billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has said he would not sign the bill into law. However, the City Council approved the legislation by a veto-proof margin.

On the day of the vote, Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, executive director of MomsRising.org, an online and on-the-ground grassroots organization of more than a million people who are working to achieve economic security for all families in the United States, said, “It’s been a long fight, but today the New York City Council heeded the call of New York families and passed a bill that would allow more than a million New Yorkers to earn paid time off to use when they are sick or to take care of a sick child, spouse or parent.”

Rowe-Finkbeiner called upon Bloomberg to “stand up to corporate lobbyists, listen to the people who elected him and sign this important bill.”

The new paid sick leave bill, which the Council passed by a 45-3 vote, would go into effect in April 2014. Initially, the law would require businesses with 20 or more workers to provide five paid sick days to its employees.

In October 2015, it would be expanded to cover firms with 15 or more workers. Furthermore, the law would protect workers who are not entitled to paid sick leave from being fired if they take time off.

“This is a sweet victory,” Bill Lipton, state director of the Working Families Party, told The New York Times. “It provides economic security for New Yorkers, and a shot in the arm for the paid sick days movement across the country.”

The Working Families Party and MomsRising.org were part of a coalition that included the New York City Central Labor Council, the Center for Popular Democracy, the New York City Council’s Progressive Caucus, 32 BJ

SEIU, Make the Road New York, A Better Balance and NY Paid Sick Leave Coalition.

New York City joins an increasing number of municipalities and states that are supporting sick pay legislation. San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Milwaukee have adopted paid sick day laws. Pushes for similar legislation are underway in nearly 20 cities and states, including Denver, Miami, Seattle, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.

In March, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced the Health Families Act. The legislation would allow workers to earn paid sick leave that they could use for personal illnesses, caring for a sick family member, preventive care or treatment for domestic violence.

In the United States, 40 million people work in jobs that don’t offer paid sick leave. One million workers in New York City, primarily low-wage workers, don’t have paid sick days.

In addition to arguing that workers have the right to paid sick leave, supporters of the New York City bill argued that the policy simply makes common sense. Faced with the prospect of losing pay, workers without the right to paid time off often decide to go to work when they have contagious illnesses. Furthermore, workers are less productive when they are ill.

“It’s an incredible feeling to know that I won’t ever again have to choose between my child’s health and my job,” said Juana Sanchez, who has three children and is a member of Make the Road New York, a Brooklyn-based community organization that represents Latino and other low-income workers.

“I believe this law enshrines the principle that American exceptionalism is not just about large profits and small elites, but a workplace that is safe, fair and respectful of the lives of workers,” said City Council member Gale Brewer, who first introduced the bill in 2009.

Posted on www.thenewcrossroads.org on May 13, 2013.

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