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Another Boost for the Paid Sick Days Movement

By: EllenBravo Thursday February 27, 2014 1:20 pm

More than a quarter million New Yorkers got a big boost yesterday when the City Council voted 45-6 to expand its paid sick days law. In a city where “a lot of people are one paycheck away from disaster,” as Mayor de Blasio put it in an interview with Chris Hayes, the vote constituted an important step to “change the rules and raise the floor.”

A tissue box and laptop among pillows in bed

More New York workers could soon have paid sick days.

The New York win added to the growing momentum of the paid sick days movement across the country. Behind each victory lies an important shift in this country: more workers seeing the possibility of change when they take action together, and more elected officials recognizing they need to be on the side of an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy.

The New York legislation will require businesses with five or more employees to provide paid sick time to its employees, as opposed to the current law that applies only to businesses with 15 or more employees. The legislation will now cover manufacturing firms, and extends the statute of limitations for complaints to three years from 270 days. Amendments also strengthen the ability of the enforcement agency to take proactive measures, such as audits and inspections, to ensure compliance with the law. And the expanded bill contains a more appropriate definition of family member, so workers can use a sick day to care for a grandparent, grandchild or siblings, not just a child or partner.

The New York City Earned Sick Time Act was originally adopted in June of 2013. The new legislation was sponsored by Council Member Margaret Chin after being proposed last month by Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. It carries out the original demands of the broad coalition that worked for three years to pass the bill and comes on the heels of Mayor de Blasio’s election, in which paid sick days played a pivotal role. Fifty-five percent of those polled (58% of women) – and 58 percent of women voters – said the fact that City Council Speaker Christine Quinn delayed action on paid sick days for three years made them less likely to vote for her.  An overwhelming majority (73%, and 78% of women) said they were more likely to vote for a candidate who supports policies like paid sick days.

For most of the 1.2 million New Yorkers who will be covered as of April 1 of this year, the new law is key to keeping them from falling off the financial brink. Rafael Navor, a Brooklyn father of three and member of Make the Road New York, described a time he had the flu for a week and did what public health officials tell us to do – stayed home until his symptoms were gone.

“When I returned to work, my boss ran me off the job,” said Navor, a construction worker. “Unfortunately, this type of retaliation is very common in the construction industry. Paid sick days are a necessity for all workers and not a luxury. For construction workers like myself, who normally work with smaller firms, the new expansion of paid sick days is critical – and I want to thank and congratulate the City Council for today’s vote.”

The law’s new changes will help workers like Navor in smaller businesses who are least likely to have access to paid sick time now. The 2013 Unheard Third survey by the NY Community Service Society found that 64 percent of workers employed by businesses with fewer than 15 workers lack paid sick days compared to 38 percent of those in larger firms. According to Nancy Rankin, CSS Vice President for Policy Research , “the original law would have left out more than a quarter of workers who needed paid sick time.”

 

States Power the Movement for New Family-Friendly Standards

By: EllenBravo Wednesday February 5, 2014 11:20 am

Why are opponents so concerned about local communities deciding what’s best for the health and welfare of their residents?

Because these naysayers, fueled by lobbyists and financing from mega corporations, know such reforms lead to change statewide and nationally. Local wins provide living proof that minimum standards like paid sick days and paid family leave benefit families, businesses, public health and the economy. And growing victories tear to shreds the opponents’ predictions of doom.

That’s why Family Values @ Work is proud to present a blog carnival of Voices from the States in honor of the 21st anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act.

The FMLA had a long birth – nine years in the making, twice passed by Congress and twice vetoed by George H. W. Bush, and finally passed and signed into law by President Bill Clinton. It was a great first step in establishing that caring for a family shouldn’t cost you your job.

But the law leaves out 40 percent of the workforce. Many who are covered can’t use the time. According to a 2012 study, two and a half times as many people as in 2000 were eligible and needing leave but didn’t take it, mostly because they couldn’t afford it. FMLA has a narrow definition of family (child, legally married spouse, parent). Siblings, grandparents and grandchildren apparently aren’t family. Neither are same-sex couples unless they’re legally married and living in a state with marriage equality.

The FMLA also doesn’t cover routine illness. If you’re eligible, you can take FMLA leave to care for your mom after she has a stroke – but you can still be fired or docked pay for taking her to the doctor to get her blood pressure down and prevent a stroke in the first place.

