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Paid Sick Days in Connecticut—It’s About Time!

| July 6, 2011

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State Senator Edith Prague championed the bill.

 Governor Dan Malloy announced Tuesday that he had signed legislation providing Connecticut employees with paid sick leave. Activist and author Ellen Bravo and State Senator Edith Prague explain why this is a landmark moment for women and their families.

 Finally, working families have something to cheer about. With a bill signed into law July 1, an action announced yesterday, Connecticut became the first state in the nation to pass sick days legislation that allows workers to earn time to care for themselves or a loved one who is ill without losing pay or their job. Standard operating procedure in most of the world—and certainly in all other economically developed countries—the policy is finally gaining momentum across the United States, where other cities and states are poised to act on this progressive workplace policy that protects public health and helps workers care for their families. Odds are Philadelphia, Seattle and Denver will all see votes on the issue before the end of the year. New York, Massachusetts and a dozen other places also have active campaigns.

How did the Connecticut victory come about? Because of hard work and some heroes.

The win is the result of years of work by Connecticut Working Families, a grassroots organization that spearheaded the Everybody Benefits Coalition, which brought together labor unions and business owners, school nurses and janitors, faith leaders and public health experts, waitresses and restaurant owners. All of them recognized that paid sick days are critical to promoting a healthier, more productive workforce and strengthening the economy.

Lawmakers heard moving testimony from workers like Cheryl Folston, a livery service driver who felt pain in her chest, but couldn’t miss a day's work to see a doctor. Only after Cheryl was laid off and finally had time to see a doctor, did she learn she had a serious heart tumor—a tumor her doctors say that could've killed her if she had waited any longer for treatment.

Workers like Cheryl Folston were joined by business leaders like Louis Lista, owner of the Pond House Cafe in Elizabeth Park. He provides paid sick days because it wouldn't be fair to his employees to make them work sick and would be bad business to put customers at risk of getting ill from sick workers. Louis told legislators he found that paid sick days saved money in the long run because of reduced turnover. He has dishwashers who've been on staff for more than five years—a rarity in the food service industry.

 Personal stories like these moved lawmakers to defy the powerful Connecticut Business and Industry Association, which had made its opposition to paid sick days a centerpiece of its agenda. And amidst their lobbying against a few paid sick days, new research showed that the business community’s concerns about paid sick days legislation were unfounded.

A report on the effects of San Francisco’s paid sick days law, which has been in effect for four years, found that paid sick days have helped workers without hurting business. Six in seven employers surveyed in San Francisco say that paid sick days have had no negative effect on profitability and two-thirds of employers support the law. Added to that, San Francisco was just rated as the world’s third best city for business and innovation by the global accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The Connecticut bill also got a big boost from Governor Dan Malloy, who offered a model of leadership that differs from the many governors who are turning their backs on the concerns of working people. As a candidate and former mayor, Dan Malloy knew that what’s good for workers is also good for business. He refused to allow the lobbyists’ cries that “the-sky-was-falling” deter him. Instead, he listened to what people in Connecticut and across the country were saying. Polls have shown overwhelming support for common sense proposals like paid sick days across party lines, gender, race and economic situation.

That support has remained strong during the recession. Bad times are the worst time to lose a job because you’ve got a sick child or need to take care of a spouse or life partner.

Dan Malloy has been a strong and consistent supporter of this issue even before he was elected governor, and certainly since. We publicly thank him here.

Paid sick days isn’t complicated. It’s about time—time to be a good family member as well as a responsible employee. It’s about safeguarding public health and the well-being of children. It’s about saving jobs and fostering economic security.

As for the Connecticut win—it’s about time! 

The views expressed in this commentary are those of the author alone and do not represent WMC. WMC is a 501(c)(3) organization and does not endorse candidates.

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