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Southern Cities Are Passing Paid Sick Leave—But Republicans Won’t Let Them Have It

Friday, August 24th, 2018

On August 16, the San Antonio city council voted 9-2 to pass a paid sick leave ordinance that will allow residents to earn an hour of time off for every 30 hours worked up to six days a year at small employers and eight at larger ones. 

The United States is alone among 22 wealthy countries in having no national guaranteed paid sick-leave policy. As a result, states are left to pass their own laws, and in those like Texas where GOP legislatures stand opposed to paid sick leave, it’s up to the cities.

San Antonio became the 33rd city in the country to take such a step, and the second in the South after Austin passed a similar law in February.

The San Antonio law is supposed to go into effect in January, and Austin’s was scheduled to go into effect in October. But the fate of both laws is up in the air.

The very day after San Antonio’s ordinance passed, an appeals court temporarily put Austin’s law on hold in the midst of a lawsuit brought by the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation— a member of the Koch-backed State Policy Network—that claims the law violates the Texas Minimum Wage Act.

Even if that lawsuit fails, many Republican members of the Texas legislature have vowed to pass legislation to block such local progressive laws throughout the state. Lawmakers are expected to take up broad preemption legislation as a top priority when the next legislative session begins in the new year.

Texas cities have watched the state erase their laws before. After he took office in 2015, Gov. Greg Abbott pledged to preempt cities’ ability to pass their own ordinances. In 2017 he explained this decision would “continue our legacy of economic freedom” and “limit the ability of cities to California-ize the great state of Texas.” In 2015, the state blocked cities from regulating oil and gas drilling activity, including fracking, and it has also banned local laws that would create sanctuary cities.

It’s a growing trend in legislatures controlled by Republicans. At least 25 states have passed preemption laws that block cities from raising the minimum wage, and 20 have banned cities from instituting paid sick leave. The majority of these laws have been enacted since 2013 and advocates for higher workplace standards say the trend is only accelerating.

Texas advocates for paid sick leave haven’t given up hope, however. They plan to wield the sheer amount of popular support for these ordinances in their favor and against the state politicians who block them. “Our state leadership is out of touch with what the majority of Texans believe and want for their communities,” says Michelle Tremillo, executive director of the Texas Organizing Project, a community organizing group behind the paid sick leave ordinance.

Two years ago, the Texas Organizing Project began surveying working families in San Antonio about what issues were most important to them and what would most improve their lives. “It was very clear…that issues addressing economic security were at the very top of the list,” Tremillo says. Number one was access to jobs that pay well, but in Texas only the state can raise the minimum wage, followed by benefits and the ability to get paid time off for illness, understandable since an estimated 350,000 city residents don’t have access to paid sick days.

Advocates also eagerly watched what happened in Austin. “It just made sense that we would figure out how to make that happen in San Antonio as well,” Tremillo says.

Her group and others decided to take the issue directly to city residents. In San Antonio, anyone can put an issue before the city council by collecting signatures from 10 percent of the eligible voting population in the previous municipal election. If they succeed, the city council can either decide to vote on the topic directly or reject it, thus sending it to the ballot for voters to weigh in on. To hit the 10 percent requirement, paid sick leave advocates needed to collect at least 70,000 signatures to force the issue.

Within ten weeks they managed to collect more than double that number, eventually receiving more than 144,000. “The response was forceful. People wanted to sign it,” Tremillo says. “People understand immediately how important that basic right is, it is a basic right to take care of yourself and your family.”

It was the first time in Rey Saldaña’s seven years on the city council that he saw any issue get above the 70,000-signature threshold, he says. “It was an easy sell, easier than many folks had actually thought,” he says. Surprised at the level of support behind the issue, the mayor and Saldaña’s fellow council members decided to take it up and pass the ordinance themselves.

Saldaña, who supported paid sick leave from the beginning, chalks the support up to the fact that so many people in the city work in the service industry where paid sick day are uncommon. “Many of them know what it feels like to have to make decisions between going in sick or taking a pay cut that week,” he says. “[But] they didn’t realize that they had that power to try to ask the government to step in and intervene on some of the pressures they have in life.”

That support, he believes, will make it hard for state lawmakers to reverse the progress made. “The time is going to expire on the state of Texas’s ability to ignore that issue,” he says.

“Unfortunately we have a state leadership that is determined to interfere with our cities’ ability to do what’s best for their citizens,” Tremillo says. “We have a state leadership that is not at all concerned about improving conditions for working people.”