The good news is, in all parts of our nation, activists are building broad and diverse coalitions, raising awareness of the need for and the enormous benefits from new workplace protections. In our blog carnival, you’ll hear about workers and business partners and other allies who have gotten involved. You’ll see the various kinds of change our member coalitions are working for – and winning (new paid sick days standards in 8 cities and one state, paid family leave in 3 states, and many more wins on the horizon). You’ll hear from strong labor partners.

And you’ll get a whiff of the momentum building throughout this land that will eventually bring us new national standards.

From President Obama to federal, state and local elected officials, to editorial boards in prominent dailies and small weeklies, the call is growing.

As the president put it in his State of the Union speech, every woman “deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job.  A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship – and you know what, a father does, too. It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode.”

Join our 21 coalitions in working to end the madness.

 

Clinton, de Blasio Speak Out For Paid Sick Days

By: EllenBravo Monday January 6, 2014 4:38 pm

 

2014 promises another string of wins for policies like paid sick days that boost the economic security of families and of the economy overall. Recently two political leaders reminded us of the urgency of our task.

On New Year’s Day, Bill de Blasio spoke to a large audience at his inauguration as the 109th mayor of New York City. There he affirmed his commitment to take on the issue of inequality – and began his list of policy changes with expanding the city’s new paid sick days law:

When I said we would take dead aim at the Tale of Two Cities, I meant it. And we will do it. I will honor the faith and trust you have placed in me. And we will give life to the hope of so many in our city. We will succeed as One City. We know this won’t be easy; it will require all that we can muster. And it won’t be accomplished only by me; it will be accomplished by all of us – those of us here today, and millions of everyday New Yorkers in every corner of our city.

You must continue to make your voices heard. You must be at the center of this debate. And our work begins now. We will expand the Paid Sick Leave law — because no one should be forced to lose a day’s pay, or even a week’s pay, simply because illness strikes. And by this time next year, fully 300,000 additional New Yorkers will be protected by that law. We won’t wait.

As Mayor de Blasio pointed out, the urgency of the “inequality crisis… is read on the faces of our neighbors and their children, as families struggle to make it against increasingly long odds.” Like the thousands of activists across the country fighting for and winning paid sick days, Mayor deBlasio understands that we wage this fight “not just because it honors our values, but because it strengthens our people,” and because “our responsibility to each other – our common cause – is to leave no [one] behind.”

Just a few weeks earlier, former President Bill Clinton spoke at an event for Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop.  President Clinton began by describing cities as models for innovation, a place where “you start with a challenge, a problem or an opportunity, you figure out how to solve it and you work through to a practical solution.” And the example he gave was paid sick days.

“I’m really excited about what the mayor’s doing here,” President Clinton said. “I hope you support what he did on paid leave.  I hope you’re proud of the fact that Jersey City is only the sixth city in the country to do that. That’s a big deal. Why? Because one of the key challenges of a growing country is to get men and women into the workforce while their kids are still young. In order to do that, you have to make it possible for people to balance work and family. So this sick leave deal is a big thing.”

The new laws in Portland, Oregon and SeaTac, Washington went into effect on January 1. Watch for Newark, NJ to bring in the next win later this week as campaigns heat up in cities and states across the country. Our coalitions will continue to prevail because families need this change now - and more leaders are championing these policies because it’s smart politics, given the widespread, bipartisan support.

Flu Prevention? Try Paid Sick Days

By: EllenBravo Friday January 11, 2013 5:57 am

Ask Adela Valdez how it feels to hear public health experts on TV explain ways to limit a flu outbreak. Get a flu shot, wash your hands, they advise – and if you get the flu, stay home until 24 hours after your fever’s gone.

“One day, I had a fever but I went to work anyway,” Adela said. She’d worked for three years in a factory in New York making expensive lamps. “On the third day, I still had a fever. I felt very sick and I asked permission to go to the hospital.”

Her supervisor’s response? “Fine, go to the hospital, but don’t come back. I need people who come here to work, not to get sick.”

Adela lost her job.

Some management consultants acknowledge that sick workers may spread the flu to co-workers out of fear that they’ll be fired if they stay home to recover.

“The economy is still on shaky ground and many workers continue to be worried about losing their jobs,” said John A. Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., an outplacement consulting firm. “In this environment, workers are reluctant to call in sick or even use vacation days.  Of course, this has significant negative consequences for the workplace, where the sick worker is not only performing at a reduced capacity but also likely to infect others.”

