Paid Sick Days on the Ballot

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Rewarding Work

CA: Paid Sick Days on SF Ballot

In a ground breaking measure, San Francisco voters will be voting on a ballot proposal next month to guarantee workers paid sick days, up to nine days per year for full-time workers at large businesses with fewer days off for employees in small businesses or in part-time jobs. A broad coalition of unions, political leaders, and community organizations, led by the dynamic Young Workers United, put the issue on the ballot.

While many employers have established voluntary policies to provide days for their employees, barely half (51%) of employers nationwide provide any paid sick days to their employees and only one in three allow employees to take off work because of a sick child. So 70% of parents face losing income or even losing their job every time they stay home with a sick child.

Not only would the measure help workers and their families, one study estimated that by reducing turnover and the spread of illness by keeping sick workers home, the measure will save $46 million annually for city employers.

And even though some in the business community oppose the measure, they aren't actively campaigning against it, because, as Dan Scherotter, vice president of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, explained in a recent interview:

It polls too high. I mean if you ask people would you like more sick pay, everybody is going to say yes. And to be honest, if we fight it, we look like complete jerks.

Given the deep public support for guaranteed sick days, success in San Francisco could well be the beginning of paid sick days joining raising the minimum wage as a signature issue for progressives across the country. A number of states from Montana to Massachusetts are expected to introduce paid sick days legislation in 2007.

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Rewarding Work

Court Denies Free Speech Right for Union Button

The Bill of Rights is a nice idea, but for most workers, it disappears when they punch the clock to begin work each day, even when the employer is the government.

In Texas, a carpenter working at a public hospital challenged a ban on employees wearing pro-union buttons on uniforms as violating free speech. After winning some rounds in the courts, the full Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals last week upheld the hospital ban on union buttons, declaring that government employers are free to suppress employee demands for a union and better working conditions, since such demands are not a "matter of public concern."

That increasingly rightwing courts don't think complaints over low wages are a "matter of public concern" is hardly a surprise these days, but as the court dissenters noted, the decision highlights fundamental hypocrisy. Texas denies workers the right to collective bargaining, so a demand for a union is inherently political and a matter of public concern that deserves free speech protection. As the judges in dissent argued, "this state law prohibition [on collective bargaining] greatly increases the public-interest aspect of Herrera’s expression in support of the organizing campaign here."

The Fifth Circuit decision denying public employees free speech rights parallels the ongoing erosion of private employee statutory free speech by the federal National Labor Relations Board. Just this June, the NLRB upheld a private hospital's ban on nurses wearing pro-union buttons.

However, even if the federal constitution doesn't protect free speech in the workplace, state laws can protect employee free speech, especially for the public employees who work for those governments. Many states have such protections in place (see here for an example of California law protecting the right to wear a union button) and those rights should be expanded dramatically, especially in the fact of court decisions eroding constitutional free speech rights for public employees.

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Research Roundup

Wage Enforcement, Raising the Minimum, the Public Cost of Low Wages, a Slow Recovery, Vulnerable Children, and Chronic Care

The National Employment Law Project has released an in-depth new report detailing policy options for government to better enforce wage and overtime time laws, from shutting down sweatshops to strengthening state enforcement agencies to encouraging private enforcement by workers and advocates.

The Economic Policy Institute has released a statement by five Nobel prize winners and more than 600 other economists supporting a higher minimum wage indexed to inflation.

According to a new report by the state's Department of Health and Family Services, health care for low-wage workers cost Illinois $335.7 million between August 2005 and March of this year. 363,000 workers from 3,270 companies receive state-funded health care in that period. The information was collected pursuant to the state's Public Health Program Beneficiary Employer Disclosure Law to track how the costs of employers' failure to provide health insurance impacts taxpayers.

Job growth during this recovery has been far below historical rates, according to the Center for Budget Policy and Priorities.

Across the country, 32 percent of children placed with a relative by social service agencies are living with relatives who do not receive any type of payment for the child's care, just one finding in a recent report by the Urban Institute on children in particularly vulnerable families.

Chronic care management is costly and common systems of fee-for-service reimbursement of hospitals increase those costs argues the California Health Care Foundation in its new report, Challenging the Status Quo in Chronic Disease Care. Chronic care would be better funded through systems of payment per month systems.

Eye on the Right

As immigration continues to be a major issue in the 2006 elections, breaking news from border states and key swing states has brought a bizarre mixture of horror and hilarity. The funniest story came out of Colorado where a new law to make it tougher for undocumented immigrants to get state IDs resulted in at least one young woman being delayed in her attempt to get a license. Her father? The state senator responsible for the new law. Meanwhile, in Arizona, an Attorney General candidate cutting a demagogic ad on the need to crack-down on immigrants actually hired two undocumented workers to appear in the ad. Unfortunately, not all such stories are quite as wonderfully ironic.

In Nevada, the Republican Party is now recruiting volunteers for the far-right Minuteman Project, which supports vigilantism on the border. And things have taken a turn for the worse in Arizona where a state legislator has forwarded an email from the National Alliance (a White Supremacist neo-Nazi organization) and called for the reinstating of "Operation Wetback." Demagoguery of immigrants, especially undocumented ones who often live their lives in the shadows, is extremely dangerous and easily lends itself to this slippery slope into racism.

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Matt Singer
Editor, Stateside Dispatch


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