Banning Sick Leave Becomes a Growing Trend

As if working a low-paying and often benefit-lacking job weren’t bad enough, many workers — a full 40 percent of the private-sector work force — have to make due without any paid sick leave. As you’d imagine, the consequences on both an individual and societal level are heavy, as this report by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) notes:

These employees commonly go to work sick, or leave sick children home alone, out of fear of dismissal. Even when they are not terminated, the loss of pay takes a dramatic toll—particularly since jobs without sick pay are concentrated among low-wage workers. A typical family of four with two working parents who has no paid sick leave will have wiped out its entire health care budget for the year after just three days of missed work.

Furthermore, there’s the public health risk of having sick people handling your food or caring for your loved ones, since most jobs without paid sick leave are in “interactive” sectors like retail, child care, and dining. Workers who strain their health by avoiding rest and treatment may also exacerbate their conditions and in turn strain the healthcare system.

Well, to make matters worse, a growing number of states are taking steps to make it harder for workers to fight for paid sick leave. As the same EPI reports found:

Ten states have adopted laws that ban any city or county within the state from establishing a right to sick leave. In Wisconsin, legislators repealed the city of Milwaukee’smandatory paid sick leave law, which had been established by a referendum supported by 69 percent of voters in 2008. In each of the ten states, the bills’ sponsors included members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). And in each case, the bills were adopted following vigorous advocacy by corporate lobbies such as the Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Business, and Restaurant Association.

To get an idea how quickly this trend has grown, look at the following graph:

Granted, it’s too soon to tell whether momentum will continue to build past 2013, but there’s no reason to assume it won’t — baring national legislation or a federal court overturning such initiatives, it seems likely that other states will follow suit, especially considering the pervasive nature of corporate influence. This is despite the fact that a large majority of the public not opposes these bans but feels that workers should be legally guaranteed paid sick days:

These bans fly in the face of public opinion: 75 percent of Americans—including 59 percent of Republicans—think there should be a law guaranteeing all workers a minimum number of paid sick days. Yet, the nation’s most powerful corporate lobbies remain adamantly opposed, and have been pushing bans on paid sick leave legislation in one state after another.

Read EPI’s new report The Legislative Attack on American Wages and Labor Standards, 2011–2012 to learn more about the growing number of business-backed legislative initiatives aimed at lowering labor standards, weakening unions, and eroding workplace protections. If so many people are opposed to these measures, there’s no reason they should be dominant. Hint — the public needs to start taking action.

 

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