By Melissa Flournoy, President and CEO of Louisiana Progress, and Vicki Shabo, Director of Work and Family Programs at the National Partnership for Women & Families.
Over the past year, some workers and their families have rested a little easier knowing they will be able to recover from illness or help a family member do so without sacrificing much-needed income. That's because, since this time last year, lawmakers in Connecticut and Seattle joined with workers, advocates and business owners to become the first state and the fourth city to guarantee workers the right to earn paid sick days.
These victories have shown that progress for working families is possible, particularly when it comes to common sense policies like paid sick days that benefit workers, families, businesses and the economy. That's why, today, there are promising paid sick days legislation and campaigns in more than 20 states and cities around the nation.
But opponents of paid sick days also bolstered their efforts in the last year - and Louisiana is their current target. The latest tactic is to strip local authorities of their right to pass basic workplace protections like paid sick days through state-level "preemption" legislation. These bills are underhanded and dangerous.
We saw this tactic in action in Wisconsin last year when the state legislature preempted Milwaukee's popular, voter-approved paid sick days measure. It was a direct denial of local democracy and took away a law that would have done a lot to meet the needs of the city's working families. Hundreds of thousands of workers in Milwaukee — and throughout Wisconsin — remain without paid sick days, and local authorities in Wisconsin now have their hands tied.
The Louisiana state legislature may take the same harmful action before the state's legislative session ends this week. The preemption bill, Senate Bill 521, would eliminate the right of Louisiana's cities and parishes to even consider paid sick days legislation. The state Senate approved the measure 37-0 without any real debate and the state House could vote on it at any minute, moving it ever closer to becoming state law.
More than 600,000 workers in Louisiana don't have the right to earn paid sick days to recover from common illnesses, care for their families or get necessary preventive care. Working women, who are often their families' primary caregivers and sole or co-breadwinners, face impossible choices between their own health and the health of their families when illness strikes if they don't have this basic right. Low-wage workers and those in the service, hospitality and restaurant industries are particularly vulnerable because very few have paid sick days through their employers and their families too often already live on the brink of financial disaster. If S.B. 521 becomes law, cities and parishes in Louisiana will lose the chance to give them the support and protection they need.
Louisiana lawmakers must not deny working families the security they need to be good workers and good family members. House Speaker Chuck Kleckley (R – Lake Charles) and all members of the Louisiana House have a chance to take a stand and reject this dangerous and harmful bill. Working families in the state will suffer if they fail to do so.
Louisiana Progress is a nonpartisan organization which encourages citizens across the political spectrum to promote effective public policy that moves Louisiana forward without leaving fellow citizens behind. We advocate for policies that strengthen the middle class, protect the less advantaged, and equalize opportunity for Louisiana's working families.
The National Partnership for Women & Families leads the national paid sick days coalition. The nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group is dedicated to promoting fairness in the workplace, access to quality health care and policies that help women and men meet the dual demands of work and family.
UPDATE, 6/7/2012: Senate Bill 521 was signed by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal on June 7th and is now law.
UPDATE, 5/30/2012: Senate Bill 521 passed the Louisiana House 90-4 on Thursday, May 31st. It is now in the hands of Governor Bobby Jindal. Contact the governor today to make sure he knows what is at stake for Louisiana families and the importance of stopping this dangerous bill.