Down with big government, cry Michigan Republicans!
Except when it comes to workers’ rights.
Yesterday the Michigan Senate voted 25-13 to pass a sick leave “preemption bill,” SB 173, which bans cities and towns from passing their own laws regarding earned sick leave. 25 Republicans voted in favor, while all 12 Democrats and one Republican (Sen. Tory Rocca of Sterling Heights) voted against.
Now, this might seem like a strange law for Michigan to pass, since no city or town in Michigan has a sick leave ordinance on the books, and no city or town in Michigan is currently considering such an ordinance.
But this isn’t about Michigan. This is about ALEC and its nationwide efforts to quash the momentum behind paid sick days, using politicians like bill sponsor Sen. Mark Jansen (R-Grand Rapids) merely as delivery systems.
This is a law modeled after one Gov. Scott Walker passed in Wisconsin in May 2011, which overrode the will of Milwaukee voters who had overwhelmingly passed a paid sick days ordinance three years earlier.
At the ALEC national conference in 2011, attendees were given copies of Walker’s paid sick days preemption law. As PRWatch blogger Brendan Fischer describes, legislators were also handed a “target list” and “a map of state and local paid sick leave policies prepared by ALEC member the National Restaurant Association.”
Having passed the Senate, SB 173 is now on a fast track through the House. Seems like legislators can be super efficient when they want to restrict workers’ rights, and when ALEC has already written out a bill for them.
I have been an employee at a private nursing home for 24 years. I now work part-time for five days in a two-week period, 7.5 hours per day. When my scheduled day to work falls on a holiday, I do not get paid for that day. Therefore I lose a day’s work and only get four days in that pay period. Why must I lose a day’s work because it is a holiday? It just does not seem fair to me.
— Expensive Holiday, Ohio
This is a pretty important issue—after all, you rely on having that consistent income, and getting a day without pay thrown at you is a big deal.
This is one of the problems with employers having all the say on what’s considered “fair.” Unless you have a contract or union agreement that says otherwise, it is probably legal. But “legal” doesn’t mean “fair.” While the federal government and most public employers recognize certain holidays and provide either paid time off or premium pay for their employers on those days, there is almost nothing required by statute for private sector employees with respect to holidays. Federal wage and hour law and the vast majority of state laws do not require private sector employers to treat holidays any differently than any other days. Unless you have an individual or union contract guaranteeing you a certain number of hours per week, or specifically requiring paid time off for holidays, you can be scheduled off without pay. Also, except in a small number of states (such as Massachusetts and Rhode Island), private sector employees are not entitled by statute to extra pay if they are required to work on a holiday.
So who gets to decide if you are going to be paid for a holiday, and who gets to decide what your schedule looks like? It’s not clear if you are working this schedule because it’s your preference or because that’s the only schedule your employer will offer you despite your long service.
Sometimes employers hold back holiday pay or other benefits as an incentive for working full-time or a certain number of hours. And too often employers are manipulating workers’ schedules so they don’t work enough hours to be eligible for those kinds of benefits. Even if that’s not what’s happening here, don’t you think 24 years working at the same place ought to come with some input into your working conditions? That might be a good question for you to take to some of your co-workers. While you’re at it, you might want to ask them if there’s anything else about their jobs they’d like to see get fixed. If enough of you end up on the same page, this might become an opportunity for you to address several issues at once—together.
Trying her best to sound like a Hallmark card, Rep. Virginia Foxx argued on a local North Carolina news station in favor of a bill that would end overtime pay for hourly workers as we know it: “It’s important to have enough money from your paycheck,” she told WFMY News, “but money can’t buy time. Many parents would like to have the time with their children.”
If you’re an hourly worker, scheduling is a huge issue. And while the idea of time off in lieu of time-and-a-half overtime pay sounds tempting, this bill does not resolve any problems you may have with your schedule. The bill clearly states that employers can deny requests for time off if it is not made “within a reasonable period” or if your time off “unduly disrupts the operations of the employer.”
Rep. Virginia Foxx is right about one thing: Many parents would like to have more time to spend with their children. But under the Orwellian-named “Working Families Flexibility Act,” your boss still decides when you can take that time and when you can’t. Meanwhile, he or she can work you 50 or 60 hours a week and pocket the overtime you would have otherwise received.
