In Focus: Paid Sick Days

Oct 19, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Enforcement Agencies, Advocates Roll up Their Sleeves at Paid Sick Days Convening in San Francisco

By Liz Ben-Ishai

“It’s lonely at the top.” You may not associate these words with enforcing labor standards. However, in 2006, when San Francisco voters approved a ballot initiative to guarantee workers paid sick days, the city was very much alone. As the first U.S. jurisdiction to provide this basic right, San Francisco was a pioneer. The city’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement (OLSE) effectively wrote the book on enforcing paid sick days.

Ten years later, 36 other jurisdictions have passed their own paid sick days laws. And thanks to the hard work of OLSE staff and community partners, agencies in other cities have strong model to look to as they establish their own enforcement practices.

Last month, CLASP was proud to co-sponsor the  “Making Paid Sick Days Work” convening with the City of San Francisco. The event brought together over 100 agency staff and advocates from more than 20 jurisdictions with paid sick days laws. Participants shared strategies and best practices for ensuring these  laws truly work for all stakeholders, from vulnerable workers to small businesses.

Keynote speeches by Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-executive director of the Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (ROC-United), and Julie Su, California’s labor commissioner, highlighted implementation challenges and opportunities. Jayaraman put in perspective the challenges of restaurant workers; in an industry where so many workers depend on tips to survive—and are left to endure harassment, financial insecurity, and unpredictability as a result—claiming one’s right to take a sick day can be extraordinarily difficult.

Su, a strong voice for reforming labor standards enforcement across the country, described her agency’s strategic use of resources to maximize impact. Su challenged widely held (but inaccurate) views on the role of labor standards enforcement agencies. Agencies are not “neutral,” she explained. Rather, they are “on the side of the law.” Su encouraged fellow enforcement officials to set a high bar for compliance, standing with mistreated workers as well as good employers who meet their obligations. While they should be impartial in adjudicating cases and evaluating evidence, they need not be neutral; instead, they should commit unwaveringly to justice and the law.

This philosophy informed discussions throughout the convening. For example, Seattle and San Francisco enforcement staff joined their community partners (the Fair Work Center and Chinese Progressive Association, respectively) to describe “co-enforcement” efforts. This approach brings community groups, who have relationships with often hard-to-reach workers, into the enforcement process—helping with outreach, intake, and other aspects of enforcement. The possibilities intrigued agency staff from elsewhere in the country; many were eager to adopt similar models in their cities and states.

For new agencies just beginning their work on sick days enforcement (many of whom were in attendance) to get on their feet. For example, staff from Tacoma, WA and New York City led a workshop on the fundamentals of setting up a new agency or agency office, including operations, hiring, and rulemaking. Another workshop described systems for managing data and ensuring transparency within agencies. Lastly, in a special session, California’s department of industrial relations brought together agencies from the six California cities that have paid sick days laws, providing an opportunity to coordinate activities and maximize impact.

Speakers at a City Hall reception on the first night of the convening emphasized this shift. Sonya Mehta—who led the campaign to pass San Francisco’s paid sick days law with colleagues at Young Workers United, other community groups, and workers themselves—recalled the growing awareness 10 ten years ago that many workers faced a choice between going to their jobs sick and losing income or employment. Jim Lazarus, senior vice president of San Francisco’s Chamber of Commerce, acknowledged that despite initial reluctance from the business community, the law has had little impact on employers. In fact, in many cases, it has actually benefited employers, Lazarus said.

Overcoming business opposition and enacting a paid sick days law are major achievements. But as CLASP Executive Director Olivia Golden stressed, implementing and enforcing a law are the hardest steps. Advocates, employers, and government must roll up their sleeves and work together to make paid sick days a reality. That’s one thing on which the attendees could all agree.

Oct 6, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Over 1 Million Workers to Receive Expanded Access to Paid Sick Days under New Federal Rule

By Zoe Ziliak Michel

Last week, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) released its final rule implementing President Obama’s executive order (EO) enabling employees of federal contractors to earn paid sick days beginning in January 2017. The DOL estimates that 1.15 million workers will be affected by this rule, including 600,000 workers who will gain access to paid sick days for the first time and an additional 550,000 who will see an increase in the number of days they can earn. The final rule is significant both because it is part of the incredible momentum of the national paid sick days movement and because its provisions are drawn from best practices and lessons learned in that very movement. As a result, it sets a fair and inclusive standard.

This final rule builds on the great progress made in 2016 to bring paid sick days to more workers. Since the original EO was released in September 2015, the state of Vermont and 11 cities and counties have passed paid sick days statutes. Local and state laws passed in the last decade have already established this protection for millions of workers, chipping away at the huge block of the workforce that lacks access; the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that 64 percent of private-sector workers could earn paid sick days in 2015, up from 61 percent the year before. Over the same period, access jumped 12 percentage points in the West, largely due to the implementation of statewide paid sick days laws in California and Oregon. Along with state and local legislative action, the DOL’s final rule will fuel efforts to pass the federal Healthy Families Act, which would enable workers across the country to earn sick days.

Under the DOL rule, workers will be able to earn up to 56 hours of paid sick time per year. Notably, the new rule adopts an inclusive family definition advocates have supported for years specifying that employees will be permitted to use their paid sick days to care for themselves and those related by “blood or affinity,” which includes chosen family as well as blood and legal relatives. This family definition–which the federal government has been using for its sick leave and other policies since 1969 and has now been adopted in paid sick days laws enacted in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, and Chicago–has special significance to LGBTQ families, but will also meet the needs of many more workers in diverse families. The rule also enables workers to use their earned time as “safe time,” time away from work to seek treatment or legal assistance related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Eighteen jurisdictions have already enacted laws that include safe time coverage.

