Economic Snapshot | Unions and Labor Standards

One by One, States Are Pushing Bans on Sick Leave Legislation

Nearly 40 million Americans—almost 40 percent of the private-sector workforce—lack the right to even a single day of paid sick leave. These employees commonly go to work sick, or leave sick children home alone, out of fear of dismissal. Even when they are not terminated, the loss of pay takes a dramatic toll—particularly since jobs without sick pay are concentrated among low-wage workers. A typical family of four with two working parents who has no paid sick leave will have wiped out its entire health care budget for the year after just three days of missed work.

As shown in the figure, ten states have adopted laws that ban any city or county within the state from establishing a right to sick leave. In Wisconsin, legislators repealed the city of Milwaukee’s mandatory paid sick leave law, which had been established by a referendum supported by 69 percent of voters in 2008. In each of the ten states, the bills’ sponsors included members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). And in each case, the bills were adopted following vigorous advocacy by corporate lobbies such as the Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Business, and Restaurant Association.

These bans fly in the face of public opinion. 75 percent of Americans—including 59 percent of Republicans—think there should be a law guaranteeing all workers a minimum number of paid sick days. Yet, the nation’s most powerful corporate lobbies remain adamantly opposed, and have been pushing bans on paid sick leave legislation in one state after another. Read EPI’s new report The Legislative Attack on American Wages and Labor Standards, 2011–2012 to learn more about the unprecedented series of corporate-backed legislative initiatives aimed at lowering labor standards, weakening unions, and eroding workplace protections.

— With research assistance from Alyssa Davis

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See more work by Gordon Lafer