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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

"Paid Sick Leave Pushed for Low-Income Workers"

The administration supports legislation that grants paid sick leave to "some of nation's lowest-paid employees":

Paid sick leave pushed for low-income workers, by Tony Pugh, McClatchy Newspapers: Fresh off passage of a sweeping health care overhaul, the Obama administration is supporting legislation to provide mandatory paid sick leave for more than 30 million additional workers who are some of nation's lowest-paid employees.
The Healthy Families Act, sponsored by Sen. Christopher Dodd, and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both Democrats from Connecticut, would require companies that have 15 or more employees to provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked or up to seven sick days a year for a full-time worker.
Both bills — HR 2460/S1152 — are stuck in committee... Top Obama administration officials voiced their support for the federal proposal this week... Groups such as the Institute for Women's Policy Research and the National Partnership for Women and Families say the proposal would provide an overdue measure of economic and workplace justice.
Only 25 percent of low-wage workers have paid sick leave, which makes it a financial hardship for them to get sick and miss work. Those who do stay home to heal or to tend to a family member's illness fear that they could lose their jobs if they miss too many days.
At a briefing Tuesday morning, Terrell McSweeny, domestic policy adviser to Vice President Joe Biden, called the proposal "an issue of middle-class economic security" for struggling families.
Business groups such as the National Federation of Independent Business and the Employment Policies Institute oppose the measure. They say a government mandate on sick leave ... would hurt the very people it's intended to help because employers would offset the cost of the benefit by cutting positions and workers' hours. ...
More than 50 million American workers — nearly 40 percent of the private labor force — don't get paid if they miss work because of illness.
The problem is most pronounced in lower-paying industries such as food service and child care, in which only 27 percent of workers get paid sick leave. A recent report by the Institute for Women's Policy Research estimates that people who came to work while they were sick with the H1N1 virus may have infected 7 million people at the height of the outbreak last year.
After trying to call in sick with the flu several years ago, 23-year-old Megan Sacks of Tacoma, Wash., was told she would have to be "on her deathbed" in order to miss her lunchtime shift as a waitress. After she showed up visibly ill, however, a customer contacted the health department to complain. Sacks ... was ... later fired because her boss thought that she'd called the health officials. "I was really hurt ... because I thought I was a valued employee," she said. "And to this day I still don't know who called the health department. If I knew, I would have asked them not to, because I lost my job over this." ...

One thing that came up in the session The 21st-Century Workplace: Time to Talk About What Works and What Doesn't is that even when workers have the legal right to a benefit like sick leave, very often they are still afraid to use it. Workers won't be able to take full advantage of these types of benefits if the culture within the workplace doesn't change along with the change in the law. Leadership from the administration and others can help to change the workplace culture, and changing the law will help in any case -- see this chart -- but changes to workplace culture won't happen overnight. Employers benefit from the current arrangement and they will resist changes to workplace norms no matter what the law says, and no matter how strongly they are lectured about their moral obligation to their workers.

    Posted by on Wednesday, April 28, 2010 at 01:05 AM in Economics, Social Insurance, Unemployment | Permalink  Comments (61)


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