40 Years Behind on Sick Leave Policy, But Catching Up

It’s too late for Tonisha Howard, the mother of three in Milwaukee who was fired for leaving work to be with her hospitalized two-year-old. And for Felix Trinidad, who was so afraid of losing his job at Golden Farm fruit store in Brooklyn that he didn’t take time off to go to the doctor—even after he vomited blood. Trinidad, a father of two who had stomach cancer, continued to work until just days before his death from stomach cancer at age 34. But for workers in Portland and perhaps Philadelphia, paid sick days just got much closer to becoming reality.

Last Wednesday, the city council in Portland, Oregon, voted unanimously for a bill granting most employees up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per year. On Thursday, the Philadelphia City Council passed a similar law—and, with only one vote short of a veto-proof majority, advocates are hopeful they can find the last member they need to get it past Michael Nutter, who vetoed a similar bill in 2011. Meanwhile, in New York City, advocates geared up for a hearing on a paid-sick-leave bill, even though Council Speaker Christine Quinn still stubbornly refuses to bring it to a vote. Overall, the sentiment seems to that be more paid leave victories are inevitable.

“We’re going to see a wave of wins,” predicts Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @Work, an advocacy group that has been working on paid sick days laws throughout the country for more than five years. “I think we’re growing toward a tipping point.”

Part of the reason for the recent successes may be that the earliest paid-sick-days laws—starting with San Francisco’s, which went into effect in 2006—have now been in place long enough for people to feel their effects. And there haven’t been very many negative ones. “The sky didn’t fall,” as Bravo puts it. The smooth transition into a world in which workers have some paid time off when they or their kids get sick flies in the face of dire predictions about cost and abuse of the law. “Our experience is that the business lobbyists complain, they fight against every little thing in the bills,” says Eileen Appelbaum, a senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “But once the law is in place, businesses quickly adapt to it.” Appelbaum has studied the effects of San Francisco’s paid sick days law and found that “most people don’t use all the days they have. They use, on average, three or four days a year.”

read more at The American Prospect

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