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Connecticut Should Set Trend on Paid Sick Leave

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

It's great that Connecticut is about to become the first state to mandate paid sick days for workers. But what about all the other states? Paid sick leave is a worker's basic right and more politicians need to be saying that, says Allison Stevens.

Subhead: 
It's great that Connecticut is about to become the first state to mandate paid sick days for workers. But what about all the other states? Paid sick leave is a worker's basic right and more politicians need to be saying that, says Allison Stevens.



(WOMENSENEWS)--The 2010 elections didn't do a lot for the mom-friendly policy agenda, but there is one cause for New Year's celebration.

Connecticut Democrat Dan Malloy won his state's highest office in November. When he moves into the governor's mansion next month, Connecticut will be poised to become the first state to enact legislation allowing workers to earn paid sick days, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families in Washington, D.C.

That could trigger similar action in other states, according to the partnership.

Paid sick days laws have been passed in San Francisco, Milwaukee and Washington, D.C., but no state has passed similar legislation. Neither has the federal government.

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Here's hoping that Connecticut does indeed provide the ignition spark this movement needs.

Women--especially mothers and low-wage female workers (most of whom are of color)--really need this reform.

As a mother I know I've needed it. Ever since I first gave birth three and a half years ago, I have taken heavy advantage of paid sick leave benefits offered by my employer to manage everything from the seasonal flu to the croup to a fever-induced seizure.

Taking the Mommy Track

Recently, my boss allowed me to scale back my hours to better accommodate the needs of my two young sons. In so doing, I gave up a salaried position with benefits, including paid sick days. Our kids are in good overall health (knock on wood), and so far we haven't much missed the benefit of paid sick days.

But that could change if my own mother undergoes chemotherapy next month. She was recently diagnosed with breast cancer, had an emergency lumpectomy before Christmas and is awaiting news from the doctor about whether a recurrence can be prevented with radiation therapy alone.

My mother and her doctors are optimistic about her prospects for survival, but it's been a trying time nonetheless. I can't imagine how I would have handled it all if I had sole responsibility for caring for my mom (and kids at the same time) but lacked the ability to do so.

And yet millions of women--especially those in the so-called sandwich generation who are charged with caring for both children and aging parents--face these kinds of work-family dilemmas every day.

For low-wage women, there's simply no answer. There's no financial leeway to take even temporary leave of work and more often than not there's no sick pay.

Federal Law Needed

That's why federal paid sick days legislation is needed; one state is great, but nowhere near enough.

One way to build momentum is to reframe the issue.

Paid sick leave has often been promoted in the context of public health and women's rights, panelists said at a recent discussion at the Wagner Institute at New York University in New York City. Supporters should continue to make these arguments, panelists said, but they should also talk up the benefits that paid sick days provide to the national work force and economy.

Makes sense to me.

For me, paid sick days equals more financial and job security. And it means the same--but even more so--for the millions of low-wage workers--especially mothers--in this country who face lost income and even a lost job if they or their family members experience illness or injury.

Opponents argue that the price of paid sick days is too high for many employers to pay, especially during a recession.

But Heather Boushey, a senior economist at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., pointed out during the panel discussion that businesses would actually benefit from the legislation in good financial times and bad. That's because it would slow the spread of diseases such as the flu, contribute to productivity gains and lower turnover.

Women, who now make up half of the work force--and mothers in particular, because of their joint care-giving and financial responsibilities--should be especially receptive to the message.

There is an "enormous opportunity to touch a lot of people with this message," Boushey said. "It's a really potent organizing issue."

Dan Malloy, Connecticut's new governor, understood all this during the campaign, calling paid sick days a basic right of all workers.

Now, if only the rest of our lawmakers could wake up and smell the coffee. Or hear the baby cry. Or change the bedpan.

Whatever the metaphor--it's time they got the message.

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Allison Stevens writes about women, politics, and motherhood for a variety of publications and organizations, including groups that promote women's issues.

For more information:

National Partnership for Women and Families:
http://www.nationalpartnership.org/