Seattle Becomes 4th Major City to Enact Paid Sick Days

This week, Seattle’s City Council voted 8-1 to make their city the fourth major city in the nation — following Washington, D.C., Milwaukee and San Francisco — to enact legislation ensuring that workers will not have to choose between keeping their jobs and getting the health care they or a family member need. Earlier this year, conservative state legislators struck down Milwaukee’s law, enacted by a 70-30 percentage majority in a 2008 ballot initiative, by passing a bill stripping local governments of the power to regulate family and medical leave. This victory for Seattle families continues the positive national momentum of paid sick days legislation, which was also enacted statewide in Connecticut earlier this year, and which promises to continue to be a priority for lawmakers seeking economic security for their constituents across the nation in cities and states next year. It also comes at a time when some tragic, real-life stories of families affected by a lack of paid sick days are emerging, reinforcing the need for this critical measure.

According to the Economic Opportunity Institute, approximately 200,000 working Seattlites currently lack paid sick days. The legislation passed in Seattle would go a long way towards aiding those families while protecting small businesses. Among the provisions of the bill, which would take effect in September of 2012, are that very small businesses (with fewer than five employees) would not be required to offer sick leave, businesses with between 5 and 49 workers would be required to offer one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked, and large businesses with over 250 employees would need to give their workers 1.5 hours for every 30 hours worked. The impact of the law would also be required to be measured by an independent evaluator.

In an analysis of the economic effects of the Seattle measure, Forbes contributor Mark Bergen lays to waste some of the common misconceptions of businesses on the economic effect of requiring paid sick leave, noting accurately that “by some measures, covering sick days is cheap, and pretty popular” and that “complaints that paid sick leave measures will undercut a city’s competitive advantage suffer from the wrong assessment of our economic malaise.”

Mayor Mike McGinn indicated his support for the Seattle measure in a statement: "Paid Sick Leave levels the playing field in Seattle by supporting public health and economic justice. Seattle residents shouldn't have to choose between staying home sick and keeping their job."

Sadly, reminders emerged this week that the very situation described by Mayor McGinn is not hypothetical for many families. In Philadelphia, where a paid sick days measure was passed by the city council earlier but vetoed by Mayor Nutter, news media reported the story of a mother who was fired from her job for taking time off to donate one of her kidneys to her ailing son. The woman, Claudia Rendon, had already used up her vacation days after both the death of her mother and caring for her father who was diagnosed with leukemia. Philadelphia’s city council is seeking to either override the Mayor’s veto or find some compromise to move the bill forward and begin to protect families like Claudia’s.

Also this week, the Family Values @ Work consortium took advantage of the attention being focused on the release of the fictional movie Contagion — which portrays the terrifying effects of a worldwide flu epidemic — to highlight in a web video the real-life stories of five of the 44 million people across the nation who are at risk of being forced to go to work while they are sick. (You can view the video here.)

The success in Seattle is encouraging other municipal paid sick days efforts. In Denver, voters will decide on a ballot initiative on paid sick days this November (an effort which also saw a step backwards this week when Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper came out in opposition to the measure). Denver’s initiative would require businesses with ten or more employees required to offer nine paid days to employees per year, and smaller businesses five days per year. And in the nation’s largest city, advocates are pushing the New York City Council for a vote on paid sick days. The bill, which would grant over one million workers access to sick leave for the first time, is sponsored by a veto-proof majority of city councilors but has been prevented from coming to the floor by leadership.

Elected officials everywhere should be encouraged by recent polling in Connecticut that clearly shows a strong bipartisan majority of voters look favorably on legislators who voted for the state’s paid sick days law earlier this year. According to the poll released over Labor Day, “73 percent of registered voters in Connecticut support the new law, including 61 percent of Republicans, 70 percent of independents and 87 percent of Democrats.” Support in the poll was particularly strong among women — 83 percent of whom favored the law.

Full Resources from this Article

Seattle Becomes 4th Major City to Enact Paid Sick Days

National Partnership for Women and Families — For Labor Day, New Poll Shows Paid Sick Days Standards Are a Bipartisan Voting Issue
National Partnership for Women and Families — Victory in Seattle!
Progressive States Network — 2011 Blueprint for Economic Security: Paid Sick Days
Seattle Coalition for a Healthy Workforce — Why Paid Sick Days?
Forbes — Seattle Takes the Paid Sick Leave Plunge
CBS Denver — Paid Sick Days Supporters Gain Momentum From Other Cities

This article is part of PSN's email newsletter, The Stateside Dispatch.
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