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New Data, Same Disappointing Paid Sick Days Inequities

Cross-posted from the National Partnership for Women & Families.

We’ve long been aware of the disparities in access to paid sick days in this country. This week, the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) released a new analysis that provides a clear and up-to-date picture of just how stark the differences are – across ethnicity, occupation, wages and hours worked. The findings confirm that a national paid sick days standard is badly needed.

Some of the disparities are depressingly familiar. As we’ve written before, Latino workers have significantly lower rates of access to paid sick days than the workforce as a whole, and IWPR’s new analysis finds that little has changed: Only 47 percent of Latinos have paid sick days, compared to 61 percent of the total workforce.

Similarly, we’ve known that disparities in workers’ access to paid sick days vary by occupation, with significant implications for public health. IWPR’s analysis shows that access remains alarmingly low in occupations that require frequent contact with the public: Only 24 percent of food preparation and service workers, 31 percent of personal care and service workers (such as child care workers), and 48 percent of workers in sales and related occupations have paid sick days.

IWPR’s analysis also affirms fundamental inequities in paid sick days access by income, demonstrating that the workers who are least likely to have paid sick days are also those who can least afford to take an unpaid day off when they catch a cold or a child gets sick. According to IWPR, 83 percent of workers who are paid $65,000 or more annually have paid sick days, but just 28 percent of workers who are paid less than $20,000 per year can earn them.

The analysis also reveals new details about the gap in access between part-time and full-time workers. Seventy percent of full-time workers (those who work 35 or more hours per week) earn paid sick days, compared to less than 11 percent of those who work fewer than 20 hours per week. This means that people who have to piece together multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet are highly unlikely to earn paid sick days at any of their jobs – adding unnecessary pressure and financial strain.

The disparities highlighted by IWPR this week make even clearer the need for public policy standards that guarantee all workers can earn the time they need to care for their health and their families without sacrificing their jobs or economic security. States and cities continue to make progress, but a federal standard is what America’s working families truly need.

Coast-to-Coast Paid Sick Days Momentum in 2014

Less than two months into the year, remarkable support for and momentum around paid sick days policies are building from coast to coast. At the municipal, state and federal levels, progress continues toward the day all workers can earn the paid sick days they need.

At the municipal level, a paid sick days law in Portland, Ore., took effect on January 1. Soon after, we celebrated the expansion of the District of Columbia’s paid sick days law to cover an additional 20,000 tipped restaurant and bar workers. On January 24, a paid sick days law in Jersey City, N.J., took effect. And only a few days later, Newark adopted its own paid sick days legislation.

There’s also a growing recognition that paid sick days is both good policy and good politics. Newly elected New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio fulfilled a promise to expand New York City’s paid sick days law, which was passed in 2013 and is set to take effect on April 1. The proposal, which the City Council passed today, guarantees more workers the right to earn paid sick time by expanding the law to cover businesses with five or more employees.

At the state level, a bill in Washington passed the House on January 29, and Vermont’s bill passed out of a House committee on February 11. In Illinois, Governor Quinn highlighted paid sick days in his State of the State address, and his proposal was introduced soon after in the legislature. Paid sick days bills have been introduced for the first time ever in Nebraska and South Carolina. New bills have also been introduced in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii and Maryland. Voters in Massachusetts will likely have the chance to vote on earned sick days at the ballot box this November.

For the latest on the more than 20 active paid sick days campaigns and proposals in states and cities across the country, check out our paid sick days tracking document.

At the federal level, President Obama made a historic call for paid sick days in the State of the Union. “A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship… And you know what, a father does too,” he said. “It is time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode.” Some members of Congress have heeded that call. The Healthy Families Act now has 20 co-sponsors in the Senate and 123 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives, with several new co-sponsors joining in the last few weeks. With continued progress at the state and local levels, support for the common sense proposal should grow.

