I've interviewed Jon Green, the Executive Director of Connecticut Working Families since 2002, on the topic of paid sick days twice before: Paid Sick Days: Interview With Jon Green in February of 2010 and Paid sick days and the Connecticut Working Families Party: a revisit in January of 2011.
What I said a year and a half ago:
As it happens, my home state of Connecticut is also home to a campaign to improve ordinary people's lives by highlighting a local legislative battle to mandate paid sick days for employers of larger companies. This is legislation that's come close to passing before (it's passed each chamber, but not in the same year), and this year, there's a concerted push to get it done.
Well, it's done. And Connecticut and its Democratic Governor, Dannel Malloy , have become trailblazers:
It may be time to say, "As Connecticut goes, so goes the nation." Any day now, Connecticut's governor is expected to place his John Hancock on a bill that will make Connecticut the first state in the nation to enact a minimum standard for paid sick days. That sends "an important signal to the other 49 states," as state House Speaker Christopher Donovan noted when the bill passed.
State law is necessary because the United States has no federal paid sick days law for private sector employees.
Given the hard fought victory, I thought it appropriate to hear from Jon Green again. He was kind enough to answer a few questions for us on the topic, experience and implications of the new paid sick day law.
Daily Kos: Why was passing this legislation so important?
Jon Green: Working Families is an independent, grassroots party dedicated to electing progressives and standing up for the needs of ordinary working class families whose voices are so often overlooked in politics. For us, this first-of-its-kind win is really a proud moment.
If you get paid sick days, it’s easy enough to take them for granted. But today in Connecticut, there are hundreds of thousands of low-wage service workers, mostly women, without paid sick days. For those workers, a child’s doctor’s appointment can mean losing pay and a bad flu can cost you your job. We can do better than that.
Especially in difficult times like these, it’s not right to make people choose between their health and their job, or between being a good parent and a good employee. When this legislation takes effect in January, hundreds of thousands of low-wage service workers will enjoy this basic protection.
It’s the first statewide paid sick days bill in the nation, and something Connecticut can be enormously proud of.
Daily Kos: Who exactly in Connecticut will this bill impact?
Jon Green: The bill will allow hundreds of thousands of low-wage employees to live a little easier: they’ll have the ability to earn paid sick days to care for their own health and the health of their family members.
But it’s not just those workers who benefit: it’s all of us. The legislation specifically addresses the lack of paid sick days in service sector jobs: daycare providers, homecare workers, retail employees, restaurant workers, school bus drivers, and many more. These are jobs that typically do not provide paid sick leave. They are also the jobs where you would least want workers to feel compelled to come to work sick. When they do so, it puts us all at risk. This is particularly true for workers who care for vulnerable populations; according to one study, in nursing homes where workers lack paid sick days, patients get 60% more infections.
The new paid sick leave policy will benefit our healthcare system too, by allowing workers to take the time they need to get the early and preventive care that helps keep people healthier, instead of ending up in the emergency room, getting the most expensive kind of care.
And despite the protestations of big business lobbyists, we believe the paid sick days policy will benefit our state’s employers also. Healthier employees are more productive employees, and research shows that paid sick days reduces the spread of illness at work and reduces the costs of turnover.
We’ll all benefit from a state that is modestly, but unmistakably, healthier, smarter and more compassionate.
Daily Kos: Effectiveness is a major interest of progressives. What led the campaign over the finish line to establish the nation’s first statewide paid sick days law?
Jon Green: There are no short cuts. To win on a major issue like this one in the face of well-funded opposition from the entire business lobby takes hard work, perseverance, the right friends, and a little bit of luck.
Over the past few years Working Families has knocked on literally hundreds of thousands of doors to talk to ordinary people and ask them to make their voices heard on the issue. We combined creative earned media with slick TV spots . And we kept going, year after year.
One thing we’ve learned is that it’s not enough just to have persuasive, well-researched arguments (though we had that). It’s not enough, even, to have broad public support (and according to polling, we had that too.) When the opposition was as powerful and intense as it was from the big business lobbyists and Chambers of Commerce, it’s critical to have an electoral component to your advocacy. The Working Families Party is one such vehicle.
When elected officials have to say “no” to their local chamber of commerce, the big-name local restaurant owner, the prominent business people who donate to local charities and to local political campaigns, the truth is that takes guts. It’s not hard for elected officials to get a little spooked. So it’s really important for us to be able to say “we’ve got your back.” Working Families can put boots on the ground and has built a reputation for effective campaign work. That’s definitely an important piece of the puzzle.
