From Vermont and New York City to Washington state, momentum and support for paid sick days policies are high. More than a dozen campaigns are working across the country to advance paid sick days and, last month, we celebrated victories in Portland and Philadelphia when city councils in those cities approved paid sick days measures. But with the great success of paid sick days and other pro-worker policies has come a disturbing trend: State-level legislation designed to prevent cities and counties from passing their own paid sick days standards and other workplace protections.
This "preemption" strategy first appeared in 2011 in Wisconsin, where the state legislature passed and Governor Scott Walker signed legislation to effectively void a Milwaukee paid sick days measure that passed in 2008 with the approval of nearly 70 percent of voters. It was an outrageous abridgement of local democracy. And it was just the beginning.
There is growing evidence that anti-worker groups such as the National Restaurant Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are supporting these preemption bills. In 2012, the strategy surfaced again in Louisiana, where state legislators passed a more expansive preemption law than Wisconsin's. The Louisiana law prevents local authorities from passing any basic workplace protections.
Now, preemption bills are being considered in even more states:
Most legislators who are promoting preemption bills claim workplace standards should not be enacted at the local level, but none have offered state-level solutions at a time when millions of workers and their families suffer without the basic paid sick days protection they need. This is irresponsible and one more reason that state legislators should see preemption efforts for what they are: misguided and harmful efforts to undermine democracy.
Local paid sick days advocates are increasingly aware of the threat posed by preemption bills, and they are redoubling their efforts. State preemption bills make an even stronger case for a national standard like the one proposed in the Healthy Families Act, which was introduced in Congress last month.
No matter where you live or work, no one should have to choose between job and family because he or she cannot earn paid sick days. Workers and families know it. Business leaders know it. And lawmakers increasingly know it. Preemption efforts may continue, but they will not stop the push to increase access to a standard that all workers so urgently need.