Focus, Government, and Human Resources

Coalition launches campaign for earned paid sick leave

Legislature is considering bills with goal of creating healthier communities and workplaces.

March 6, 2015
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Sick days
A study indicates that nearly 40 percent of American workers do not have paid sick days, which means many work-related family decisions are based on money and not health. ©

A new coalition launched last week is advocating for legislative reform around the right of Michigan workers to earn paid sick days.

The Economic Justice Alliance of Michigan hosted a press conference March 2 at 334 Burton St. SE in the Garfield Park Neighborhood Lodge and announced the launch of a new statewide coalition comprising community leaders, elected officials, citizens and nonprofit organizations advocating for the state legislature to pass a law granting workers the right to earn paid sick days.

Organizations participating in the coalition include: Mothering Justice, a statewide project empowering mothers to promote advocacy; the Economic Justice Alliance of Michigan, a Royal Oak-based collaboration of community organizations; and Michigan Unitarian Universalist Social Justice Network, an alliance focused on promoting social justice and community service.

Danielle Atkinson, director of Mothering Justice and a coalition partner, said the organization is part of the Economic Justice Alliance of Michigan, which worked on the minimum wage ballot last year and felt access to paid sick days was the next big issue impacting Michigan workers.

“We have been building a coalition statewide, working in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Flint, Lansing and Detroit with organizations and individuals who believe paid sick days is a good idea and we need it in Michigan,” said Atkinson. “We gathered state leaders, business leaders, individuals, partners, domestic violence advocates and survivors to have different messages or stories of why they think it is important.”

Mothering Justice has worked with state legislators for the past three years and sought to organize support for a new policy, according to Atkinson. The new statewide coalition aims to have a law passed by 2016 granting workers the right to accrue paid sick days from the first date of their hire.

“A lot of people don’t understand that many don’t have the ability to accrue one sick day, and we also know that two out of three workers are living paycheck to paycheck,” said Atkinson. “So that means, for a worker who is sick, they are going to work no matter what, no matter how contagious they are and no matter how badly they feel. We really want to change that dynamic so we have a healthy community and a healthy workplace.”

The National Partnership for Women and Families released a fact sheet April 2013 indicating nearly 40 percent of private-sector workers in the United States don’t have access to paid sick days, with 4.2 million workers ineligible for a sick-day policy due to being recent hires.

Due to the risk of loss of pay and workplace discipline, workers without paid sick leave are 1.5 times more likely to work with a contagious illness than adults who have paid sick days, according to the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

Dessa Cosma-King, coordinator at the Economic Justice Alliance, said unfortunately many people in Michigan still do not have the right to earn paid sick days.

“Having guaranteed paid sick days would ensure everyone has a fair shot at getting ahead, and no one would get left behind because of an unexpected problem at home,” said Cosma-King in a press release. “It’s time for our legislators to listen to the voices of their residents and enact a paid sick day policy.”

On Feb. 10, more than 20 representatives introduced and sponsored House Bill No. 4167 requiring employers to provide paid sick leave at a rate of one hour for every 30 hours work, according to the Michigan Legislature. Small businesses would be required to grant up to 40 hours of paid sick leave on an annual basis, while larger employers would allow up to 72 hours of paid sick leave.

Senate Bill No. 101, which consists of the same content as House Bill No. 4167, also was introduced Feb. 11 by eight senators and referred to the Committee on Commerce.

It is not the first time legislation was introduced at the state level to allow workers to earn paid sick leave. Four representatives also introduced The Paid Sick Leave Act in 2013 as House Bill No. 4706, but it was not passed by the Michigan House of Representatives or the Michigan Senate.

The statewide coalition partners anticipate conducting research and engaging with the public, lawmakers and businesses in the upcoming year to support a new law supporting workers’ rights to earn paid sick leave, according to the press release.

“We are working on growing grassroots support by going to cities, going to partners, having partners take action in the form of talking to their legislators, talking to neighbors, getting online petition signatures and in-person petition signatures,” said Atkinson.

“We want people to speak to their lawmakers about why they think it is important and we know it is a bipartisan issue. Everyone gets sick, but not everyone has time to get well.”

Other groups involved in the coalition include: Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength, a Detroit-based organizing nonprofit serving the surrounding metropolitan region’s residents; Building Movement Project Detroit People’s Platform, which provides resources and opportunities for nonprofit organizations; ROC Michigan; and Our Kitchen Table, a grassroots nonprofit based in Grand Rapids promoting social justice.

“Our goal is really about representation and having as much diversity and representation as possible,” said Atkinson.

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