Big win for workers in Portland and (hopefully) Philadelphia

Yesterday, Philadelphia City Council voted 11-6 in support of providing its workers with earned paid sick days. While the mayor has yet to sign and has vetoed similar measures in the past his signature would make Philadelphia the largest city with paid sick day legislation (a distinction they will hopefully hold for only a short time, since New York City is also considering paid sick days legislation).

On Wednesday, the Portland, Oregon, City Council voted unanimously to guarantee earned paid sick time to Portland’s workers. The mayor is expected to sign the bill. With the bill’s passage, Portland will join San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC as the fourth city in the United States to require private sector employers to provide a minimum amount of earned paid sick time to their employers. Connecticut remains the only state with this distinction. In the case of Portland, the law applies to firms of all sizes, though the smallest of firms (five or fewer workers) are not required to pay for the time off.

The votes in Portland and Philadelphia mean big wins for the people of those cities. Overall, it’s a wise investment for employers, workers, and the general public. I testified last week in Annapolis, Maryland, to that fact in hearings before the Senate Finance Committee and the House Economic Matters Committee.

Nearly 40% of the private sector workforce in the United States has no ability to earn paid sick time. Furthermore, access to paid sick days has historically been far more common among high-income workers, leaving low-income families with little protection when they get sick or need to visit the doctor. This important legislation not only protects workers from lost pay or potential job loss when they or their family members get sick, it also protects the public by keeping sick workers, who feel economically compelled to work, from spreading illness to co-workers and customers.

Furthermore, the great benefits of earned sick days far outweigh the costs. The costs to business are often overstated, when the reality is that earned paid sick days cost very little when compared to business sales, as my colleague Doug Hall and I showed in the case of Connecticut.

Unfortunately, the lack of a federal policy has continued to erode family economic security, but the efforts of jurisdictions around the country that have stepped up for workers and their families serve as models for cities and states throughout the nation.