“The state has turned its back on working Texans and turned its back on solutions,” Saldaña agrees. “It does not surprise the city of San Antonio, just like it does not surprise Austin or Dallas or Houston, that the state wants to step in and keep cities from innovating and applying rules and laws that support the working men and women who prop up our economies.”

But that only adds urgency to the campaign to protect the laws that cities have passed on their own. Advocates pledge to keep up the momentum no matter what the state does. “We will continue to fight at the city level and at the state level for what people really need and want,” Tremillo says.

And she notes that San Antonio’s experience, with over a hundred thousand people voicing their support, shows that the state is up against a swell of popular support. “These are large numbers of voters and people in our community who are demanding improvements to working conditions,” she says. “I think our numbers are only going to get bigger. I think people are going to stand up against our state leadership… We’ll continue to increase the number of people participating in our democracy.”

She adds, “They should stay out of interfering with what our cities are doing and they should start listening to the needs of regular Texans.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on August 24, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is an independent journalist writing about the economy. She is a contributing op-ed writer at the New York Times, has written for The New Republic, The Nation, the Washington Post, The New York Daily News, New York magazine and Slate, and has appeared on ABC, CBS, MSNBC and NPR. She won a 2016 Exceptional Merit in Media Award from the National Women’s Political Caucus.

New Jersey to be tenth state with paid sick leave, but the U.S. stays at the bottom worldwide

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018

More than a million workers will be getting paid sick leave soon after New Jersey’s legislature has passed a bill, which Gov. Phil Murphy has said he supports. That makes New Jersey the tenth state to require paid sick leave, and the second to do so in 2018, but New Jersey’s path to this point has been especially tough. Republican former Gov. Chris Christie kept a statewide sick leave bill from becoming law even as 13 cities and towns, including some of the state’s largest, passed their own local laws. Now:

The legislation, variations of which have been making its way through the Statehouse for years, would allow private-sector workers to accrue one hour of earned sick leave for every 30 hours worked.

They can use that time to care for themselves or a family member who is ill, to attend school conferences or meetings, or to recover from domestic violence.

Family Values @ Work co-directors Ellen Bravo and Wendy Chun-Hoon noted in a statement that, in addition to the domestic violence provisions, the law “includes the most inclusive definition of family, mirroring America’s families. Those in LGBTQ relationships, people who care for grandparents, aunts, uncles and loved ones outside of the nuclear family model, can heed doctors’ orders and take the time they need to care for their chosen family.”

Republicans continue to stand in the way of the United States joining the overwhelming majority of other countries in requiring some form of paid sick leave.

This blog was published at DailyKos on April 13, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. 

Trump’s Family Leave: An Empty Envelope for American Workers

Thursday, June 8th, 2017

The White House budget dispels any hopes Trump might keep his promise to extend a helping hand to the nation’s millions of small business workers with a family and medical leave act that works for them.

Instead, the Trump team hands American workers an empty envelope.

Small business owners had reasons to hope: since the campaign, rumors have swirled the president might support a federal paid leave program. Candidate Trump had endorsed a call by his daughter Ivanka, who paints herself as an empathetic business owner, mother of three, and tuned-in working woman, to enact paid family leave.

Earlier this year, progressive lawmakers in the Senate also introduced the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act. Small business owners cheered this proposal, which lays out a framework for a strong national paid leave program that meets the needs of small business owners and workers alike.

Trump’s budget does include paid family leave, but as analysts unpack the proposal, it has become increasingly clear that his plan, unlike the FAMILY Act, doesn’t work for small businesses, their employees, or their communities.

Here are the top five reasons Trump’s family leave plan doesn’t work.

1: Trump’s “family” leave doesn’t cover the whole family

Trump’s budget proposal only includes new mothers and fathers. By contrast, the FAMILY Act covers the diverse caregiving situations that most small business owners and their employees face during their career. This includes recovering from personal illness or taking care of a sick spouse, an aging parent, grandparent, domestic partner, or adult child.

For small business owners, especially sole proprietors, a universal federal paid family and medical leave policy can make or break their business if they or a loved one needs extended care.

2: Paid leave is not guaranteed for all who work

Trump’s plan fails to establish a nationwide standard for who qualifies for paid leave. It’s up to each state to decide eligibility, which is likely to be based on restrictive unemployment rules that are already on the books.