It is already an active – and exciting – year when it comes to paid sick days. With even more proposals and victories on the horizon, and growing attention to the family friendly policies America’s working families want and need, 2014 is shaping up to be a year of great progress.

Good News from Businesses in Connecticut

Less than two weeks into this year, we have already celebrated a new paid sick days law in Portland, Ore., and a major victory in the effort to expand D.C.’s existing paid sick days law to cover tipped workers. Even more progress is on the horizon as new laws are implemented and new campaigns kick off. And it is exciting that, as of this week, we also have new evidence of the success of the nation’s first and only statewide paid sick days law in Connecticut.

On Monday, Eileen Appelbaum, senior economist at the Center for Economic Policy Research, and Ruth Milkman, professor at the City University of New York, released preliminary findings from their survey of 251 Connecticut employers that included 15 on-site interviews. The findings should put to rest opponents’ tired arguments that paid sick days harm businesses.

The key takeaway from these preliminary results is that Connecticut’s paid sick days law, which took effect in January 2012 and covers about 400,000 workers in the state, has resulted in numerous benefits for Connecticut’s businesses with minimal or no noticeable effect on their operations or costs. In fact, more than three in four Connecticut employers now say they support the law. And the specific findings clearly demonstrate why.

Nearly 30 percent of the employers surveyed say that providing paid sick days has increased employee morale, and nearly 19 percent say it reduced the number of employees who come to work sick. Other benefits include increasing productivity and motivation and reducing the spread of illness and turnover. Few employers report reducing employee wages or increasing prices as a result of the law, and half report that employees use three or fewer paid sick days annually – despite earning closer to eight, on average.

Appelbaum and Milkman also found that Connecticut’s law has successfully increased the number of employers that provide paid sick days, particularly in the hospitality, retail, health, education and social service sectors. This is especially important for public health given that those who work in these industries interact with the public frequently. (Note: Connecticut’s law does not cover businesses with fewer than 50 employees, excluding many service sector establishments.)

The full report and further details will be available next month. In the meantime, these new findings offer powerful evidence of the benefits to establishing paid sick days standards at the local, state and federal levels. We look forward to the report’s contribution to the substantial and growing body of evidence that shows that paid sick days are good for workers, their families, public health, businesses and the economy.

Bloomberg’s Veto Will Not Stop Paid Sick Days in New York City

Today, despite the tremendous benefits paid sick days would have for the city’s working families, businesses, economy and public health, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg vetoed the paid sick days bill passed by the City Council last month. As National Partnership President Debra L. Ness said, the move was “short-sighted and the City Council should act quickly to make its effect short-lived.”

Fortunately, the City Council is poised to do just that. It voted 43-5 to approve the measure – a majority large enough to override the mayor’s veto. When it does and this law takes full effect, approximately one million New Yorkers will be able to earn the paid sick days they need and deserve. And New York City will be the fifth city to pave the way for all workers in this county to have this common sense right.

Momentum Sparks New Campaigns, More Progress

The success and progress of paid sick days campaigns in Portland, Ore., and New York City have added to the momentum around this common sense policy and sparked new campaigns and progress in other states and cities.

Here’s the latest:

  • In New Jersey, the New Jersey Time to Care Coalition – a diverse group of more than 65 unions and research, advocacy and community-based organizations – welcomed the introduction of a paid sick and safe leave bill for the state in the Assembly this week. The New Jersey Star-Ledger Editorial Board has already weighed in with its support for the measure.
  • In Tacoma, Washington, a broad-based coalition led by Healthy Tacoma is building off of Seattle’s successful paid sick days campaign and the growing support for state paid sick days legislation by launching its own initiative. Unions, businesses, local public officials and others are getting on board to support the effort, which would increase access to paid sick days for the more than 40,000 Tacoma residents who currently cannot earn them.

We will keep you posted as these exciting campaigns progress!

Paid Sick Days Opponents Continue to Hide Behind Preemption

Cross-posted from the National Partnership for Women & Families.