The fear is real. University of Chicago researchers found nearly one in four workers reported that they or a family member had been fired, suspended, punished or threatened with being fired for taking time off due to personal illness or to care for a sick child or other relative.

And job loss isn’t the only fear. In this economy, who can afford to lose even one day’s pay?

Ask the people who serve our food, clean our offices, and care for our elderly. They’re among those — half the workforce and three fourths of low-wage workers — who lack paid sick days.

As a Miami cook put it, “Every penny goes somewhere. I have no choice but to suck it up if I’m sick.”

More than one-third of flu cases are transmitted in schools and workplaces. Those same Chicago researchers asked respondents, “Have you ever had to go to work when you were sick with a contagious illness like the flu?” Nearly 70 percent of those lacking paid sick days answered, “Yes.”

Studies show that when sick workers stay home, the number of people affected by pandemic flu can be reduced by 15 to 34 percent, according to Jonathan Heller, director of Human Impact Partners.

“Having an effective leave policy is critical in preventing an office-wide outbreak of the flu,” says John Challenger. “You want to encourage workers to stay home when they are sick so they do not spread illness to co-workers.  You also want them to stay home to care for sick children so they are not forced to go to school and spread the virus to other kids.”

Talk to public school teachers and nurses.  They’ll tell you how many children come to school sick, or can’t get picked up if they fall ill during class because their parents have no paid sick time. They’ll describe the heartbreak of having a child say, “Please don’t call my mom. She’ll get in trouble if you do.” They’ll give you examples of kids – sometimes as young as 8 years old – who miss school to care for a younger sibling.

The majority of states reporting flu cases now say the outbreak is at “severe” levels. To avoid the spread of germs, we have to ensure that no one will lose income or a job for staying home sick.

If you live in one of the cities or states pushing for an earned sick days policy now, raise your voice to elected officials.

Do it for your kids. Make sure your child doesn’t have to sit next to a classmate with the flu whose mom or dad couldn’t risk staying home.

Do it for yourself. Even if you have paid sick days, you don’t want to be served flu with your fries.

In an economy where more and more families are living paycheck to paycheck, we need paid sick days to make sure that a public health crisis doesn’t become a financial crisis.

Football and Family

By: EllenBravo Monday November 12, 2012 4:18 pm

I’m a die-hard Green Bay Packers fan, but I have to hand it to Bears cornerback Charles Tillman, who was determined to be with his wife when she delivered their fourth child, even if it meant missing Sunday’s game against the Texans.

Tillman told the press on Wednesday, “At the end of the day, (family is) all you have. This game is important to me, but after what we went through with my middle child, to me football will always be second or third in my life. That was a great lesson learned to teach me that when I’m done playing football my family will still always be there for me.”  The player’s second child was born with a serious heart condition.

Some fans were outraged. But Tilman’s coach and teammates were fully supportive.

“It’s family first,” Bears Coach Lovie Smith said to The Chicago Sun Times. “If there is something you feel like you need to do for your family always do that. How we look at it is like an injury. If a player can’t go, it’s next guy up. We’ll keep going.”

Interestingly, several sports commentators echoed this sentiment. Rodney Harrison, now one of the hosts on Football Night in America, described a similar position he took when he played for the New England Patriots.  Asked what his coach, Bill Belichick had to say, Harrison replied, “Belichick didn’t say anything. Had he said anything, I would’ve said I don’t care how important the game is. Even if it’s the Super Bowl, I’m going to be there when my baby is born. It was understood. I was going to be there for my kids.”

Co-host Tony Dungy, former coach for the Indianapolis Colts, agreed. “My policy was, ‘always be with your wife. Your wife is much more important than any football game.’”

Chicago lost Sunday’s game, even with Tillman playing. The baby thoughtfully decided to wait until Monday to be born – a fact Tillman tweeted earlier in the week:  “@mikeandmike god, family, football… Baby is coming Monday don’t worry I’ll be there Sunday.”

But the NFL and the country gained from this discussion and the strong stand of these athletes.

Long Beach Hotel Workers Win Living Wages, Paid Sick Days

By: EllenBravo Friday November 9, 2012 12:31 pm

Long Beach hotel

Two thousand workers who clean the rooms and serve the food at hotels in Long Beach, California had special cause for celebration election night. They will finally earn a living wage and be able take a sick day without risking a paycheck or a job.

“I have said all along that the second thing I would do when Measure N passes is take my family off of public assistance,” said Maria Patlan, a ten-year housekeeper in Long Beach’s hotel industry. “But the first thing I will do is a dance of joy.”