In order for paid family and medical leave to really work for Main Street small businesses, everyone who works should to have the ability to earn leave from work to care for their families or themselves without fear of losing their job or not being able to pay their bills.

Paid leave should be available in all businesses, regardless of size or sector, and to all workers, whether they work part-time, full-time, or are self-employed. And everybody should be able to access the same amount of leave time, regardless of gender.

3: The funding is shaky

To fund a federal leave policy, the FAMILY Act sets up a simple payroll tax that amounts to about $1.50 per week per employee – the price of a cup of coffee. Like Social Security, that money goes into a pooled insurance account that covers all workers who are paying into the pool, and the program is administered by a new paid leave office.

The White House’s proposal, however, puts the tab on states’ budgets, indicating that state unemployment insurance funds will cover the cost by cutting benefits or figuring out how to collect overpayments. In many states, those unemployment funds are already far short of the reserve amount.

Rather than establish definitive federal fund for paid leave, Trump passes the buck, pun intended, to taxpayers, shifting the burden to the states to figure out how to administer and pay for his policy.

4: Trump’s plan is neither clear nor straightforward

The majority of small business owners are not equipped to handle the time and expense of administering a paid family and medical leave plan. It’s essential that any federal plan be easy, efficient, and minimizes the responsibilities of small business owners.

The FAMILY Act outlines a national program that builds off existing, successful state models, with streamlined coordination and a central administrative office. The Trump plan, on the other hand, is about as comprehensive as one of his Tweets – a couple of broad strokes, no detail. The details are all left in the hands of the states, from their level of participation to eligibility, funding, benefits, administration, and protections for employees.

5: Trump’s plan doesn’t consider small business owners

Fundamentally, a paid family and medical leave plan that works for small businesses needs to do three things:

1) Level the playing field for small businesses to compete with larger companies when it comes to attracting and retaining employees.

2) Invest in the families and communities that support small businesses by strengthening basic living standards for everyone.

3) Provide a measure of security for small business owners who need to recover from an illness or care for a sick loved one.

Across the board, the paid leave plan outlined in Trump’s budget fails to meet these needs of small businesses.

Alternative Visions

The Washington think tanks American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and Brookings have released their own report on the issue, “Paid Family and Medical Leave: An issue whose time has come.” Touted as a bipartisan compromise plan, the AEI-Brookings Working Group on Paid Family Leave proposal only includes parental leave, falling far short of the inclusive and comprehensive policy American small business owners and workers need.

The FAMILY Act is the type of legislation that would help small business owners keep pace with the needs of today’s workforce. It proposes a national paid family and medical leave program that would level the playing field for small businesses to compete, reduce turnover costs, provide a critical measure to security for business owners themselves, and support local economies.

Meanwhile, the Trump plan – underfunded, restrictive, and lacking in detail – seems more like a political play for points than a serious plan to boost small business in America.

This blog was originally published at OurFuture.org on June 6, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Angela Simaan is Communications Director for Main Street Alliance, a national network of small business coalitions working to build a new voice for small businesses on important public policy issues.

Paid family leave policies show corporate America's disdain for low-wage workers and their babies

Monday, May 22nd, 2017

Becoming a parent is one more aspect of life poisoned by economic inequality in the United States, with people who are paid more than $75,000 a year twice as likely to get paid leave as people who are paid less than $30,000. And even companies that have touted their parental leave programs leave many of their workers out, giving paid leave to their salaried staff at corporate headquarters but not to the workers standing behind the cash registers or making the cappuccinos or fried chicken. A new report from Paid Leave for the United States highlights the inequality within major U.S. companies:

  • Starbucks has one of the most unequal policies—they provide 18 weeks of fully-paid leave for new mothers and 12 weeks fully paid for new fathers in corporate headquarters, but only six weeks for birth moms who are in-store employees (like baristas) and nothing for dads or adoptive parents in this employment category. Starbucks employs ~5,000 people in its corporate headquarters and ~150,000 in stores; meaning their highly-touted policy affects about 3% of their total U.S. workforce.
  • The nation’s largest private employer, Walmart, provides twelve weeks of paid leave for birth mothers who are corporate employees—but only 6-8 weeks at partial pay for birth moms who are among the 1.2 million hourly employees in their stores – if they work full time.
  • Yum! Brands offers 18 weeks paid parental leave to birth mothers, and 6 weeks to dads and adoptive parents who work in the corporate office only. Field employees, who work for franchises such as KFC and Pizza Hut, receive no paid family leave.