Last month, I wrote about a disturbing trend: States are passing “preemption” laws that prohibit a growing number of cities and counties from adopting their own paid sick days standards. Sadly, these misguided attacks on local democracy have been spreading rapidly, as legislators put the interests of the national big business lobby ahead of the interests of their constituents. Now, there are paid sick days preemption bills or laws in 13 states.

This trend is no coincidence. In fact, it is a well-coordinated effort to thwart paid sick days bills just as momentum for this common sense policy continues to build. We know that the National Restaurant Association circulated a draft preemption bill at a 2011 meeting of the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Since then, the association and other groups have been working behind the scenes to advance very similar bills.

Take the case of Florida. Eighty percent of Floridians say that workers should be able to earn paid sick days, and six in 10 want localities to be able to make their own laws. But Florida legislators refuse to listen to voters. Instead, big business associations and local power players like Disney and Darden Restaurants have convinced them to shut down local governments’ ability to pass their own paid sick days standards. It is shameful that the same state legislators who claim to be for “local government” are pushing through a policy that essentially ties its hands.

Michigan’s battle against preemption is also ongoing. As Working America points out, legislators in the state who have railed against “big government intrusion” have changed their tune to fulfill the wishes of the business lobby. As in Florida, Michigan voters say that workers should be able to earn paid sick days. They know that if Michigan’s preemption bill passes, it will be families – like the moms who make up the local advocacy group Mothering Justice and their kids – who will suffer most.

This same pattern is repeating itself across the country: Louisiana. Mississippi. Kansas. Tennessee. Arizona. A preemption bill is introduced – usually by a legislator who is an ALEC member, and usually with the support of the big business lobby – and then it’s fast-tracked through the legislature and quietly signed by the governor. In these five states, the new laws preempt not only paid sick days, but also local minimum wage and other ordinances proven to improve workers’ lives.

The bill in Arizona – now law – is particularly disturbing. In 2006, Arizona voters passed a statewide ballot measure forbidding the legislature from doing exactly what it just did: preempting local wage and benefits standards. According to the state constitution, the legislature must meet certain strict requirements to overturn a voter-approved measure. It hasn’t done so, making the preemption bill illegal and open to litigation. Arizonans can thank legislators like the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Thomas Forese (an ALEC member), for the costly lawsuit that will almost certainly be filed.

The Indiana bill is also troubling. In addition to preempting workers’ rights, it may overturn local anti-discrimination ordinances meant to protect the right of LGBT individuals to keep their jobs.

The other states considering preemption legislation are Alabama and South Carolina. The South Carolina bill was introduced by an ALEC Task Force chair, Rep. William Sandifer, and is being pushed through quickly and under the radar, leaving concerned advocates little time to speak out.

Washington and Oklahoma also considered preemption bills in 2013, but those bills have not passed.

Almost all of these preemption bills have been pushed through quietly, without the knowledge of activists or legislators who might ask questions about their provenance and usefulness. But, as the intent of the big business lobby becomes clearer, and as it becomes more obvious that these bills have nothing to do with the well-being of states or their residents, sponsors will surely have a tougher time defending their attempts to usurp power from the people to whom it truly belongs: voters.

Preemption: A Growing, Calculated Threat to Democracy

Cross-posted from the National Partnership for Women & Families.

From Vermont and New York City to Washington state, momentum and support for paid sick days policies are high. More than a dozen campaigns are working across the country to advance paid sick days and, last month, we celebrated victories in Portland and Philadelphia when city councils in those cities approved paid sick days measures. But with the great success of paid sick days and other pro-worker policies has come a disturbing trend: State-level legislation designed to prevent cities and counties from passing their own paid sick days standards and other workplace protections.

This “preemption” strategy first appeared in 2011 in Wisconsin, where the state legislature passed and Governor Scott Walker signed legislation to effectively void a Milwaukee paid sick days measure that passed in 2008 with the approval of nearly 70 percent of voters. It was an outrageous abridgement of local democracy. And it was just the beginning.

