Yesterday, the Philadelphia City Council fell one vote short of overriding Mayor Michael Nutter’s veto of legislation that would have required businesses with more than five employees to let workers earn paid sick leave. This was the second time the Council had passed a paid sick leave bill, only to have it vetoed.
The news for workers was better in New York City late last month, when legislators reached a compromise: a paid sick leave law that will only apply to businesses with at least 15 employees, but that nonetheless will provide this important benefit to an estimated one million workers who currently lack it.
The New York breakthrough came after City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn resisted action on the bill for three years. This prompted a Salon piece from Randy Lobasso entitled “Paid sick leave: The next liberal litmus test?” Lobasso suggests paid sick leave is now “a must-support issue for ambitious Democrats across the nation.” Last month, Portland, Oregon became the fourth US jurisdiction to require employers to offer paid sick leave; the state of Connecticut and the cities of San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC all have paid sick leave laws, although DC’s includes a problematic exemption of tipped restaurant workers.
Washington Post columnist Jena McGregor considers reasons why the issue seems to be gaining traction:
For one, the struggling economy has put new emphasis on the challenges low-wage workers face when they have to call in sick and their pay suffers as a result. In addition, the recent celebration of the Family and Medical Leave Act’s 20th anniversary, Ness says, was a reminder to lawmakers of the impact of similar measures. And now that initiatives have been in place for a few years in some locales — San Francisco was first, in 2007, and Connecticut passed its legislation in 2011 — supporters say the results have helped to shape others’ opinion. “None of the ‘sky is falling’ horror stories have come to pass,” Ness says.
More than 80% of low-wage workers lack paid sick days, so they’re stuck making a difficult choice between missing a day of pay and staying home to recover from an illness or care for a family member. Also in the Washington Post, Katrina vanden Heuvel writes:
More than 40 million Americans — disproportionately low-income, black and Latino workers — cook, clean, fold, and ring us up without any paid time off when they or their children are ill. On any given day, these workers must choose between caring for a sick child and their job. They handle our food and our purchases, coughing and sniffling through Kleenex, to avoid being handed a pink slip.
The absence of paid sick leave is a glaring injustice that puts American workers in the distinguished company of workers in Syria, Somalia and North Korea. It’s an affront to our values and the dignity of a hard day’s work. And it’s a drag on our families, our businesses, and our society.
Maybe this issue is gaining traction because it seems like common sense to most of the public that people should be able to stay home from work when they’re sick.