New Polling: Paid Sick Days and Family Leave Overwhelming Political Winners

As the 2008 legislative session takes shape, a large coalition of organizations is working together to help families gain the flexibility to better balance the demands of work and family. 

In particular, new polling shows overwhelming, bipartisan support for legislation to guarantee workers a basic workplace right to sick days, for paid family leave to care for newborn children, and for longer-term care of family members. Building on recognition of this broad support -- and the political advantages for those leaders who step up to champion these family issues -- both legislative leaders and grassroots organizations are moving to make paid sick days and paid family leave signature legislation in 2008.

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New Polling Results

The new poll results being unveiled this week highlight the deep support for guaranteeing families basic rights in the workplace. (Poll results should be showing up this week at The poll of 1,200 likely voters, sponsored by the National Partnership for Women & Families and the Multi-State Working Families Consortium (in collaboration with 10 organizations, including ACORN, AFL-CIO, Moms Rising, 9to5, National Association of Working Women, and Service Employees International Union), has some remarkable findings:

  • Eighty-nine percent of poll respondents favor a basic labor standard that would guarantee all workers a minimum number of paid sick days, including 83% of Republicans who agree that such a standard is needed.

  • Seventy-five percent of poll respondents favor extending current unpaid leave laws to provide for paid family and medical leave.

These numbers emphasize that such "valuing families" legislation should be at the forefront of progressive legislative campaigns in the coming year. 

To highlight these and other findings from the poll, a national audio press conference will be held this Wednesday, September 26th at Noon EDT. To participate, call into:

To Make a Reservation Contact: Nancy Bennett at 1-800-834-1110

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Paid Sick Days

Highlighting the need for paid sick days legislation, the poll found that:

  • Nearly one in eight voters (12%) surveyed reported that they or another adult worker in their family had been fired or penalized by their employer for taking time off from work to care for a sick family member or recover from their own illness.

  • Among Latino and African American voters polled, nearly one in six (16%) reported that they or a family member had been fired or penalized for taking sick time off.

The core problem is that while many Americans think they have the right to paid sick days, employers have complete discretion on whether to allow sick days or not -- and often retaliate against employees who need a sick day. In fact, 70% of American workers lack any right to take a sick day to stay home with a family member. 

Recognizing this as a deep problem, support for paid sick days legislation is overwhelming among the American population:

  • 87% of those polled support giving all full-time workers seven paid sick days per year at companies with more than 15 employees.  

  • An alternative approach of allowing workers to earn one hour of paid sick time for every hour worked (capped at 72 hours per year) has the support of 79% of Americans.

  • 71% of those polled supported extending sick days to part-time employees on a pro-rated basis.

The return of children to school also highlights the need for paid sick days legislation.  As Donna Mazyck, President of the National Association of School Nurses, argues:

Parents report that they are often unable to take time off of work to attend to the required health care of their children. Not only are the non-immunized children at risk, but all of their schoolmates are also at risk in these situations. Parents need paid sick days to meet their state’s requirements for keeping children healthy.

Campaigns for Paid Sick Days:  After the city of San Francisco enacted paid sick days legislation for employers in that city in fall 2006, paid sick days legislation was introduced in a number of states around the country. As we detailed in Taking the Lead, the bill was debated in a number of chambers and the Connecticut Senate approved a paid sick days bill, although their session ended before the Connecticut House had a chance to vote on the bill.  

Currently, state and locally-based coalitions in Connecticut, Washington DC, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are actively campaigning for paid sick days and other states are expected to join them before the 2008 session.

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Paid Family Leave

The need for paid leave for newborn children and extended family emergencies is also clear. When parents are forced to return to work immediately after birth, newborn children are less likely to receive regular medical checkups, less likely to get immunizations, and less like to be breastfed, leading to long-term health problems. The United States is almost alone in the world in not providing some form of paid leave or new parents; in fact, only Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland join the United States in lacking such a program nationally.

In 2002, California became the first state to create a paid family program and Washington state established a program just this year. Employees in California pay just $2.25 per month to fund that state's paid family leave system.  In the recent poll, those surveyed were asked if they would support a more ambitious paid family leave program funded by a $2 per week ($8.67 per month) cost.  Likely voters favored the program, including the funding, by a margin of 75 to 17.

Paid Family Leave Campaigns: Along with Washington's new law, the Oregon House approved a paid leave policy of $350 per week for six weeks but it was narrowly defeated in the Oregon Senate. New Jersey debated a policy allowing twelve weeks of leave at $502 in weekly benefits, and in the wake of the Washington bill's passage, New York Governor Spitzer unveiled a proposal for twelve weeks of paid leave (although at the relatively miserly rate of $170 per week). Other states are also launching new efforts to promote paid leave funds as well for the 2008 legislative session.

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The Valuing Families Agenda

Paid Sick Days and Paid Family Leave are just the two most prominent examples of the broader valuing families agenda that progressives are increasingly promoting as an alternative to the empty "family values" rhetoric of right-wing politicians who, while talking a good game, aren't stepping up to help families deal with the economic and social challenges of raising children and taking care of sick relatives.

As detailed in a new report, Family Values at Work: It's About Time, produced by the Multi-State Working Families Consortium in alliance with many of the groups that sponsored the recent poll, such a program includes:

  • paid sick days

  • paid family leave

  • extending family leave to employers excluded from the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (which covers only employers with 50 or more workers)

  • guaranteeing working parents the right to attend parent-teacher conferences

  • encouraging more flexible work schedules

  • curtailing mandatory overtime

  • requiring pay and benefit equity or part-time workers

  • protecting mothers' right to breastfeed at work

  • including family responsibility among protected categories in anti-discrimination laws

  • ending "at-will" employment standards that allow employers to fire workers for any reason

  • strengthening collective bargaining rights that could institutionalize more family-friendly policies in the workplace

In conjunction with MomsRising, Progressive States Network highlighted many legislative and advocacy tools for supporting such a pro-family agenda, including links to model legislation, reports and talking points.  

As the poll highlighted in this Dispatch emphasizes, such an agenda is one of the most popular a political leader could champion. And if legislators are forced to vote on these kinds of bills, we might actually have a chance to separate out which elected leaders are actually on the side of working families and which are just politicians mouthing "family values." 

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