As federal contractors implement the rule, they will learn what thousands of employers nationwide already know: paid sick days are good for business. During the rule’s comment period, several business members of Main Street Alliance, a progressive business association, submitted comments explaining how providing paid sick days helps them maintain employee morale and keep their employees and customers healthy.

The DOL rule, which implements President Obama’s EO, will help more than a million working families make ends meet while boosting federal contractors’ efficiency and productivity. CLASP applauds the EO and the DOL’s final rule and urges Congress to follow suit by passing the Healthy Families Act. As President Obama said in his most recent weekly address, “Paid sick leave isn’t a side issue, or a women’s issue, or something that’s just nice to have.  It’s a must-have.” 


Aug 9, 2016  |  PERMALINK »

Public Policies Fail to Protect Growing U.S. Latino Workforce

This is a special guest post by Crisanta Duran, majority leader in Colorado's House of Representatives.

By Rep. Crisanta Duran

Latinos are essential to making the American – and Coloradan – economy work. In fact, Latino workers are a vital part of the workforce with a notably high participation rate. Yet, as a new brief from the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) highlights, instead of propelling them into the middle class, Latino workers’ jobs are too often holding them back. These jobs not only pay low wages, but also leave workers without access to paid sick time, paid family and medical leave, fair schedules, and employer-sponsored healthcare benefits. As Colorado House Majority Leader, I found critical evidence in this CLASP brief to support what my constituents and workers throughout the state tell me every day:  for Latinos, for the state, and for the nation, it is critical that we advance public policies to improve job quality.

While national policies to improve the lives of all workers would be ideal, progress at the federal level is lagging, to put it mildly. Last week, on August 5, advocates, workers, and families celebrated the 23rd anniversary of the implementation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which gives some workers access to unpaid, job protected leave. In 2001, reflecting on the first bill he signed into law, President Clinton acknowledged, “Our work is not done[…] we must build on the success of FMLA by giving more workers the protections of the act and finding new ways to provide paid leave to those workers who need to take off but cannot afford to do so.” 

Fifteen years after Bill Clinton issued this call for paid leave, the nation is still waiting for federal action – but a lot has changed in the intervening years. Since the FMLA went into effect, the composition of the US labor force has shifted: in 1990, shortly before its passage, there were about 10 million Latinos in the US workforce. In 2014, there were more than 26 million Latinos in the workforce. Over the course of a quarter century, Latino workers doubled their share of the total US workforce, from about 8 to 16 percent. Yet, too many of the growing number of jobs Latinos hold cause immense volatility in their families’ lives. CLASP’s brief shows that nearly 60 percent of Latinos lack access to even unpaid FMLA. And few Latinos have access to paid leave – likely the reason why an astounding 40 percent of new Latina moms take no leave at all after the birth of a child. Latinos can’t wait for action on paid leave any longer.

I am hopeful that a new Congress will enact desperately needed job quality laws for the benefit of all Americans, but in the meantime, my colleagues and I are working to advance such laws in our state legislature. I am a strong supporter of Colorado’s Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI) Act, which would create a statewide family and medical leave insurance program to provide workers with up to 12 weeks of partial wage replacement when they need to care for a family member (including a new baby) or recover from their own serious illness. This program will provide much-needed stability for Coloradans, so they don’t have to choose between caring for a sick family member or paying their bills.

Another recent anniversary highlights the lack of progress Congress has made on job quality in recent years. Last month marked seven years since the federal minimum wage was raised. Stagnating at $7.25, the minimum wage has failed to keep up with increases in workers’ productivity and the rising cost of living. And Latinos around the country are disproportionately impacted; CLASP’s brief shows that while 39 percent of all full-time workers in the U.S. earn less than $15 per hour, an astounding 58 percent of full-time Latino workers have wages below this threshold.

In Colorado, more than half of Latinos are employed in low-wage occupational groups. While Colorado’s minimum wage is higher than the federal wage at $8.31 per hour, it’s still a far cry from a living wage. That’s why I support a ballot initiative to raise the state minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2020; it would be a step in the right direction for all Coloradans, and given current disparities in our state, it would help to lift up many hard-working Latino families.

As CLASP points out, Latino workers don’t just trail behind their White counterparts in wages and family leave; they also struggle with other aspects of job quality that make it hard to pay the bills and care for families. For example, nationwide, nearly half (45 percent) of Latino workers ages 26 to 32 receive their work schedules one week or less in advance, making it difficult to arrange child care, go to school, or hold a second job. Workers in Colorado, including Latinos, struggle with schedules, too; 16 percent of Coloradans who work part-time are doing so involuntarily – that is, they want to work more hours, but can’t get them. In addition, fewer than half of Latino workers in the US have access to even a single paid sick day.

Job quality matters not only for economic vitality in our communities, but also for civic participation. As a board member of the NALEO Educational Fund, I’m committed to supporting policies that will improve political engagement in Latino communities. Economic security is essential to civic engagement – working families need good jobs in order to be able to fully participate in their communities and our political system. It’s just one more reason why it’s time for policymakers at the local, state, and federal level to prioritize policies that improve the quality of jobs. 

Read the brief here>>

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