A few companies do have equal leave policies for their corporate and frontline workers: Ikea, Levi’s, Nordstrom, Nike (though it leaves out part-time employees), Bank of America, Wells Fargo, JPMorgan Chase, Hilton, and Apple.

Just six percent of low-wage workers have any paid leave at all, which is why a quarter of new mothers are back on the job within 10 days. That means that not only are new mothers leaving their newborn babies, they’re working before they are physically recovered from childbirth.

 And no paid leave can also mean no flexibility even for emergencies; a Walmart worker named Jasmine Dixon told PL+US that:

“I had no paid leave and had to go back to work at Walmart two weeks after childbirth. I took Zyon to his first 2-week doctor’s check-up and found out that he needed to go back to the hospital urgently. They took him away in an ambulance – I was terrified for him, and that I might be risking my job at Walmart by coming in late that day. I called my manager to let them know I had to go with my baby to the children’s hospital, but it didn’t matter – my store manager penalized me for missing work.”

This decision should not be left to individual companies. The baby of the worker behind the cash register deserves parents at home with her just as much as the baby of the worker behind the computer. Workers shouldn’t have to hope that they’re working at Ikea rather than Starbucks when they have a baby. Paid family leave should be the law of the United States as it is the law of most countries.

This blog originally appeared on DailyKos.com on May 18, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and labor editor since 2011.

The Issue of Paid Family Leave Just Got Some New York Size Momentum

Wednesday, April 27th, 2016

GELClogoOn April 4, New York State passed what is being hailed as the most comprehensive and generous paid family leave law in the country.  The Paid Family Leave Insurance Act (A. 3870 / S. 3004) (“PFLIA”) will provide workers in New York State with up to 12 weeks of paid leave per year, to bond with a new child, or to care for a seriously ill family member.  For military families, the leave time can be used to address legal, financial and childcare issues.  Notably, unlike the federal Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), coverage does not include taking care of an employee’s own medial condition.  That means, if unrelated to childbirth, employees would still need to seek time off under New York State’s Temporary Disability Insurance (“TDI”) program.

Beginning in 2018, all full and part-time employees who have been working at their jobs for at least six months will be eligible for eight weeks of paid leave up to one-half of their weekly wages, capped at 50% of the New York Statewide Average Weekly Wage (“SAWW”).  These payments will gradually phase in over four years until 2021 when workers will be entitled to 12 weeks of leave, for benefits up to two-thirds of their weekly salary, capped at a maximum of 67% of the SAWW.

The current SAWW is $1,266.44, through June 2016 (with predicted increases each year).  So, the benefit will be robust.  For instance, if an employee received family leave benefits today that would mean s/he could receive up to $633.22 per week; or $844.29 if the two-thirds rate was in effect.  As compared with maximum benefits workers in New York are eligible to receive under its Temporary Disability Insurance (“TDI”) program that’s a big improvement.  That program caps recipient benefits at a mere $170 per week.  Until now, TDI was the only financial recourse postpartum women in New York were eligible for – unless their employers wanted to be more generous (sometimes true for large corporations, rarely for smaller employers).  Although, beginning in 2018, women still would not be entitled to paid family leave in order to recover from their own childbirth recovery, they would be eligible to receive paid family leave to bond with their child at a vastly improved weekly wage replacement rate.

The PFLIA program is a fully employee-funded program, meaning, unlike several other states and localities, employers will not have to contribute to the cost.  Rather, employees will pay into a state sponsored insurance program and payments to workers will be paid out through this program.  These contributions will start at as little as 45 cents per week when the law goes into effect in 2018.  Thereafter, New York’s Superintendent of Financial Services will analyze what amount of funding the program needs based on the cost per worker of providing paid leave.  While the total per employee contribution remains unknown, an important premise behind the legislation is that employee contributions should represent a very small deduction from each employee’s weekly paycheck.  It is estimated that by year four that deduction will be 88 cents per week.

Significantly, paid leave is protected leave.  All qualified employees who take paid family leave will be entitled to return to their jobs.  If employers violate the law, employees will be entitled to reinstatement and back pay.  Unfortunately, there is no private right of action to go into Court.  Claims will have to be administered through the New York Worker’s Compensation Board which handles violations of the TDI law.

