D.C. Workers and Businesses Show Support for Earned Sick Leave

October 30, 2013

By Lauren French

More than 140 business leaders, restaurant workers, advocates, public health professionals and Washington, D.C. residents signed up to testify before a recent joint committee of the city council on proposed minimum wage and earned sick and safe leave legislation. The rush of people eager to speak at this Monday, October 28 meeting is evidence of the importance of the bills under consideration, which would raise the minimum wage and amend the existing Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act. Earned sick leave advocates are calling on the committee to send a comprehensive bill addressing both earned sick leave and a minimum wage increase to the full city council. At the hearing, the majority of council members supported extending earned sick and safe leave. Councilmember Vincent B. Orange, Sr., chair of the Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs, unequivocally stated that "we will get sick leave passed."

The current sick leave law, while monumental at the time it was passed in 2008, could benefit from a number of improvements. First, the law excludes tipped restaurant workers, leaving nearly 80 percent of restaurant workers without any access to earned sick leave. Second, workers cannot accrue sick leave until they have been on the job for an entire year, a requirement that disproportionately affects workers in low-wage, high-turnover occupations.

Ed Lazere of the DC Fiscal Policy Institute and John Schmitt of the Center for Economic and Policy Research spoke to the positive economic effects that extending earned sick days would have on the D.C. community. Both experts testified that these measures would not result in job loss for D.C., and that providing stability to workers would function as a stimulus to the local economy. Lazere also addressed the large gaps left by the existing earned sick leave law, describing the high turnover rate in low-wage industries as making the existing law, with its requirement of a year of tenure, an "empty promise" to those low-wage workers.

A number of business owners also came out to testify in support of expanding paid sick leave. Belinda Sheppard, owner of Flava At Wa-Zo-Bia, a LeDroit Park neighborhood restaurant and lounge, cited concerns over public health. "The main reason I support earned sick days is the risk of food-borne illness," she stated. "Coming to work sick can affect customers and employees." Business leaders also addressed the need for an amended earned sick leave law to level the playing field for employers already offering those benefits. Keith Mestrich, Senior Vice President of Amalgamated Bank, explained that not mandating earned sick leave, "places employers like Amalgamated Bank, who are trying to do the right thing, at a competitive disadvantage." In addition to the employers who testified, several other D.C. business owners submitted written testimony in support of the bill. Included among these were Marcia Finn, owner of Bright Start Child Care, and David Deal, CEO of Community IT Innovators.

Monday's hearing proved that there is much support for extending the earned sick leave law in D.C., with a majority of council members expressing support for the measure. This is welcome news for the significant number of workers who are unable to take even a single paid sick day to care for their own health or the health of their family. CLASP eagerly awaits the passage of a comprehensive bill that improves the economic security of working families in D.C. by both amending the earned sick leave law and raising the minimum wage. The passage of such a bill is a necessary step towards a healthier and more prosperous D.C.

To voice your support for an earned sick leave and minimum wage bill in D.C. please contact your councilmember here.

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