Yes, the option of overtime instead of comp time still remains. But there is nothing stopping your boss from treating you differently (giving you a bad schedule, straight-up firing you) if you take that option. “The worker shouldn’t have to have that sort of pressure on them,” said Catherine Medlock-Walton, our Member Coordinator in North Carolina.
So don’t be fooled by this talk of “family” and “children” from politicians like Rep. Foxx.
If they truly cared about our families, they wouldn’t block bills allowing workers to earn sick paid days, and take time off to care for a sick child.
If they truly cared about our families, they wouldn’t oppose increases in the minimum wage, so parents wouldn’t have to work two or three low-wage jobs in order to care for their children.
And if they truly cared about our families, they would not have voted 33 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which vastly improves the ability of parents and children alike to afford health insurance and not be denied for preexisting conditions.
There truly are pieces of legislation which would help working families have flexibility. Unfortunately, and confusingly, the so-called “Working Families Flexibility Act” is not one of them.
New York City workers will receive, starting next year, five paid sick days a year to care for themselves or an ill family member under a measure the New York City Council passed (45-3) this afternoon. The vote culminates a four-year effort by a powerful coalition of workers, unions and community groups.
At a press conference before the historic vote, Vincent Alvarez, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, said:
This vote marks a big step in the right direction toward providing paid sick time to workers in our city. I commend the many advocates who have fought so hard to improve the lives of workers and their families through this bill. As this legislation is voted upon, we reaffirm our commitment to protecting and improving the basic rights of all workers here in New York City.
The issue had been stalled in the City Council, but in late March the New York City Campaign for Paid Sick Days, a broad coalition of low-wage workers, women’s rights advocates, health care providers, small business owners, labor unions and community organizations, reached an agreement with Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn to bring the paid sick leave measure to a vote.
After the vote, MomsRising Executive Director Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner said:
It’s been a long fight, but today the New York City Council heeded the call of New York families and passed a bill that would allow more than a million New Yorkers to earn paid time off to use when they are sick or to take care of a sick child, spouse or parent.
She challenged Mayor Michael Bloomberg to “stand up to corporate lobbyists, listen to the people who elected him and sign this important bill.”
Bloomberg has said he will veto the legislation. But the bill passed with a veto-proof margin.
The new paid sick leave bill requires firms with 20 or more workers to provide five paid sick days beginning in 2014 and, 18 months later, it would cover companies with 15 or more workers. About 1 million New York City workers currently have no paid sick leave.
According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, more than 40 million people in America work in jobs where they have no access to paid sick days. In addition to the potential loss of wages and jobs for working families, the lack of paid sick days forces many people to go to work when they are contagious and get co-workers and customers sick. No paid sick time also decreases productivity for workers who show up unable to perform to their normal level of ability. Paid time is especially important for low-wage workers who cannot afford basic necessities when they miss work because they don’t have paid sick leave.
In March, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced the Healthy Families Act, which would give workers the opportunity to earn paid sick leave they could use for personal illnesses or to take care of sick family members, among other uses.
Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C., have implemented paid sick leave requirements, and campaigns or legislative initiatives are under way in Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Miami, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Orange County (Fla.), Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Vermont, Washington State and Wisconsin.
The bills in the House and Senate are ALEC model bills, inspired by none other than Wisconsin union-buster Gov. Scott Walker. Quick story: In early 2011, Walker pushed and passed a preemption law in Wisconsin, completely invalidating the will of Milwaukee voters who had just passed a sick days ordinance.
All workers deserve the opportunity to earn paid sick days, so that not another person has to make their choice between going to work sick and not making rent, or not being able to eat, or not being able to care for their child.
But even the threat of workers in a few cities and towns having this basic right has the restaurant lobby and ALEC running scared, using their politician pawns to introduce ridiculously undemocratic preemption bills that won’t create a single job. Since when did these “small-government” obsessives get into the business of telling cities and towns how to conduct their business?
Say what you will, but anti-worker politicians are good at giving deceptive names to things. “Right to work” takes away your rights at work. “Paycheck protection” puts your wages at risk. And who could forget Paul Ryan’s plan to “strengthen Medicare” which ends Medicare as we know it.
