On the Heels of State and Local Earned Sick Days Wins, Federal Bill is Re-Introduced
Washington, D.C.—Today, Members of Congress answered President Obama’s call for “a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave.” The Healthy Families Act, reintroduced by Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), would provide access to earned paid sick days for many of the 43 million workers who currently have none. The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), which has continuously documented how low-income families struggle without earned sick days, applauds the bill’s introduction. CLASP urges Congress to act swiftly to make it law.
Access to earned sick days is deeply stratified by income level, with just 30 percent of workers in the bottom 25 percent of average wages having access to sick days. In comparison, 84 percent of workers in the top quartile of wage earners have access to sick days. In addition, just 47 percent of Latino workers have access to paid sick days, compared to 64 percent of White workers and 62 percent of Black workers.
“Improving job quality is critical to addressing the vast and growing inequality in our country,” said Olivia Golden, executive director of CLASP. “A national earned sick days policy would help families struggling to stay in the middle class and those struggling to get there.”
Lack of earned sick days has serious consequences for workers, families, public health, businesses, and the economy. As many as one in seven workers have lost their jobs because they were sick or needed to care for a loved one. Among working mothers, one in five have experienced such job loss. When families lose income or jobs simply for caring for their health, their economic security, as well as that of their community, is put in jeopardy. Lost wages are lost dollars that would otherwise be spent in local business and elsewhere.
The reintroduction of the Healthy Family Act comes as a growing number of states and localities are passing their own earned sick time standards. To date, 20 jurisdictions have enacted sick days laws—and momentum is growing. In 2014 alone, 10 cities and 2 states (California and Massachusetts) passed earned sick days legislation. And as CLASP has demonstrated through its work with business leaders, government officials, and advocates in many of these cities and states, earned sick time standards are moving the needle for low- and middle-income families, as well as local economies.
“The success of state and local campaigns shows the public hunger for this vital labor standard. Notably, in the November 2014 election, earned sick days initiatives won in each of the four jurisdictions where the public had the chance to determine policy through ballot box,” said Liz Ben-Ishai, senior policy analyst at CLASP.
Recent public opinion polling tracks closely with recent wins; fully 88 percent of voters support earned sick days, with majorities of both Democrats and Republicans favoring the policy.
A national earned sick days standard would not only be good for workers, but also for employers. More than 340 employers (listed on the Better Workplaces, Better Businesses website) have signed on in support of local and state earned sick days legislation, which they say reduces turnover and boosts employees’ morale. Studies in San Francisco, Connecticut, and Seattle, which have enacted sick days laws, show minimal negative effects on businesses and the economy, as well as positive outcomes.
For James Freeman, co-owner of New York- and California-based Blue Bottle Coffee, the passage of San Francisco’s paid sick leave ordinance pushed him to do the right thing, which was also good for business. Said Freeman, “[The San Francisco ordinance] gave us a gentle nudge to do the right thing. If a company believes its best asset is its workers, then support for a federal law is the way to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.”
The Healthy Families Act would guarantee workers in businesses with more than 15 employees the ability to earn up to seven paid sick days. Workers employed by smaller businesses would be able to earn up seven job-protected, unpaid sick days. Sick days can also be used to take time for services and care needed by survivors of domestic or sexual violence.