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.