House Republicans are pushing the “Workplace Families Flexibility Act of 2013,” which they claim would allow busy working parents to spend more time with their kids. That’s bogus. The bill replaces the 40-hour work week with a “comp time” accrual system that would allow employers greater control over their hourly employee’s schedule.
What’s worse? The bill ends ”time-and-a-half” overtime pay for hourly and non-exempt workers as we know it, giving renewed incentive for businesses to work their employees as long as they want with near impunity.
In other words, the bill does the opposite of what House Republicans say it will.
Confused? That’s exactly what they want. So here are 8 things you should know:
“Comp time” undermines the 40-hour work week. Quick history review: in 1938, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) became law. We say it “established” the 40-hour work week, but really it just “encouraged” it, by telling employers that for any hours worked past 40, workers had to be time-and-a-half and receive it in their next pay period. The idea was you get eight hours at work, eight hours to sleep, and eight hours to do whatever you want. Another goal of time-and-a -half pay was to give employers a financial incentive to hire more workers when they have more work, instead of forcing workers already on the job to work beyond their scheduled hours.
With “comp time,” employers are encouraged to do the opposite. Making overtime less expensive to employers means more workers being scheduled for 50 or 60-hour shifts. Which means less time with your family – not more.
“Comp time” encourages mandatory overtime – and ends overtime pay as we know it. Instead of time-and-a-half pay for hours worked past 40, workers would get “comp time,” hours of time off to be taken later. Employers benefit because they don’t have to pay overtime, plus, they can have you use your comp time in a way that won’t cost them extra (during less busy periods, etc.).
According to the bill, individual employees have the “choice” between comp time or overtime pay. Since comp time saves the employer money, what is stopping them from inducing workers, subtly or not, into choosing comp time? They could give the “comp time” workers better shifts and better treatment, and they could even train workers not to take the overtime options – in the same way that Target and other stores train workers not to join unions.
Don’t be fooled: this is a pay cut. Again, having hours off “at some point” sounds nice. But overall, workers’ take home pay will go down, because that supplemental income you would’ve had from working overtime will disappear. Besides, depending on your schedule, you could get to December 31 without having the chance to use your accrued comp time, at which point you are left with no time off and no extra pay.
It has “flexibility” in the name, but provides less flexibility to workers… Employers already have the option to offer their workers more flexible schedules – most just choose not to. The only difference is that with “comp time,” workers don’t get the time-and-a-half pay they would with overtime. “Comp time” isn’t “paid leave” in the traditional sense, because now the employee is the one paying.
…and more flexibility to employers. Say you want to take your comp days off. You go to your boss and request an afternoon off to take care of a sick child, for instance. Under “comp time,” the boss can deny your request outright. Why? Because they can claim that your request “unduly disrupts the operations of the employer” or that the request was not made “within a reasonable period.”
So you’ve gone from a job with overtime pay to a job with unlimited shifts and no extra pay, and you can’t take days off when you want. And if you take the overtime option, your boss can treat you worse because of it. Thanks, Working Families Flexibility Act!
Kills jobs. People say this phrase all the time, “job-killing this,” “job-killing that.” But comp time sends the message to employers that it’s cheaper to work your current employees harder and longer than ever before rather than hire new people. When you take away the primary incentive to hire more people that literally, not figuratively, kills jobs.
There’s a better way. How about this: we don’t touch the 40-hour work week. Eight hours work, eight hours sleep, eight hours to do what you will – it’s a good system.
The problem remains, though, that many workers don’t even have right to earn paid leave to use when they get the flu, need to care for a sick child, experience a traumatic event, or even attend their kid’s school play.
When someone tries to raise the minimum wage, improve our health care system, or generally try to fix anything, a chorus of conservative anti-worker bigwigs cries foul about big government intruding in their lives.
But when a state passes a law to preempt cities and towns from making their own decisions about allowing workers to earn sick days, those same voices are silent.
Legislation recently approved by committees in the Republican-controlled House and Senate would prohibit counties, townships and cities from adopting policies that requires employers to provide paid or unpaid leave not required under federal or state law.
The bill is HB 4249 in the House, sponsored by Rep. Earl Poleski (R-Jackson), and SB 173 in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Mark Jansen (R-Grand Rapids). Both bills have been passed by their respective committees.