Maria and scores of workers like her helped lead the diverse Long Beach coalition that organized for months to pass the ballot initiative that became known as Measure N. It establishes a minimum wage of $13/hr (about $2,000 a month) in Long Beach’s hotels employing 100 or more, guarantees workers can earn five sick days a year, and protects their tips.

What does this mean for the economy? Economists project the measure will add about $7 million annually into the local economy, creating and sustaining 85 jobs and generating an estimated $800,000 in tax revenues.

As May Salem, owner of a local small business put it, “If Long Beach workers see a bump in their paycheck, they’ll spend more money in Long Beach stores. Storeowners like me will hire more people. That money doesn’t leave the community. It improves it.”

A Better Return on Investment

“This victory is good for Long Beach and will be so helpful for hotel workers, who may even see this increase in time for the holidays,” said Christine Petit, a campaign co-chair and member of the Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs and a Healthy Economy. “Long Beach residents have supported the hotel industry with our tax money. We didn’t feel like poverty wages were a good return on that investment.”

The measure becomes law ten days after certification by the Long Beach City Council, which can happen as soon as 28 days after the election.

Roxana Tynan, Executive Director of LAANE, linked this win to the growing movement for paid sick days.  ”Connecting to the national network of paid sick days activists has provided critical inspiration, lessons learned, and expert technical advice – including research about relative levels of paid sick days in a range of Long Beach industries – that was extremely helpful,” she noted.

Broad and Diverse Coalition

Leaders pointed to the broad and diverse coalition that made this victory possible.

“The coalition that has supported this measure is as beautiful and diverse as Long Beach itself,” said Rev. Jerald M. Stinson, Senior Pastor of the First Congregational Church of Long Beach. He was referring to groups that ranged from AnakBayan Los Angeles, Clergy Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) South Bay and several unions to East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice and Khmer Girls in Action (KGA). Supporters included the majority of local elected officials and a long list of individuals, including many small business owners.

“Communities of faith, small business owners, hotel workers, and ordinary Long Beach residents came together to shine a light on the poverty living in the shadows of one of our most critical industries,” Rev. Stinson added. “Measure N will make a big difference for a lot of families who have been working hard but not seeing progress.”

Image by luigig under Creative Commons license.

Protesters Expose NFIB Bus Tour in Orlando

By: EllenBravo Friday November 2, 2012 2:55 pm
Karl Rove, The math behind the curtain

Caricature of Karl Rove

When the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) rolled into Orlando with its “I Built My Business” bus tour, they ran into some unexpected company – a crowd of 70 local business owners, community leaders, and Orlando voters who rejected the group’s claims to be a legitimate representative of small business.  The protesters, some wearing Karl Rove masks, held signs proclaimed ‘NFIB Fibs,’ and ‘NFIB:  Karl Rove Built It,’ referring to the $3.7 million support to the group from Rove’s Crossroads GPS.

“I’m a small business owner in Orlando, and I can tell you that Karl Rove has never supported a group that represents my values, my interests, or my needs,” said Homer Hartage, CEO of Nuchia Foods Corporation, a gluten free manufacturer with 22 employees. “NFIB is using small businesses as a mask to spend Karl Rove’s millions on ideological, right-wing campaigns that have nothing to do with what it takes to run a small business in Orlando.”

While NFIB enjoys tax-exempt status and claims to be “non-partisan” and “the voice of small business,” the group has come under close media scrutiny since the launch of www.NFIBexposed.org, an investigative website by the Center for Media and Democracy, which put a spotlight on the NFIB’s partisan agenda and special-interest funding.

Partisan Agenda

As the website discloses, NFIB’s endorsements and financial backing overwhelmingly support Republican candidates, even though polling shows small businesses remain firmly divided in their political affiliations. Recent reports show that 98 percent of NFIB’s PAC contributions to federal candidates in the 2012 election cycle have gone to Republicans and that the organization is spending millions of dollars this year in political advertising.  This includes a $2 million ad campaign supporting eight Republican Congressional candidates in competitive races.

In fact, the majority of those with NFIB at the Orlando event were associated with Rep. Daniel Webster, a Republican in a close election race with Democrat Val Demings. A woman known to the protesters asked the NFIB membership recruiter at the event about help starting her own business. The recruiter, whose card listed him as “Field Sales Representative,” told her to call once she got the business started.

The main NFIB speaker was a hedge fund owner from out of town who’s “considering expanding” his business, already located in Dallas, New York, Atlanta & New Orleans.

