Paid sick leave has gone from an issue that was totally off the radar to one garnering executive action within a decade, a rapid pace of progress. How did it get there?
The groundwork was laid by groups that built a national coalition to push the issue forward. “I don’t think it’s surprising,” Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work, said of paid sick leave’s successes. “It’s a result of organizing.”
Eileen Appelbaum, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, agreed. “Advocates have gotten themselves organized,” she said. “The message is clear.” Groups like Bravo’s and the National Partnership for Women & Families began telegraphing the basic message that sick employees shouldn’t come to work, risking their health and the health of their customers, but should instead stay home to recover without losing a day’s pay or even their job. And they showed that it’s a universal need. “They made it clear that this is something that is valuable to everyone — men need it, women need it, they need it for kids, they need it for partners,” she said. “I think it has really resonated.”
Still, even with polls that showed 70 percent of Americans supporting paid sick leave requirements, in 2010 groups had only been successful in two cities: San Francisco and Washington, D.C.
Ten years ago, there was not a single law in the United States guaranteeing workers the ability to take a paid day off when they get sick. Now there are 25 at the city and state level, covering more than 10 million Americans. The issue has gained so much momentum that it’s sparked action from the White House: on Labor Day, President Obama announced an executive order requiring any companies that contract with the federal government to provide at least seven paid sick days, which will impact 300,000 people directly.