Millions of U.S. workers can’t afford to get sick on the job. Staying home means not getting paid. And when many are struggling to make ends meet, that’s just not an option.
The National Partnership for Women & Families says that more than 40 million private sector workers, about 40 percent of the workforce, don’t earn paid sick days. Millions more can’t use the time they have to take care of an ill child. Corporations are putting their bottom lines ahead of providing just basic benefits for their workers.
Workers, however, are fighting back. Many are working at local and state level to try and get a minimum standard approved. They’ve been successful in places like Connecticut, New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C. and Portland, Ore. But they have also run up against some powerful road blocks.
In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott (R) earlier this year signed legislation that banned local governments from requiring employers to offer paid sick leave. It came after private industry teamed up with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to work behind the scenes to stop efforts to have such a measure put to a vote in the Orlando area.
“The Florida bill was an especially bitter defeat for paid sick leave advocates,” Mother Jones Magazine reported. “The county has many low-wage workers, nearly 50 percent of who don’t have paid sick leave. Last year, a grassroots effort emerged and attempted to let voters decide whether to create a paid sick leave ordinance in the county. Polling showed that the idea was hugely popular, and organizers managed to come up with more than 50,000 petition signatures to put it on the ballot last November.” But Orange County commissioners dragged its feet on allowing the vote to move forward until the state could swoop in and outlaw it from happening.
It is not the first time ALEC has gotten involved in the issue. In fact, the Koch brothers –backed organization has model “preemption” legislation that has been introduced by state lawmakers across the nation. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), a strident ALEC supporter, started the trend when he signed a similar bill into law in 2011 that actually overrode an existing Milwaukee law mandating sick days. Eight other states approved sick-day preemption bills since then, including Arizona, Indiana, Louisiana, Kansas, Mississippi and Tennessee.
It is clear what’s needed is a federal solution, one that protects workers no matter what line of work they are in. Luckily, one such proposal happens to exist. The Healthy Families Act (HR 1286/S 631) would set a national paid sick day standard. All workers employed by businesses with 15 or more employees could earn up to seven paid sick days per year. Workers would earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.
No matter whether a worker earns sick days now or not, there is an overwhelming understanding that such a “benefit” is not only a necessity, but a decent thing to do. As stated in the Huffington Post earlier this year, “Over 75 percent of the American public, including a majority in both parties, supports paid sick days for all workers. And business supporters are increasingly heard as they stand up for a healthier workforce, a healthier community, and a call for old-fashion common sense.”