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Protecting Workers

Paid Sick Days

Millions of workers in California cannot take a day off when they or someone in their family falls ill. Under current state law, nothing requires employers to provide paid sick days, thus 40% of the workforce receives no sick leave at all. That leaves six million Californians with few options when family needs arise.

The lack of a state or federal law guaranteeing paid sick days hurts workers of all income levels. Data collected by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reveals the inadequacy of paid sick days coverage: more than 59 million workers nationwide have no such leave. Workers without such leave are essentially expected to work while sick – jeopardizing the health and safety of co-workers and customers. Low-wage workers are especially likely to be denied paid sick days. Research shows that 41% of low-wage workers have no paid leave of any kind (no paid sick leave, no paid vacation, and no paid personal days). Only 22% of food service and hotel workers enjoy any paid sick leave.

Workers in child care centers, retail clerks, and nursing homes also disproportionately lack this important benefit. Even worse, these workers are also those most likely to work closely with the public and yet must report to work sick. This undoubtedly harms public health.

Lack of paid sick days is particularly difficult for working women, who are still predominantly responsible for meeting family caregiving needs and who make up 59% of minimum wage workers. Almost half of working mothers report that they must miss work when a child is sick. In addition, as baby boomers head past retirement and grow more likely to need care, workers’ need for paid time off will only intensify.

More than a third of Americans (35%) already have significant elder care responsibilities, and more than a third of this group was forced to reduce
their work hours or take time off to provide care. Guaranteeing paid sick days will lessen the effect of this growing problem. No worker should have to choose between going to work sick or staying home to care for themselves or a loved one, but that is the choice facing millions of workers in California.

No one wants to work sick, but many must do so for fear of employer retaliation. In today’s economy, workers also just cannot afford to lose a day’s pay. Tellingly, even human resource managers are now beginning to notice that sick workers are a serious issue. According to a 2007 survey of 317 human resource executives in U.S. organizations, 38% reported a problem with sick workers unwilling or unable to stay home.

An August 2008 Field Research poll found overwhelming support for strong paid sick leave benefits. 73% of California adults surveyed would support a law guaranteeing paid sick days for all California workers5. This support crosses party, gender, and ethnic lines. Furthermore, 76% of those surveyed agree that paid sick days should be considered a fundamental worker right, like being paid a decent wage. It is time to give workers access to this basic job benefit.

AB 400 (Ma) is modeled after a similar San Francisco ordinance and will allow California workers to earn paid sick days after 90 days of employment. Employees will earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. Any employee of a small business (10 or fewer employees) may use up to 5 days a year of sick time; all other employees may use up to 9 days a year. Sick days can be used to care for a sick family member or as leave to allow domestic violence and sexual assault survivors time to recover. The bill allows flexibility for workers and employers covered by a collective bargaining agreement, and AB 400 includes anti-retaliation language to protect workers claiming this benefit.

Download the Paid Sick Days fact sheet.

Protection from Municipal Bankruptcy

On May 6, 2008, the Vallejo City Council voted to declare bankruptcy, even after firefighters, police officers, and public employees offered a package of wage and benefits concessions that would have solved the city’s deficit. This bankruptcy has jeopardized the benefits owed to employees and retirees, contracts with vendors, and the delivery of city services.

In the wake of the Vallejo bankruptcy and the deepening recession, cities across California are now discussing bankruptcy as a possible option. Newt Gingrich is even promoting a proposal to allow states to file bankruptcy for the explicit purpose of breaking union contracts.

As the battle in Wisconsin over collective bargaining rights takes center stage, few Californians understand that municipal bankruptcy can also be used to void collective bargaining agreements. Concessions should be negotiated at the table, not imposed by a bankruptcy judge. Beyond the impact on workers, municipal bankruptcies are devastating to entire communities.

When a city or county enters bankruptcy, property values decline, the business climate is depressed, and retirees are left in limbo. Vendors cannot rely on timely payments, threatening service delivery and costing jobs. It is unfair to the citizens and businesses of any community to allow a municipal bankruptcy to be entered intowhen it is not necessary.

Even the threat of bankruptcy disrupts the municipal bond market, as was evident in the wake of the push to allow states’ access. In the last few months, investors have sold off over $20 billion in state and local bonds over fears of increased bankruptcies and defaults. This in turn costs taxpayers money as interest rates go up andcommunities must pay more for infrastructure projects like schools and roads.

Under federal law, it is up to each state to determine whether cities and counties have access to bankruptcy protection. California is one of just eleven states that provide a blanket authorization for municipal bankruptcies without any standards that cities or counties must meet. (Government Code Section 53760). Two states
specifically ban municipal bankruptcies, and an additional 26 states are silent, which effectively means municipal bankruptcies are not authorized.

A total of 39 states either prohibit municipal bankruptcies or require municipalities tomeet certain criteria prior to filing. In the absence of clear standards or oversight,local elected officials considering bankruptcy and the communities impacted by such a bankruptcy have little guidance about whether it is merited or necessary. In addition, there is nothing to prevent a frivolous bankruptcy petition or one that is politicallymotivated. In the case of Vallejo, the City has spent more than $11 million on litigation, more than the initial budget shortfall.

The State has a vested interest in protecting taxpayers from the effects of an ill-advised bankruptcy. Clear standards will also help city and county elected officials make the most responsible decisions for the communities they represent. While bankruptcy is sometimes the only option, it should not be wielded as a weapon against workers and should only be used as a last resort.

AB 506 (Wieckowski) will provide state oversight and guidance to cities and counties considering filing for municipal bankruptcy. This bill will NOT ban municipal bankruptcies or make them impossible. Instead, it will ensure that municipal bankruptcy is not abused in order to break union contracts and force worker takeaways.

Download the Foreclosure Prevention fact sheet.