Several other states are now looking to follow New York’s lead.  Ohio just introduced a 12-week paid leave bill the same week New York’s law was signed.  Connecticut has introduced a bill as well that would entitle employees to be compensated up to $1,000 a week.  The proposed bill would cover employers with as little as two employees.

In 20 states, legislation has either been introduced or is being actively pursued.  Each of these proposed bills and programs strikes a different balance.  Some states would provide fully employer-funded paid programs, while others base their programs on models similar to that used in New York, making their proposed paid family leave benefits solely through employee contributions, and some are a mix of both.  What is covered under each of these proposed laws varies too.  Some cover all employers, while others limit coverage to larger employers, although many require less than the FMLA does with 50 or more employees as a basis for coverage.

These laws undoubtedly will offer a new generation of workers the family-job balance that previous generations did not have.  Not only will employees be less likely to face devastating economic choices when they decide to have children or need to care for a loved one, but as studies show, when family leave is paid, women are far less likely to be forced out of or choose to opt out of the workforce when having children.  This in turn will decrease a persistent wage gap between men and women who have children.  In addition, further studies document that men are far more likely to take family leave when it is paid, thereby bringing men and women closer to wage parity and more likely to share domestic responsibilities at home.

Nonetheless, as evidenced by this patchwork of laws and proposed bills, paid family leave – some, all or none – creates inequality among American workers when states offer inconsistent opportunities for work-life balance.  Even worse, many states still have no paid family leave laws on their books, and do not seem close to passing such legislation in the near future.  This result strongly emphasizes the need for national legislation that would allow us to join the rest of the industrialized world.  But as a start, we New Yorkers’ are proud of where our efforts have led – to the strongest, broadest, most generous paid family leave law in the country!  This law will make all the difference to the estimated 6.9 million workers in this state.

For more information about what you can do to support and/or expand family leave laws in your state check out what your legislators are doing and join family leave campaigns.  Or, contact us at the Gender Equality Law Center.

Allegra L. Fishel is the founder and Executive Director of the Gender Equality Law Center (“GELC”), a 501(c)(3) legal and advocacy center.  GELC’s mission is to advance laws and policies that promote gender equality in all spheres of public and private life.

Lauren T. Betters is a 2015 law school graduate of Northeastern Law School and GELC’s first Law Fellow.

Marco Rubio's Paid Family Leave Plan Would Do Little To Expand Paid Family Leave

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

The Daily KosFour in five Americans thinks companies should be required to “offer paid leave to parents of new children and employees caring for sick family members.” So trust a Republican to come up with a paid family leave policy that doesn’t require anything and benefits business, not workers. Marco Rubio is the one Republican presidential candidate with any plan on this issue, and experts say it wouldn’t expand paid leave to many workers who don’t already have it.

Rubio would give tax credits to companies that offer paid leave. The problem is, such tax credits already exist for other things the government wants to encourage companies to do—and we know that it doesn’t work very well.

The government offers tax credits to encourage companies to do other things, like hiring veterans or people with disabilities and offering on-site child care. But there is little evidence that these credits significantly change employers’ behavior. Employer-sponsored child care is still extremely rare, for instance, and a subsidy for firms that hire various disadvantaged workers has been found to have little effect on their employment.

Rubio’s plan would be a nice reward for companies that are already doing the right thing by offering paid leave, but it’s unlikely to mean paid leave for workers who don’t already have it, and that means once again leaving low-income women in the dust. Hillary Clinton policy adviser Ann O’Leary writes that:

The companies that don’t offer [paid leave] tend to have large and mainly lower-skilled workforces. But that’s the rub?—?the people who need paid leave the most are the very people that Rubio’s plan ignores. While everyone should have access to paid family leave, it’s particularly vital for, say, a mother working at a low wage, because she’ll likely have less in savings. […]Consider this fact: In the early 1960s, just over 16 percent of women with less than a high school education had access to paid maternity leave after the birth of their first child. Today that number has not moved at all?—?still only 16 percent of our least educated workers have paid family leave.

But for women with a college degree or more, in the early 1960s, 14 percent had access to paid leave and today that number is over 64 percent. We have literally not moved the needle at all to help our least empowered workers have access to paid maternal leave.

We need policies that actually change this, expanding paid family leave to people who cannot afford to miss a week of pay, not policies that exist to get attention for Marco Rubio as the lone Republican talking about paid leave.

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on September 28, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

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