There is growing evidence that anti-worker groups such as the National Restaurant Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are supporting these preemption bills. In 2012, the strategy surfaced again inLouisiana, where state legislators passed a more expansive preemption law than Wisconsin’s. The Louisiana law prevents local authorities from passing any basic workplace protections.

Now, preemption bills are being considered in even more states:

  • bill in Mississippi passed quickly through the state House and Senate and has been signed by the governor. Now law, it preempts both paid sick days and minimum wage standards, to the detriment of Mississippi workers.
  • In Florida, where opponents kept the citizens of Orange County from voting on a local paid sick days measure last fall, state legislators are attempting to prohibit all localities from passing their own standards. This far-reaching legislation threatens to preempt not only paid sick days ordinances, but also to void local policies that affect living wage, domestic violence leave and other standards. The Florida Coalition for Local Control is fighting back.
  • In Michigan, preemption legislation was introduced with the backing of the Michigan Restaurant Association and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. Advocates on the ground, along with allies in the legislature, are fighting it, armed with the fact that 60 percent of Michigan voters support paid sick days standards.
  • Legislators in Arizona and Indiana have also introduced broad preemption bills that are in danger of passing. In Arizona, the preemption of local wage and benefit measures by the state legislature is actually illegal according to a 2006 ballot measure and the state constitution. So, if the bill passes, the state – and taxpayers – could face a costly lawsuit. Indiana’s bill is also controversial: In addition to usurping local control, it may overturn existing municipal non-discrimination ordinances.
  • In Washington state, legislators have introduced a preemption bill in response to the paid sick days ordinance that Seattle passed in 2011. Local advocates have rightly identified it as an attempt to undermine the democratic process and silence the will of the people. In the meantime, Washington is considering a statewide paid sick days bill.

Most legislators who are promoting preemption bills claim workplace standards should not be enacted at the local level, but none have offered state-level solutions at a time when millions of workers and their families suffer without the basic paid sick days protection they need. This is irresponsible and one more reason that state legislators should see preemption efforts for what they are: misguided and harmful efforts to undermine democracy.

Local paid sick days advocates are increasingly aware of the threat posed by preemption bills, and they are redoubling their efforts. State preemption bills make an even stronger case for a national standard like the one proposed in the Healthy Families Act, which was introduced in Congress last month.

No matter where you live or work, no one should have to choose between job and family because he or she cannot earn paid sick days. Workers and families know it. Business leaders know it. And lawmakers increasingly know it. Preemption efforts may continue, but they will not stop the push to increase access to a standard that all workers so urgently need.

A Sad Day and a Hopeful Lesson in Orange County

Cross-posted from MomsRising.

Late yesterday, it became disappointingly clear that voters in Orange County will not see a proposal for earned sick time on their ballots in November. Despite the will of at least 46,000 Orange County voters and a broad coalition of workers, businesses and advocates who played by the rules, Mayor Teresa Jacobs and county commissioners ignored their duties and caved to special interests to keep citizens from being able to vote. This is the most blatant example I’ve seen of moneyed special interests using their clout to subvert the purest tool of citizen democracy: the right of citizens to petition the government.

As National Partnership President Debra L. Ness said, “it is a sad day for democracy.”

But what happened in Orange County is not just worrisome and harmful for working families, businesses and the democratic process in Florida. What happened in Orange County is the latest example of a growing, far-reaching and coordinated attack led by big business special interests with unlimited financial resources and access.

Early on, the Florida corporate business lobby made taking down a popular earned sick time measure in Orange County a priority. Perhaps they were worried that momentum built through wins last year in Connecticut and Seattle (and before that in San Francisco, Milwaukee and Washington, D.C.) was coming their way. And perhaps that’s a silver lining in all this – it’s a testament to the strength of the nationwide movement to let workers earn paid sick days.

