(Connecticut State Representative Zeke Zalaski on the state's landmark Paid Sick Days legislation.)
Last week, Connecticut’s State Senate took a huge step towards ensuring the job security of workers in the service sector and the well-being of all residents by passing landmark legislation that would require that businesses offer paid sick time to certain employees. The paid sick days bill, S.B. 913 , is now set to be considered by the state House of Representatives. If it passes there, the bill will head to the desk of Gov. Dannel Malloy, who campaigned  successfully on the policy and has promised to sign  it into law. While San Francisco  has already enacted Paid Sick Days (with little resulting outcry  from the business community), and while other cities like Philadelphia  and Seattle  are considering similar legislation this year, enacting the first statewide law would make the Nutmeg State a national trailblazer in protecting workers and promoting public health.
As the legislation is about to be considered in the House, Progressive States Network asked Connecticut State Rep. Zeke Zalaski, Chair of the Labor & Public Employees Committee and a chief sponsor of the bill, for his thoughts on the benefits that Paid Sick Days promises to bring to workers and families in his state, the motivations behind corporate opposition to the measure, and how Connecticut may be setting an example for the rest of the nation:
PSN: Why do you think the paid sick legislation is important, and how will it benefit the State of Connecticut?
REP. ZALASKI: We should not force people to have to go to work when they are sick because they do not have paid sick days. But that’s what happens for too many employees who have to choose between their health and earning a living. When someone is sick, he or she should be able to stay home, get well and then return to work. This is about doing the right thing for working people, particularly for people who are service sector workers. Paid sick days benefit the state because we create a better, healthier and safer work environment for everyone who works and lives in Connecticut.
PSN: We are already seeing plenty of evidence that paid sick days is good for both business and workers in the cities where it has been implemented, yet opposition by groups claiming to represent businesses has been quite strong. Why do you think these organizations are so opposed to paid sick days and how have you and your colleagues been able to respond to their arguments most effectively?
REP. ZALASKI: It is hard for me to understand why various groups would oppose paid sick days for hard working people. I would like to think opposing businesses were not well informed, but maybe it’s simply a way for certain lobbying groups who are ideologically opposed to enrich themselves. We have made changes in the bill to address legitimate concerns, but in the end, we must protect the real concerns of working people.
PSN: States have traditionally been the trailblazers in advancing workers' rights, from Maine and Massachusetts being early states to pass child labor laws, to California and New York enacting landmark protections for farm workers and domestic workers. How exciting is it to have Connecticut lead the way on paid sick leave?
REP. ZALASKI: This is a great opportunity for us to send a message to the rest of the country that we in Connecticut value our workers. This is a landmark bill that is as important as other precedent setting gains like child labor and civil rights laws.
PSN: In so many other states, this has been such a terrible year for working families and the middle class. What do you think has made Connecticut different?
REP. ZALASKI: I like to think that we in Connecticut have strong leadership both in the Governor’s office and in the General Assembly. Historically, we have opposed efforts to take advantage of workers and to erode measures that protect people. This is not the time for us to reverse our course. Our goal to provide paid sick leave for working families is a result of many organizations, coalitions and people of good will working together. Now is the right time to be the first state in the nation to pass this legislation.