David G. Taylor
By David G. Taylor September 30, 2011

No indication that Congress will pass the Healthy Families Act

President Barack Obama began his term with significant union support due to the many promises that he made about expanding workers' rights and benefits. Among these promises was Obama's commitment to require employers to provide their workers with seven paid sick days annually. No such requirement currently exists on a national level.

To accomplish this goal the administration has expressed support for the Healthy Families Act. The bill mandates that employers grant their employees one hour of leave for each 30 hours worked. Workers can use this leave if they are ill, to care for a dependent, or recover if they are a victim of domestic violence. The requirement applies to all businesses with over 15 employees.

Rep. Rose DeLauro, D-Conn., and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., introduced versions of the bill in 2005 and 2009. On both occasions the bill stalled in committee and expired after the new session of Congress began.

DeLauro re-introduced the Healthy Families Act in May 2011. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, did the same in the Senate. History seems to be repeating itself, however, as both bills are awaiting action in committee.

We find it unlikely that the Healthy Families Act will become law in the near term. If the bill could not come to vote during the previous session of Congress, when Democrats held strong majorities in both chambers of Congress, it's even more unlikely to pass through the currently Republican-controlled House of Representatives. In the run-up to the 2010 midterm election the GOP promised to review any laws that impose additional costs to employers. The seven paid sicks days guaranteed by the Healthy Families Act fits into that category.  

Having to pay workers for seven additional days would result in a rise in cost to employers. Such an extra cost could lead to companies hiring fewer additional workers, and Republicans have said they want to reduce government regulation on employers, not add to them. Given these political realities, we rate Obama's promise as Broken.

Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson November 4, 2009

Democrats wrangling support for bill on sick days

Lawmakers in the House and Senate have introduced companion bills that would enact a promise made by President Barack Obama — and touted by Michelle Obama — guaranteeing paid sick days to workers at all but the smallest companies.

The Healthy Families Act — introduced in identical versions earlier this year by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy , D-Mass. — would allow workers to earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to seven eight-hour days per year. They would be able to use this time to stay home when they are ill, care for a sick family member, visit the doctor, or seek help if they are victims of domestic violence. Employers with fewer than 15 employees would be exempt from complying with the act.

Backers say the bill would bring the United States into line with other advanced industrialized nations.

"With the H1N1 [flu] outbreak, countless public health officials urged people to follow a simple guideline: If you get sick, stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them," DeLauro said in a statement when she introduced the bill on May 18, 2009. "Yet for many Americans, following this sound advice is impossible. Almost half of all private sector workers, 57 million, do not have a single paid sick day. These workers put their jobs on the line every time they take a day off.”

DeLauro has introduced a similar measure for three Congresses running, but backers say that the number of co-sponsors this year is higher than ever. As of early November, 113 members of the House and 21 senators had signed on as co-sponsors.

However, all were Democrats, which poses challenges for the bill. The lack of Republican support might not prevent passage in the House, where the majority party can often pass its agenda without minority votes, but it will likely pose a challenge in the Senate, where the Republican minority can effectively block contentious bills from being taken up.

Business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business have spoken out against the measure, saying employers, already strapped by the recession, could suffer under the new requirements.

The measure has not progressed beyond a hearing in one House subcommittee, and action is not expected until the question of health care reform is resolved, at the earliest. That could push the debate into next year. Still, it's enough for us to rate this one In the Works.

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