If you look closely at the bills, you’ll notice they are startlingly similar to bills introduced in Florida, Arizona, Indiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Washington.
Meeting attendees were given complete copies of Wisconsin’s 2011 Senate Bill 23 (now Wisconsin Act 16) as a model for state override. ALEC’s Labor and Business Regulation Subcommittee at the time was co-chaired by YUM! Brands, Inc., which owns Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.
As one Republican operative put it, these bills “deliver the kills shot” to efforts to allow workers to earn sick days. In addition to Wisconsin, such laws are already on the books in Louisiana and Mississippi.
The bill had been amended to be more amenable to Mayor Nutter’s corporate sensibilities. It would allow workers to earn one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked. It would also exempt small businesses with up to five employees.
But it was still not enough. In rejecting this pro-worker measure, Nutter repeated the same claptrap that politicians have used to oppose the minimum wage, worker safety measures, and child labor laws throughout history.
Mayor Nutter, in his veto message, said mandatory paid sick leave would result in job cuts that would hurt “the very workers this bill is intended to help.” And he said it would hurt the city’s ability to attract new businesses.
But there’s something different in 2013. We are only one vote away from overriding this veto in the Philadelphia City Council.
Councilman Dennis O’Brien is a swing vote on the sick days bill. He voted no the first time, but moving him to a “yes” could provide this crucial worker protection that so many Philly workers have lacked.
All the April Fools jokes in the world can’t change the fact that April 4, 2013 is coming. That’s the deadline for Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter to either sign or veto the earned paid sick days bill that the City Council passed by a nearly 2-to-1 margin last month. He can also do nothing (“return it unsigned”) and it will still become law.
Mayor Nutter had this same chance in 2011, but decided to side with the business lobbyists (lead by Comcast and the over $108,400 spent on lobbying against sick leave) instead of the nearly 200,000 Philly workers who can’t take a day off without risking their employment, health, or basic economic survival.
However, times have changed quickly since that last veto, and Nutter is running out of excuses. This past week in nearby New York City, after three years of delay, Council Speaker (and Mayoral hopeful) Christine Quinn finally compromised to allow a vote on a sick day measure – which 80 percent of New Yorkers and a majority of her fellow City Councilmembers support.
Mayor Nutter is also running out of excuses on the business front. Like many sick leave ordinances, the Philadelphia bill is a compromise, with over 23 amendments “thanks to feedback from small-business owners,” writes bill sponsor Councilmember Bill Greenlee. The measure exempts businesses with 5 employees or less, and requires employees to earn every hour of sick leave – 1 hour of leave for every 40 hours worked. That’s “personal responsibility” if we ever saw it.
Furthermore, every single report or study on this issue has shown that sick leave ordinances are good for businesses. It’s common sense: the sooner workers can get better, the sooner they can return to work at full strength. Productivity goes up, and turnover goes down.
Oh, and we almost forgot – it’ll allow the people who cook our food, serve our drinks, teach our kids, and care for our grandparents to stay home instead of infecting us and the people we love with whatever germ cocktail they are carrying around.
Every day Mayor Nutter takes no action, workers across the city are faced with the impossible choice of working through a sickness, losing a day’s pay, or potentially losing their job.
Some of them are parents who want to stay home and take care of a sick child, but can’t lose the day’s paycheck that allows them to buy groceries.
Some of them are retail workers who are afraid of getting fired if they switch shifts, so they skip doctor’s appointments that could speed up their recovery.
One of them is Michael Cockrell, as cook and dishwasher who has worked at a Philadelphia restaurant for 13 years. Because Philadelphia doesn’t have a sick leave policy, he has worked in the kitchen preparing food while sick with the flu. He has worked when his son had an asthma attack and had to be hospitalized. He once cut himself so badly that he had to get stitches – but he had to wait until his shift was over.
Every day, the lack of a sick leave policy for Philadelphia causes needless, preventable harm and strife to workers, consumers, patients, and businesses. While some big corporations like Comcast have spent big on lobbying against the sick leave bill, many business owners realize that allowing workers to earn sick days increases productivity, reduces turnover, minimizes absenteeism, and is ultimately good for the bottom line.