As more cities push for paid sick leave, states push back

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY ALAYNA AL­VAREZ State­

A split is grow­ing be­tween cities that want to re­quire pri­vate com­pa­nies to give work­ers paid sick days and states that are de­ter­mined to stop them.

In the last three years, a dozen states have banned lo­cal­i­ties from pass­ing paid leave re­quire­ments, more than dou­bling to 22 the states that now out­law such lo­cal or­di­nances. The push for so-called pre­emp­tion laws is backed by the Koch broth­ers and the Amer­i­can Leg­isla­tive Ex­change Coun­cil, a mem­ber­ship or­ga­ni­za­tion of state leg­is­la­tors who fa­vor lim­ited gov­ern­ment.

The state moves come in re­sponse to the in­creas­ing num­ber of cities and coun­ties pass­ing paid sick days or­di­nances. Since 2015, more than 20 cities, as well as eight states, have ap­proved mea­sures man­dat­ing that com­pa­nies pro­vide lo­cal work­ers with paid sick leave. Since San Fran­cisco ap­proved the first paid sick leave or­di­nance in 2006, paid sick day re­quire­ments have been passed in 35 cities or coun­ties and 11 states.

Back­ers of re­quired sick leave say they’re giv­ing an es­sen­tial health ben­e­fit to work­ers – one that will im­prove pub­lic health by keep­ing ill em­ploy­ees at home. Op­po­nents say paid sick leave will cost em­ploy­ers too much, and that a patch­work of con­flict­ing lo­cal and state poli­cies will only cause con­fu­sion.

“There’s a real pitched bat­tle go­ing on in a lot of places right now be­tween cities that have de­cided that they re­ally want to pro­tect work­ers’ rights and work­ers’ health, and state leg­is­la­tures that don’t want to in­ter­fere with busi­nesses at all,” said Sherry Lei­want, co­founder and co-pres­i­dent of A Bet­ter Balance, a New York-based group that sup­ports paid leave. “We’re see­ing that more and more, and I think we’re go­ing to keep see­ing that.”

The United States is the only de­vel­oped coun­try with­out a na­tional paid leave law, says the In­ter­na­tional Labour Or­ga­ni­za­tion, a United Na­tions agency. Nearly a third of all work­ers in the United States don’t have paid sick days, ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Jour­nal of Orthopsy­chi­a­try. Yet, bi­par­ti­san sup­port for the ben­e­fits is higher than ever. Ninety-four per­cent of Demo­cratic vot­ers and nearly 80 per­cent of Repub­li­can vot­ers fa­vor paid sick leave laws, ac­cord­ing to a 2015 New York Times-CBS News poll.

A hand­ful of states that pro­hibit lo­cal sick leave or­di­nances, in­clud­ing Mary­land, Ore­gon, Rhode Is­land and New Jer­sey, do re­quire busi­nesses to pro­vide sick leave, but bar cities from go­ing be­yond the state re­quire­ments. Other states, such as Wis­con­sin, don’t have a state rule and pro­hibit cities from pass­ing their own.

In 2008, vot­ers in Mil­wau­kee ap­proved a paid sick leave mea­sure with sup­port from nearly 70 per­cent of vot­ers, mak­ing the city the third in the coun­try, be­hind San Fran­cisco and Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to ap­prove one. But in 2011, newly elected Repub­li­can Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP-led Leg­is­la­ture re­versed the Mil­wau­kee mea­sure and ap­proved a law to preempt other Wis­con­sin cities from fol­low­ing its lead.

The clash over paid sick leave is part of a broader di­vide be­tween con­ser­va­tive states and their more lib­eral cities on a wide range of is­sues, in­clud­ing min­i­mum wage laws, frack­ing, plas­tic bag bans, mu­nic­i­pal broad­band and anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion or­di­nances that pro­tect les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual and trans­gen­der res­i­dents.

Paid-leave ad­vo­cates in­creas­ingly are turn­ing to bal­lot ini­tia­tives to by­pass re­sis­tant leg­is­la­tures. Ex­clud­ing Michi­gan, three of the 10 states to re­quire paid sick time – Mas­sachusetts in 2014, and Ari­zona and Wash­ing­ton in 2016 – did so through cit­i­zen-led bal­lot ini­tia­tives.

Over­all, the num­ber of U.S. work­ers with paid sick leave is grow­ing, but the avail­abil­ity of the ben­e­fit varies by re­gion. Seventy-five per­cent of pri­vate in­dus­try work­ers in the North­east and 81 per­cent of pri­vate in­dus­try work­ers in the West have ac­cess to paid sick leave, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Depart­ment of La­bor, com­pared with 67 per­cent in the South and 64 per­cent in the Mid­west.

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