Sangita Nayak of 9to5 speaks at a petition hand-in, Milwaukee City Hall, June 2008. (Flickr/Dave Moore)
In recent months, more and more cities and states are requiring that employers give paid sick leave to their workers. It’s a broadly popular policy, and a necessary one—one in three American workers has no guarantee of being paid during an illness, including only 25 percent of part-time workers. Aside from creating even more economic vulnerability for workers, this can greatly increase the spread of seasonal flus, which costs businesses $10.4 billion every year, according to the CDC.
Like so many other issues, mandatory paid sick leave has been jammed up in Washington by big-business interests: Obama supported a 2009 Democratic bill in Congress that would have guaranteed workers at least seven paid sick days per year at companies with 15 or more employees. That measure was suffocated by Republicans, and opposed by groups like the National Federation of Independent Business.
So local governments have turned to just passing laws on their own, and made an impressive amount of progress. But a rising tide of conservative pushback legislation might turn the tables on one of the too-rare areas of progressive progress at the state level.
There is already some ground to build on: In 2007, San Francisco began mandating paid sick leave and the District of Columbia adopted a paid sick leave policy in 2008. Seattle began a paid sick leave policy in 2011, and later that year Connecticut passed a measure requiring up to five sick days per year depending on how many hours were worked, making it the first state in the nation to adopt such a policy. Non-union hotel workers in Long Beach, California, won similar benefits via referendum last fall.
Now, the 2013 legislative year has brought the battle to many more major cities. Paid sick leave has become a central issue on the New York City Council, and by extension the looming mayoral race—many liberals see it as a litmus test for council president Christine Quinn. (Gloria Steinem, for example, is withholding her endorsement until she sees what Quinn does.)