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Women’s Media Center Celebrates Landmark Victory for Wisconsin Workers on Paid Sick Days

March 24, 2011

MILWAUKEE—A historic decision this morning by the Wisconsin State Court of Appeals to uphold a Milwaukee city law that provides paid sick days to workers is building momentum nationwide for growing campaigns in cities and states to pass paid sick days laws that benefit working families, public health and the economy. “The decision a necessary step that especially benefits working mothers, and we’re thrilled to see it happen. It’s about time,” says Julie Burton, President of the Women’s Media Center.

In Philadelphia, a paid sick days bill was passed out of a City Council committee a few weeks ago, and in Connecticut, the state legislature is moving forward on a bill with bipartisan support. Paid sick days legislation in New York City has 35 City Council sponsors, legislation is about to be introduced in Seattle, and more than a dozen states have coalitions advocating actively for paid sick days and paid family leave policies.  Milwaukee, San Francisco and Washington, DC have passed paid sick days laws.

“The economy is changing, the workforce is changing and workers need policies like paid sick days to stay in their jobs and care for their families,” said Ellen Bravo, Executive Director of Family Values @ Work, a national consortium of state organizations advocating for paid sick days, paid family leave and other family friendly workplace policies. “At a time when corporations are seeing record profits, no worker in America should have to choose between taking care of a sick child or loved one and losing a job or a paycheck.”

In Wisconsin, the decision provides an important victory for workers there who have been under attack by Gov. Scott Walker and the CEOs of large corporations. The ruling provides a boost to the campaign by workers, unions, seniors, women’s groups and others to fight back against the latest attack on workers’ rights and the middle class. A bill passed by the State Senate and pending in the State Assembly (AB41) would overturn the Milwaukee city law. In 2008, a Milwaukee paid sick days ordinance was approved by nearly 70 percent of voters.  The bill, which would benefit more than 120,000 Milwaukee workers, gives workers the right to earn between five and nine paid sick days a year, depending on the size of their employer.

Today’s court decision removes the big business-led injunction that has kept the Milwaukee law from going into effect and clears the way for the law to be implemented in the city if the state legislation is defeated. 

“After 39 days of constant attacks, Wisconsin’s working families have finally won a victory,” said Dana Schultz, Lead Organizer for Wisconsin 9to5, the National Association of Working Women.  “Milwaukee voters have spoken, the courts have spoken, and we are not going to let Gov. Walker and the State Assembly take away workers’ right to care for their families. The Assembly bill is nothing more than the latest, transparent attempt by the Governor and his allies to pay back the big corporations who funded their campaigns.”

Nationwide, paid sick days are a growing issue. In just the last few weeks, the following commentaries have appeared in newspapers around the country.

Philadelphia Inquirer, “This boss doesn't mind sick days,” March 24, 2011

New York Daily News, “The fire's embers still glow,” March 24, 2011

New Haven Advocate, “Workers deserve the right to be sick,” March 15, 2011

Wisconsin Capital Times, “Lawmakers' plan to take away sick days will hurt families,” March 10, 2011

New research on paid sick day laws in other cities shows significant benefits for workers and minimal impact on businesses.  A study last month of San Francisco’s paid sick days law by the independent Institute for Women’s Policy Research shows business concerns in that city about job loss were unfounded, with six in seven employers saying that paid sick days have had no negative effect on profitability and two-thirds of employers surveyed supporting the law.

“As a small-business owner, I face a number of challenges, but none of them affects the bottom line more than the dedication and loyalty of the staff,” said Dewetta Logan, owner of a small child-care center in West Philadelphia.  “For providing five paid sick days a year, I can count on a happier, healthier workplace.”

"Working without paid sick days almost cost me my life," said Cheryl Folston, of Newington, Connecticut, who worked for five years as a driver for a livery service. "I never had the time to see a doctor until I was laid off.  When I went, he told me I had a serious heart tumor, and if I'd waited any longer, it could have killed me."

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