Fiona Ma for State Assembly
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Assembly Passes First in Nation Bill to Provide Paid Sick Days to Working Californians

As a nationwide conference convened in New York City to discuss the need for paid sick leave and heard from San Franciscan’s about the city’s groundbreaking ordinance in this area, the California Assembly passed legislation that would make ours the first state in the nation to ensure paid sick days for all workers. Around the world 136 nations—with the notable exception of the United States--guarantee at least a week of paid sick leave.

AB 2716 (Ma), the Healthy Families, Healthy Workplaces Act, passed the Assembly yesterday in a 12 hour marathon session on a party line vote of 45 to 33, with Democratic Assemblymember Juan Arambula the only Democrat to join all Republicans in the chamber in voting against it.

AB 2716 allows workers to earn paid sick days that can be used to recover from illness, care for a sick family member, or recover from domestic violence or sexual assault. The bill moves to the Senate, where its author, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, has indicated it will be heard in June. It should pass our Democratic state Senate.

“Simply put, workers should not live in fear of being fired when they take a day off when they or their children are sick,” said Assemblywoman Ma. She hailed the vote as “a victory for public health and sound public policy.”

AB 2716 is co-sponsored by the California Labor Federation and California ACORN, and is supported by a statewide coalition of over 50 organizations including local governments, health professionals and civil rights organizations. Nearly six million working Californians, or about 40% of the workforce, currently receive zero paid sick days through their employers.

“Going to work sick creates unhealthy workplaces and puts co-workers and customers at risk – but many workers have no choice,” said Ma. “AB 2716 is long overdue and will eliminate the difficult choice that many workers face every time they get sick.”

A recently released study conducted by Dr. Vicky Lovell of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research Institute concluded that AB 2716 will save California nearly $1 billion annually. These cost savings are primarily due to reduced turnover and the spread of illness in the workplace.

In 2006, San Francisco voters passed Proposition F that provided all workers in the city with the ability to earn and use paid sick days. Shortly after the one year anniversary of the law, AB 2716 was introduced, modeled after the San Francisco ordinance, to allow a worker to use paid sick time for up to 40 hours or 5 days in each calendar year for workers of small businesses, and 72 hours or 9 days per calendar year for all other workers.

A poll conducted in 2007 by the University of California at Los Angeles showed overwhelming support by Californians from all walks of life for paid sick days legislation. A large majority – 88 percent – of California adults surveyed indicated that they “agreed” or “agreed strongly” that there should be a law guaranteeing paid sick days for all California workers. 76% of Republicans agreed, but that did not make a difference with Republican legislators yesterday.

You can view some of the discussion in New York on paid sick leave from the Drum Major Institute’s “Marketplace of ideas” event. Californian Sara Flocks told participants about a cheesecake factory worker whose employer wouldn't let him stay home, so he had to wear sunglasses to work because he had pinkeye. Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney spoke on how the U.S. rhetoric of being a "family-friendly country" doesn't line up with our policy.

At the conference, a memo opposing paid sick leave written by the ultra conservative Heritage Foundation was read. (Ironically, despite being against the policy, the Heritage Foundation does offer paid sick leave to its employees.) You can also check out the liveblog of the event for more details and photos.

The Drum Institute has released an “Injustice Index” on sick leave. Here are just a few of the statistics they cited in that index:

• Rank of “stay home when you are sick” on the list of Centers for Disease Control recommendations for preventing the flu: 2

• Proportion of employees without paid sick leave who worry that taking time off when they are sick would jeopardize their job: 1 in 3

• Percentage of employees without paid sick leave who say they cannot afford to take unpaid time off work when they become ill: 58

• Number of countries that require employers to provide a week or more of paid sick leave annually: 136

• Number of days of paid sick leave guaranteed by the United States: 0

• Number of private sector employees in the U.S. without a single paid sick day at work: 46 million

• Proportion of U.S. employees who say they have contracted the flu virus from a sick co-worker: 3 in 10

• Maximum number of hours the flu virus remains alive on an inanimate surface like a door knob, office desk or telephone: 8

• Percentage of food and accommodation workers who don’t have paid sick leave: 86

California has an opportunity to lead the nation, but it won’t be easy. There is a major push behind AB 2716, which has the distinction of making the CalChamber (formerly the California Chamber of Commerce’s 2008 “Job Killer List". All 33 bills on this distinguished list are by Democratic authors. The Chamber has had good luck with Governor Schwarzenegger who has vetoed just about all bills on their annual list that have made it to his desk. We’ll need lots of work on this one which is on its way.