Persistence Pays Off for Earned Sick Days Advocates; State, Local Momentum Driving National Action

By Liz Ben-Ishai

State and local momentum in the earned sick days movement is driving progress at the national level. This was clearly illustrated on February 12 when Philadelphia  became the 21st jurisdiction to pass an earned sick days law and the federal Healthy Families Act (HFA) was reintroduced in Congress by Senator Patty Murray and Representative Rosa DeLauro. Both moments were emblematic of the persistence of the sick days movement, which has enjoyed numerous successes recently. Philadelphia advocates will finally see their bill become law after two previous mayoral vetoes. And as Rosa DeLauro noted at a Capitol press conference, it’s been 11 years since she first introduced HFA alongside Senator Edward Kennedy.

The Capitol room was packed with earned sick days supporters, reporters, and Congressional staff as Members of Congress, advocates, and business leaders discussed the importance of earned sick days. At some point in his or her remarks, each speaker shared the same important message: no worker should have to choose between her family’s health or her own health and her economic security. Yet far too many workers lose jobs and wages because they lack access to paid leave. CLASP’s new brief, Wages Lost, Jobs at Risk, highlights data on this disturbing trend. The Healthy Families Act would relieve millions of workers of this horrible choice, which is really no choice at all.

One of the biggest accomplishments of our movement is the growing business support for earned sick days. Today, more than 340 employers have signed on in support of state and local earned sick days campaigns; many of them also support a federal minimum standard. At the press conference, Dana Zemel, people operations coordinator at Blue Bottle Coffee, a thriving business and ardent supporter of fair workplaces, shared why her company sees earned sick days as a no brainer. Zemel explained that Blue Bottle, which has locations in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, New York City, and Japan, has been offering all of its employees earned sick days since San Francisco became the first city in the nation to pass an earned sick days law. Said Zemel: “It was the passage of the San Francisco law that gave us the nudge we needed to ’walk the talk’ about staff as a valued asset, and we immediately expanded paid sick days to all our employees,” including those in locations where it was not legally required at the time. For Blue Bottle, which spends about $2,500 to train each new barista, policies like earned sick days are good for workers and smart business—reducing turnover and boosting employee morale.

The experience of Blue Bottle, which has found implementing earned sick days laws to be simple and straightforward, is validated by data. As the title of a recent article in Bloomberg View reads, “Sick Leave Doesn’t Hurt Business, Says Business.” The piece reviews studies from San Francisco, Seattle, and Connecticut, all of which have enacted earned sick days laws. In each jurisdiction, there is little evidence that the policy has a negative effect on businesses.

But these policies do have a positive effect on working families. At the press conference, Congresswoman DeLauro recounted the story, told to her by a school bus driver, about the many parents she had seen over the years who cried as they loaded sick children on the bus. These parents had no choice; they rightly feared for their jobs or couldn’t make ends meet without that day’s wages. Thankfully, if the momentum we are seeing at the state and local levels continues to fuel victories—including passage of a federal law—many more workers will be able to care for themselves and their loved ones without living in fear.

Click here to read Wages Lost, Jobs at Risk.