California Could Become First in Nation to Guarantee Paid Sick Days for All Workers5 min read

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Poll Shows Strong Support for Legislation Introduced for Californians to Earn Time Off to Recover from Illness or Care for Sick Family Members

Assemblymember Fiona Ma, backed by a coalition including the California Labor Federation and a number of statewide organizations, has introduced AB 2716, which would make California the first state in the nation to ensure paid sick days for all workers. Under Ma’s bill, workers would earn paid sick days, which they can use for personal illness, family medical issues and to recover from domestic violence or assault. Maine, Massachusetts, Ohio and Washington DC, are considering similar legislation.

Right now, nearly six million working Californians currently receive zero paid sick days through their employers.

Earlier this week, Ma appeared on the steps of San Francisco City Hall with supporters to release the results of a poll that shows that 88% of California adults support a change in the law guaranteeing paid sick days. This includes 76% of Republicans, 88% of independents, and 92% of Democrats. The survey, conducted in 2007 by Ruth Milkman of UCLA Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (as part of the 2007 Golden Bear Omnibus Survey administered by the UC Berkeley Survey Research Center) is based on 921 responses between April 30 and Sept. 2, 2007.

Respondents were asked the following question:

“Currently, only about half of all workers are provided with paid sick days. How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statement: ‘There should be a law that guarantees 7 paid sick days a year to all California workers.’”

In all categories, by age, income, race, and gender, support was 75% or higher for the concept.

San Francisco voters passed Proposition F in 2006 that provided all workers in the city with the ability to earn and use paid sick days. Shortly after the one year anniversary of the law, AB 2716 was introduced to allow a worker to use paid sick time for up to 40 hours or 5 days in each calendar year for workers of small businesses, and 72 hours or 9 days per calendar year for all other workers. Studies have found that having paid sick days actually saves money for businesses by reducing turnover and reducing the spread of illness in the workplace, and improving workers’ morale and productivity.

Dr. Mitch Katz, director of health at the San Francisco Department of Public Health spoke on City Hall steps and noted: “The lack of paid sick days poses a serious hazard to the public’s health—workers who feel pressure to show up to work sick handle our food at restaurants and take care of our children at daycare centers. We can avoid any number of public health crises by allowing people the opportunity to take time off when needed without penalty.”

Kathleen Martinez, an Antioch resident who works part-time at a restaurant and grocery food store put a personal touch on how the law would affect her, and agreed with Katz. She said: “I am a single mother with three children, and I have to work two jobs to support myself and my family. I have no paid sick days, so I’ve spent many sleepless nights worrying about taking days off from work when I get sick or when my kids get sick. I also worry about infecting my customers when I am forced to come to work sick. But right now, I have no choice.”

Assemblymember Ma said: “Everybody loses when people are forced to show up to work sick. A healthy workforce is a win-win for business, families, and most of all, workers.”

“Many California workers are forced to make an impossible choice when they or their children become ill,” said Art Pulaski, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the California Labor Federation. “No worker should have to choose between losing a day’s wages or maybe even their job to stay home to take care of themselves or their children.”

The UCLA survey also shows the need for paid sick days so that California workers can care for sick children. Among those working with children under 18, more than one-fourth (27%) said “yes” when asked:

“In the job you have now, have you ever gone to work even though your children were sick, because your work hours made it impossible for you to stay with them?”

Respondents whose employers do not currently allow them to leave work to care for sick family members were more than twice as likely to report going to work while their children were sick as those whose employers do allow this. Similarly, those whose employers do not currently provide any paid sick days were much more likely to report going to work while their children were sick than those whose employers currently provide some paid sick days. Working while children are sick was reported disproportionately by respondents from low-income households, and by disadvantaged minorities. Finally, single mothers were almost twice as likely as respondents generally to report going to work while their children were sick.

This is a simple majority bill and does not contain an appropriation, giving it a shot at passage this year. But something tells me that the politics of fear and the old saw about “job killers” that will be trotted out, mean that a lot of work is going to be needed to show strong public support to get the Governor to sign this bill into law.

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