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PSN on November 16, 2009 - 11:54am
Paid Sick Days: Healthier Workers, Healthier Families
Monday, November 16, 2009
Paid Sick Days: Healthier Workers, Healthier Families
With the H1N1 virus affecting communities across the nation, public health officials are highlighting the problem of Americans who lack paid sick days to take care of themselves or stay home with sick children sent home from school. More than 59 million workers do not have any paid sick days and more than 86 million do not have paid sick days to care for other members of their family who are ill.
As part of our multi-state shared agenda, the Progressive States Network is working with its partners and leading experts to promote paid sick days reforms in states across the country. These reforms will allow parents to take care of sick children and workers to be more productive, while protecting the overall public health and preventing transmission of diseases within the workplace. Fully 86% of the public in polling by the Public Welfare Foundation in 2008 supported enacting laws that guarantee paid sick days for all workers.
With a concerted effort throughout the states, it is a policy that brings together public health advocates, unions, faith-based organizations, low-wage worker advocates, and women’s rights groups. Such a campaign also forces conservatives to either live up to their rhetoric of “family values” and help enact the policy or choose the interests of bad employers over the interests of families.
Summary of Paid Sick Days Policy and Why It Matters
State policy should require employers to allow workers to accumulate paid sick days based on the number of hours or weeks they have worked and allow those paid sick days to be used to take care of their own illness, that of a family member, or to deal with an abusive relationship. While many states provide certain public employees with paid sick leave, workers in the private sector generally lack specific time off for illness.
Why It Matters: Paid sick days allow workers to be more productive, improve the general public health, and allow employees to take care of medical needs without fearing employer retaliation or losing incomes. Although many Americans believe that they are entitled to paid sick leave for themselves or for family members, more than 22 million working women lack paid sick days, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. The burden on working parents is especially strong when children fall ill, since 70% of workers do not have the right to paid sick days that can be used to care for a sick child. 16% of workers report in polling that they or a family member have been fired, suspended, or otherwise punished or that they would be fired if they missed work due to illness.
Fortunately, cities such as San Francisco, CA, Washington, DC, and Milwaukee, WI have successfully passed mandatory paid sick days, while multiple states have introduced variations on the bill. All states already provide paid sick days to their own employees. Eight states— California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, and Wisconsin— allow workers who already have paid sick days to use them to care for certain family members. So moving towards paid sick days for all workers is the next step towards assuring that all families have options when they or family members fall ill.
Summary of Policy Details: The National Partnership for Women & Families and A Better Balance, with technical assistance from the San Francisco Office of Labor Standards and Enforcement, have drafted model legislation for local advocates considering launching a paid sick days campaign.
Messaging on Paid Sick Days
Enacting paid sick days legislation is one of the most popular possible initiatives with the public, according to opinion surveys. As mentioned above, 86% of the public (including 75% of Republicans) favor a basic labor standard that would guarantee all workers a minimum number of paid sick days. This translates politically into 46% of the public saying that a politician supporting such legislation would make them more likely to vote for them, with only 10% saying it would make them less likely to support them at election time. State polling in California, Connecticut, Maine, Ohio and North Carolina have all shown similar levels of support for paid sick days legislation.
Make Paid Sick Days a Values Issue: Proponents of paid sick days legislation should make the issue a key part of a values debate in the states. If the issue becomes one of values, this will force conservative opponents of the legislation into the position of being seen as anti-family and not caring about public health. Politically, it can also drive a rift between grassroots “family values” conservative voters and elected officials who choose the interests of bad employers over the interests of families. In polls, 77% of the public found the following statement a convincing values argument for paid sick days:
Win or lose, paid sick days campaigns are a chance to put "family values" conservatives on the record so that voters can see whether their rhetoric extends to helping parents when they need to stay home with a sick child.
Public Policy Arguments in favor of Paid Sick Days Legislation: To cement public support for paid sick days, state leaders can emphasize a few key policy points:
Dealing with Potential Business Opposition: While some businesses are reluctant to individually offer days off, the cumulative effect of illness spreading across the country due to people and their children not staying home when sick hurts the overall economy. It is estimated that people working while sick costs the national economy as much as $180 billion per year in lost work and productivity. Add in the costs of children sent to school because their parents couldn't afford to stay home with them, thereby spreading illness to additional families, and the economic costs to businesses just mount higher.
While many of the established business lobbies defer to their worst employer members in opposing paid sick days legislation, there are employers who recognize that we all lose out economically when pandemics are allowed to spread because people work sick and parents can't stay home with their sick kids. See this CLASP primer on outreach to local businesses to build business support for the policy.
And the public does not believe that paid sick days legislation will hurt businesses or their profits. In fact, 82% of the public agrees with the following statement (and 57% find this statement "very convincing"):
If these public concerns are continually highlighted in legislative debates, there will be little public support for the business opponents of paid sick days policy arguing it will somehow undermine the economy or individual businesses. Instead, they will recognize that paid sick days is ultimately a benefit to the economy and to individual businesses thinking about long-term productivity.
Building Paid Sick Days Campaigns
Progressive States Network is working with a range of allied organizations so state leaders can tap resources from those groups to help them in their legislative work. We will be working with those allies to strengthen communication between legislators and organizational allies across the states working on paid sick days, while providing other technical support as needed during policy campaigns.
National groups working on paid sick days include the National Partnership for Women & Families, CLASP, ACORN, MomsRising, National Association of Working Women (9to5), and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
A number of state-based alliances currently supporting paid sick days are organized under the umbrella of the Family Values @ Work Consortium and the National Partnership tracks state campaigns on their website as well.
Some Key Resources: A number of organizations provide research and other tools to support paid sick day campaigns in the states, including:
PSN Support in Your States
PSN has already begun working with legislators and advocates to provide support for them as they introduce paid sick days legislation around the country. We'd like to work with many more!
Our policy staff are also available to answer questions and supply information not on the website. Legislators and advocates can contact us about supporting Paid Sick Days campaigns through our website or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
As bills are introduced and sessions begin, PSN will provide ongoing resources and updates on paid sick days legislation, as well as help coordinate strategy and information sharing with our partners among sponsors and advocates.
The Stateside Dispatch is written and edited by:
Nathan Newman, Executive Director
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