DC to Workers: Wait a Year Before Getting Sick

Wednesday, March 5, 2008 | Margy's Blog & Updates

DC is the second city in the nation to have a new labor standard ensuring paid sick days for workers. When we started our research on New Ideas for Better Jobs, this kind of progress was hard to imagine.

But, the news from the DC Employment Justice Center suggests we have some work to do now that City Council voted against residents yesterday by seriously limiting the reach of the new labor standard and leaving out many workers, rather than ensuring all workers can take time off when they are sick.

We would surely benefit from a little more research on the best way to have this conversation in order to sustain the political space and public will necessary for a standard that works for the entire community.

We have good evidence in hand of the economic reasons for better work-life policy.Yet too many people seem to believe that a guarantee of a limited number of paid sick days would hurt the local economy.

From the Employment and Justice Center:

D.C. Council Includes One-Year Waiting Period, Other Harsh Amendments before Passing the Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act

Washington, DC- Today, the D.C. Council voted unanimously to pass the Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act of 2007, an historic piece of legislation that is poised to make D.C. the second city in the nation to provide all of its workers with a limited amount of paid sick time, and the first to protect workers who need time off to address a domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking situation. Unfortunately, after more than two hours of arguments and a slew of amendments, the bill that ultimately passed the Council today was a shadow of the original legislation. After including an amendment requiring that employees complete a full 12 months of employment before accessing paid sick and safe time, and after adding exemptions for health care workers and for restaurant wait staff, the bill that the Council supported today was, while laudable, dramatically weaker than what they voted 11-2 to pass just one month ago.

There are estimated to be over 200,000 workers in DC who do not get paid sick time, with high concentrations in low-wage food service, retail, and construction. These include part-time workers and workers in seasonal positions that, under the current bill, may never meet the one-year full-time minimum to access paid sick and safe time.

Members of the Council claimed that the amendment, which redefined “employees” according to the definition in the Family Medical Leave Act, was necessary in order to bring clarity to the bill. “In reality, the amendment was an effort to deeply weaken the bill, because using the FMLA definition in this legislation means that workers and their family members will have to go a full year without anyone being sick or needing protection from domestic violence situations,” stated Karen Minatelli, Deputy Director of the DC Employment Justice Center. “It’s completely unrealistic.” Despite the ultimate 7-6 vote to pass this amendment, advocates thank Councilmembers Barry, Bowser, Graham, Mendelson, Schwartz, and Wells for standing up for workers and the heart of the bill, by voting against the one-year delay.

Councilmembers Graham, Mendelson, and Schwartz also opposed exemptions for wait staff and health care workers. “Exemptions for health care workers and wait staff are contrary to one of the bill’s purposes,” added Minatelli. “If we are trying to address public health concerns about the spread of illness, then it makes no sense to exempt workers in the health field or in jobs with such public contact.”

Unions, workers and advocates celebrate the passage of this important legislation and the support from Councilmembers who opposed the harsh amendments, but look forward to a time when the District will truly provide sick and safe leave for all D.C. workers.

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