Through baseless yet extremely well-funded tactics, the Florida business lobby sought to systematically undermine democracy and keep voters from having the opportunity to approve a measure that would strengthen the local economy, protect public health and provide stability for working families. First they sued. When they lost in court, they went to the county commission and the mayor. Why? Because, if Orange County voters had the chance to weigh in, they just might have approved the measure – and that would’ve been unacceptable to the corporate interests who ignore the clear benefits of paid sick days laws in favor of job-killer rhetoric proven time and again to be false.

The truth is this: This powerful lobby has fought for decades against every major advance for workers and their families – from Social Security to minimum wage to the Americans with Disabilities Act. These special interests, which falsely claim to represent the interests of all employers, misconstrue the facts and ignore the significant and widespread benefits of paid sick days for businesses and the economy. They pit businesses against each other, play on myths that distract from the essence of the problems that working families face, and keep voters and legislators from carefully and honestly considering reasonable proposals.

There’s no question that this makes for a daunting road ahead as workers, advocates and enlightened businesses continue to advance paid sick days proposals at the local, state and federal levels. But it should give us hope. We are making progress, and we have the power of common sense and a growing public will behind us.

It may be a sad day in Orange County, but the fight for earned sick days there is not over. The Orange County earned sick time coalition will not give up. Paid sick days will prevail there and across the country.

Vicki Shabo is the director of work and family programs at the National Partnership for Women & Families.

A Story of Deliberate Disregard for Democracy in Orange County

Cross-posted from MomsRising.

What is going on in Orange County, Florida?

For anyone paying attention to the effort to establish an earned sick day standard in the Sunshine State, this is a legitimate question. The events of the past few days have been confusing at best – and, quite simply, they defy reason and threaten to subvert democracy.

Let’s recap:

First, more than 43,000 Orange County voters pledged their support for putting an earned sick days proposal on the November 6th ballot. Soon after, that petition was certified – officially qualifying the measure for the November ballot.

In accordance with the county charter, the Orange County Commission had two options: adopt the proposal as an ordinance or refer it to the ballot.

But, just as the commission was slated to decide, Mayor Teresa Jacobs and county commissioners proposed an ill-conceived countermeasure to be placed on the ballot alongside the earned sick days proposal. If passed, the countermeasure would invalidate the earned sick days ordinance – and all other countywide employment laws related to employee benefits and protections. The county commission and the mayor got a lot of heat from the community for this, but they would not back down.

Still with me?

On Tuesday, the mayor and the county commission met to consider both measures.* For more than six hours, they heard compelling testimony in support of earned sick days from Orange County workers, residents, businesses and advocates. But, instead of listening and honoring the will of voters, the commissioners chose to delay consideration of the measure for a month to clarify its language – ensuring it won’t get on the November ballot because the printing deadline is next week.

The commission’s callous and subversive move was designed to deny voters the opportunity to approve a common sense proposal that would protect the county’s working families, public health and the local economy.

Fortunately, that’s not the end of the story. The Orange County earned sick time coalition immediately filed an emergency request for a hearing on the commission’s failure to either pass or put to a vote the earned sick time measure within a given timeframe – a mandatory duty according to the county’s charter. Now, a three-judge panel will determine whether commissioners will be required to follow the law by putting earned sick time on the ballot.

So, what is happening in Orange County? Deliberate disregard for democracy. But there’s still a chance at a happy ending. Workers, advocates and voters continue to call on the mayor and commissioners to let voters decide the fate of earned sick time in the county. Tell your family and friends in Orange County to take action today – before it’s too late.

Vicki Shabo is the director of work and family programs at the National Partnership for Women & Families.

* Also on Tuesday, a judge threw out the organized business lobby’s lawsuit challenging the ballot language. But that’s another chapter in the story!


An Energizing Event for Family Friendly Policy Advocates

Vicki Shabo, Director of Work and Family Programs

Cross-posted from the National Partnership for Women & Families.

