President Celebrates Labor Day by Extending Paid Sick Days to Government Contractors

By Zoe Ziliak Michel 

Workers were given another reason to celebrate Labor Day this year, as President Obama chose that day to sign an executive order requiring federal contractors to provide their employees with one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to seven paid sick days per year. The White House estimates that this executive order, which takes effect in 2017, will give about 300,000 additional workers access to paid sick days. Workers will have the right to use those sick days not only to convalesce when they fall ill themselves, but also to care for a sick relative or seek safety in cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

While extending paid sick days benefits to 300,000 new contractors is great news, this executive order underscores the need for all workers to be guaranteed paid sick days through  a national law – the Healthy Families Act (HFA). An estimated 43 million American workers lack access to paid time off to care for themselves or sick family members. The HFA would give all workers at businesses with at least 15 employees the right to earn up to seven days of paid sick time per year, while those at smaller businesses would earn up to seven days of unpaid (but still job-protected) sick time annually.

Our nation’s workers need paid sick days to protect the health of their own families and their communities. Parents without paid sick days are likely to send their kids to school sick, endangering the health of classmates and teachers. In contrast, those with paid leave are more likely to attend prenatal and well-child medical visits, get flu shots, and pursue other preventive care for themselves and their children. And employers who already have paid sick days policies state that offering paid sick days doesn’t hurt their bottom line; in fact, it reduces turnover, saving them money on hiring and training.

The president stressed the need for a federal paid sick days law in his Labor Day speech announcing the executive order. “I’m calling on Congress [to] take a cue from the rest of the world…Pass a national policy for paid sick days as well,” he urged, adding, “It’ll be good for business.”

On Labor Day, American workers celebrated the workplace rights that unions have fought for and won. Yet there are still more protections we need to secure. It’s time for job-protected paid sick days for all American workers. It’s time for the Healthy Families Act.