Daily Kos: We've written about CT not doing things the way WI does them. Did having a Democratic Governor make a difference in passing the legislation?
Gov. Dannel Malloy, Connecticut (D)
Jon Green: Clearly yes, it helped tremendously. Not just having a Democratic Governor, having this Governor. From the point of view of someone who can be cynical about politics, it was refreshing to see an elected leader who is serious about his campaign promises.
Governor Malloy made paid sick days an issue in both his primary and general elections – and then he stuck to his word, and we couldn’t be more pleased. He went in front of the business lobby to reiterate his support early in the session, and late in the session he helped lobby Senators on the floor at the last minute to help secure passage.
Against a national backdrop of Governors like Scott Walker and Chris Christie, who seem to make sport out of rolling back workers’ rights, Malloy’s support for raising standards for low wage workers is all the more remarkable.
Daily Kos: Nothing happens in a vacuum. What other stakeholders and organizations helped make it happen?
Jon Green: In addition to the Governor’s leadership, we’re tremendously grateful for the support of Speaker Chris Donovan and Senate President Don Williams, and also the co-chairs of the Labor Committee, Senator Edith Prague and Representative Zeke Zalaski, who both withstood lengthy Republican filibusters to advance the legislation.
We also are proud of the broad and deep coalition we built around the issue, including public health experts, women’s groups, unions, faith leaders and small business owners. SEIU Local 32BJ and the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women were significant partners deserve a shout out. The AARP joined the coalition this year and I think their involvement was something different and a bit unexpected among legislators so that helped as well.
Daily Kos: Walk us through the "sausage making". The legislation changed several times on its way to passage -- what was the impact of those changes on the final legislation?
Jon Green: Compromise is part of the political process and it’s to be expected on something as significant and hotly contested as this. I’m happy to say that many of the changes were, in our view, more cosmetic or symbolic than substantive. By far the biggest change was that the bill was narrowed to cover “service sector” workers. So it does not cover manufacturing or construction jobs, for example. The press reported this change as a significant “watering down” of the bill. But in reality manufacturers almost all already offer paid sick days or other kinds of paid leave, and in the construction industry employees typically only work for one employer for a period of a few months, sometimes less, so most construction workers wouldn’t have qualified for the benefit under the original bill.
The occupations that are covered in the bill still represent a pretty big chunk of the workforce – about 600,000 employees. And these are the occupations which, as I mentioned before, generally do not have paid sick leave currently. So narrowing the bill to only cover service workers wasn’t really a major concession in terms of the real substance of who would be covered. There were a few other exemptions for extremely part-time workers (less than 10 hours per week) and certain non-profits. I think the merit of some of these changes is debatable, but they weren’t huge concessions and they were simply necessary to pass the bill.
Connecticut is known as the Land of Steady Habits, so as the first state to pass this policy, it’s not surprising that some legislators wanted to proceed cautiously and incrementally.
Daily Kos: How does this victory in Connecticut impact the national movement for paid sick days?
Jon Green: I think I means that there IS a national movement. The truth is that since the win in San Francisco there has been a lot of hope that other cities and states would follow. And there were a couple of wins, Washington, DC and Milwaukee, WI. But there was a danger that the effort would sort of sputter out after that. I think breaking through at the state level is a big shot in the arm. And succeeding at a time when the conservative forces seem to be on the rise sends an important message to national progressive organizations and funders that this is an issue that can really have traction.
Nationally, advocates like the National Partnership for Women and Families and the Family Values @ Work consortium have been working with coalitions around the nation to advance common-sense policies for paid sick days.
So right now the momentum is growing – a vote on paid sick days is slated for the Philadelphia City Council for the coming week. And cities like New York, Seattle and Denver aren’t far behind. Campaigns are also growing in states from Massachusetts to California. The National Partnership for Women and Families has a good guide to the growing movement for paid sick days around the country.
Daily Kos: Thank you, Jon Green.
Bonus for those attending Netroots Nation next week:
We'll be hosting an informal meet and greet for people who want to learn more about Working Families Party at The Local, 931 Nicollet Mall (at the corner of 11th Street S) from around 5:30 to 7PM, on Friday evening. We'll be in the back. Drop by to say hi and learn more about WFP, and we'll all head over to bar trivia right after. (People with questions can email email@example.com)