Nearly half of all workers (59 million) in the United States are without any paid sick leave. A majority of these workers work at low-wage private-sector jobs and, when they fall ill, they often must decide whether their health or that of their family members is more important than a day’s wages or being punished, even fired, for missing work.
IWPR has been conducting research on paid sick days since 2000. In November 2006, San Francisco was the first city to pass legislation requiring employers to provide paid leave. Dr. Vicky Lovell’s analysis, Valuing Good Health in San Francisco: The Costs and Benefits of a Proposed Paid Sick Days Policy helped to inform voters and legislators on the costs and benefits of the proposed nine paid sick days (five days for smaller firms).
Since then, eight states have introduced similar legislation and Senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) and Representative Rosa L. DeLauro (D-CT) also reintroduced the proposed federal standard, the Healthy Families Act, in March 2007. Now, Washington, DC’s City Council is one of the latest legislative bodies considering a change in their sick leave policy.
On July 9, the DC City Council Committee on Workforce Development and Government Operations held a hearing on The Paid Sick and Safe Days Act. Currently, at least 210,000 workers in Washington, DC, are without any paid sick leave. Under the proposed act, introduced in May 2007, workers would be given a minimum standard of ten paid sick days, to use when they are sick or a member of their family is sick.
At the hearing, a total of 34 witnesses appeared in panels of four before City Council members and the Chair of the Committee, Carol Schwartz. IWPR’s own Dr. Vicky Lovell testified and used her time aptly expressing the need for the proposed bill. IWPR has been assessing the cost and benefits of paid sick days in the District of Columbia since 2004 and, similarly to San Francisco, the benefits outweigh the costs.
According to Lovell’s testimony, in 2005, using methodology developed by IWPR, the DC Fiscal Policy Institute conducted a cost-benefit analysis of the proposed sick day legislation and found that, per worker per week, the costs would amount to $10.35 while the benefits total $11.69. These numbers amount to average net savings of $1.34 per week for each worker due to savings from lower turnover, improved productivity, reduced family health-care spending, and reduction in the spread of influenza in the work place.
Aside from numbers, many of the witnesses testified with personal stories relaying the need for paid sick days. Councilman Jim Graham, a co-introducer of the act in May, made a short appearance to make his statement, saying the issue of paid sick leave is a “matter of simple humanity.” Councilwoman Schwartz agreed with that statement, but admitted, in her opinion, changes would have to be made to the bill for it to be passed.
The vast majority of witnesses testified in favor of The Paid Sick and Safe Days Act. In the crowd of supporters, many showed their silent support by holding signs or wearing stickers advocating paid sick leave and safe days. For the most part, the Committee and Council members were receptive and eager to start a conversation about the bill in order to process it further.
To read Dr. Vicky Lovell’s testimony click here.
Lovell also recently presented IWPR’s research on paid sick days at a congressional briefing entitled, “Get Well Soon: Paid Sick Days for All Working Families” on July 17 at the Capitol Building. The briefing was hosted by the National Council of Women’s Organizations and the National Partnership for Women and Families (NPWF). Rachna Choudhry of NPWF moderated the event and speakers included: Linda Meric, Executive Director of 9to5; Thomas Shellabarger, Policy Advisor of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Sonya Mehta, Co-Director of Young Workers United; Greg Asay, Senior Analyst of the San Francisco Office of Labor Standards Enforcement; Karen Minatelli, Director of Policy at the DC Employment Justice Center; Jen Kern, Director of the Living Wage Resource Center at the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now.
To read more of IWPR’s research on paid sick days click here.
Jill Hindenach