Secret Funding

NFIB has also come under fire for acting as a conduit for secret special interest donors. In 2010, the same year Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS made a $3.7 million grant to NFIB, the group reported spending $3.1 million on ads through Crossroads Media, LLC, Crossroads GPS’s main media firm. The group’s 990s from 2011 also reveal group donations of $850,000 and $1.6 million, but the donor names have been redacted.  This year, NFIB established a new entity, called “NFIB, The Voice of Free Enterprise,” for the express purpose of taking money from people and groups who are not small business owners.

A search of NFIB’s IRS filings also reveals more than $10 million in big-dollar donations from undisclosed sources—raising serious questions about how NFIB is representing small businesses and the true nature of the group’s agenda.

Many of the protesters were active in the fight for earned sick days in Orange County, a common sense measure NFIB strongly opposes.

“NFIB calling itself ‘independent’ and ‘non-partisan’ is a joke,” said Damien Filer, political director of Progress Florida. “This group doesn’t care about local businesses.  It’s time to start calling NFIB what it is, an integral part of the GOP’s election infrastructure.”

Fight Voter Suppression in Orlando

By: EllenBravo Thursday September 13, 2012 9:18 am

This is what democracy does NOT look like:

Hundreds of community activists, faith leaders, business owners and others in Orange County, Florida, identified the need for workers to earn paid sick days as a critical way to keep jobs and boost the economy. They scrupulously followed all the rules. That included spending weeks gathering signatures, enough to have 50,000 verified. Opponents placed numerous hurdles in front of them; they cleared every one. The Earned Sick Time initiative was set to go on the ballot.

And then their opponents, led by lobbyists for multi-billion dollar corporations such as Disney and Darden, decided this democracy thing wasn’t going to go their way. Polls and op eds and letters to the editor, the buzz in grocery stores and bodegas, beauty salons and church pews, show public opinion favors the ordinance.

After all, no one wants to lose their job or paycheck for being a good parent to a sick child or following doctor’s orders when they themselves fall ill.

And no one wants to be served flu with their food.

So what’s a big lobbyist to do?

First they tried a lawsuit. The courts just threw that out.

Then they tried to push Orlando Mayor Teresa Jacobs to keep the measure off the ballot. Even though she opposes the Earned Sick Time measure, the Mayor understood that citizens in her jurisdiction followed the proper processes, and that she could not stand in the way.

The special interests’ next move was to try to muddy the waters, add a second contrary ballot initiative that would undo the Earned Sick Time measure, even if it passed. This method comes courtesy of the group ALEC, a shadowy collaboration between corporate lobbyists and state legislators that produces model legislation such as the notorious Stand Your Ground law along with bills to attack workers’ rights and suppress the vote.

The pre-emption move didn’t work either. But the special interests did get a slim majority of the Commissioners to commit a shocking abdication of responsibility. According to the Commission’s charter, the elected officials’ job was clear: within 30 days, approve the initiative themselves or turn it over to the voters to decide in the next election. Period. No other legal option exists.

Instead, by a vote of 4-3, the Commission chose to hire an outside attorney to suggest revisions to the ballot initiative language and bring those back to the board Oct. 16. That would be almost a month past the deadline printing the ballot.

The execs at these giant corporations all earn paid sick days. So do every one of the Commissioners — thanks to taxpayer dollars.

It’s hard to understand why they don’t want the workers who serve food, take tickets at attractions and clean hotel rooms also to be able to earn paid time off when they’re sick. But if that’s how they feel, the democratic process allows them to say so loud and clear.

What it doesn’t allow is for them to steal the democratic right of voters to decide for themselves.

As Marion Washington, chair of Citizens for a Greater Orange County, put it, “Earned Sick Time enjoys more than 80% support among Hispanics and African Americans.  By silencing these voices, commissioners have pulled the curtain back on an ugly political system where there is one set of rules for special interests and politicians – they all have earned sick time – and another for the hardworking families that make Orange County a premier destination for travelers the world over.”

You Can Help

Here’s what you can do to support democracy in Orange County:

Call, email, Facebook and tweet the commissioners demanding them to follow the law and refer Earned Sick Time to the ballot. You can get their contact information here:

http://orangecountyfl.net/

For those who have family, friends or organization members living in Orange County, please show up at the Commission meeting on September 18 to stand up for democracy.

They can’t steal our votes – and they can’t steal our ballots.