This month, more than 200 advocates from across the country were here in Washington, D.C., to discuss best practices and next steps in the effort to increase working families’ access to paid sick days and paid family and medical leave. We reflected on past victories; assessed current challenges and opportunities; brainstormed campaign strategies; heard from champions like Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senator Tom Harkin, Representative Rosa DeLauro and the nation’s top labor leaders; and took our stories straight to nearly 60 congressional offices. I know I’m not alone when I say it was an inspiring and productive event.

As National Partnership President Debra L. Ness said of the gathering in her opening remarks, “We are a room full of people for whom it is in our DNA to constantly test and reach beyond boundaries. The spirit, energy, wisdom and experience we share over the next couple days will, without question, help us reach a time when our country recognizes as a given that 21st century workplace policies must enable all workers to thrive as responsible workers and responsible family members.”

The 2012 National Summit on Paid Sick Days and Paid Family Leave, co-hosted by the National Partnership and Family Values @ Work, launched with an impressive discussion moderated by Jared Bernstein, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The panel, which included Service Employees International Union (SEIU) President Mary Kay Henry, Lake Research President Celinda Lake and National Domestic Workers Alliance President Ai-Jen Poo, discussed the current policy and economic climate and the significant opportunities and challenges it provides. The panelists’ emphasis on the power of diverse and well-coordinated coalitions and the need to embed our issues in a broader social justice narrative was especially inspiring.

But that opening panel was just the beginning. From there, we talked about best practices and lessons from paid sick days campaigns with leading advocates in New York, Florida, Oregon and Massachusetts. We heard the heart-wrenching story of Carolyn Pinkston, a 9to5 member from Atlanta whose family struggled without access to the paid time off they needed to help her recover from brain surgery. Latifa Lyles, acting director of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau, told us about the department’s efforts to improve workplace policies for working families. And we broke into 12 small groups to focus on specific aspects of our campaigns and develop new skills.

We closed out the day with another memorable and thought-provoking panel featuring Equality Maryland Executive Director Carrie Evans, Color of Change Executive Director Rashad Robinson and Florida Immigrant Coalition Founding Director Maria Rodriguez. This panel’s emphasis on recent wins provided inspiration and highlighted best practices for moving progressive issues in the current climate.

That evening, many of us attended an event generously hosted by SEIU, the AFL-CIO and the Labor Project for Working Families. We heard moving stories from workers across the country and from great labor leaders and allies Mary Kay Henry, Gerry Hudson, Liz Shuler and Netsy Firestein. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D – Conn.) closed out the evening with rousing remarks about the need for paid sick days and paid leave and a strong call-to-action for Congress. It was the perfect way to end a full and energizing day.

The next day, we took our enthusiasm to the halls of Congress. The morning kicked off with a tribute to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D – Calif.) for her 25 years of service and commitment to improving the lives of women and families. Senator Tom Harkin (D – Iowa), chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions and sponsor of the Healthy Families Act, rallied the crowd with his words of support. And workers and business owners from Oregon to Illinois told their inspiring stories.

After that, 133 of us went straight to the Hill to talk to lawmakers and staff at nearly 60 congressional offices about the need for the Healthy Families Act and the state paid leave fund. Along with our partners from Working Mother magazine, MomsRising, Ultraviolet and Family Values @ Work, we delivered the signatures of more than 46,000 people who signed a petition in support of a national paid leave program to key members of Congress.

Overall, the event was a tremendous success. With the great energy, dedication and expertise of all of the advocates, policy experts, workers and business leaders who attended the Summit – along with the hundreds who couldn’t make it – more victories for working families are certainly on the horizon.

To get the latest news on paid sick days efforts throughout the country and new research and resources on the importance of this basic labor standard, visit For more information on paid family leave, check out our paid leave research library.

Check out photos from the petition deliveries and a “day in the life” of one group of activists.