The United States earned a few splotches of blue on Tuesday.
The United States is one of the few countries without any form of paid sick leave required by law. That won't change with a Republican Congress, but it is changing city by city and state by state. Tuesday's election brought the American total to three states and 16 cities with earned sick leave laws, and more than a million workers
will benefit from Tuesday's votes alone.
Massachusetts voters strongly passed a measure allowing workers at businesses with 11 or more employees to earn an hour of paid sick leave for every hour they work, up to 40 hours of leave a year, and allowing workers at businesses with 10 or fewer employees to earn the same amount of unpaid leave. Voters in Trenton and Montclair, New Jersey, passed similar measures, following a half dozen other New Jersey towns and cities, including Newark and Jersey City, where local lawmakers passed sick leave bills. Voters in Oakland, California, passed a measure expanding on the statewide sick leave bill that will go into effect next year.
California had been the second state to give workers the right to take time off if they're sick, following Connecticut. Such laws have been gaining real momentum—until Connecticut and Seattle passed them in 2011, just San Francisco and Washington, DC, had sick leave on the books. Since then, New York City and Portland and Eugene, Oregon, have joined in, along with the New Jersey cities.
This is another of these policies where voters, mobilized by strong organizing campaigns, are way out in front of politicians. Sick leave is demonstrably popular—there's no excuse for any state government controlled by Democrats not to pass it. Just as Republicans pass anti-union and anti-abortion laws when they take over a state government, Democrats should pass sick leave. (And the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and raise the minimum wage ...) But, of course, sick leave laws mostly benefit lower-wage workers, so they're not always on the radar of upper-middle-class politicians. And the workers who'll benefit have few lobbyists or high-dollar fundraisers. Still, you can't look at Tuesday's sick leave votes and say there isn't a way forward for Democrats at the state and local level to show, concretely, how different they are from, say, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who can be counted on to stand firmly in the way of a statewide sick leave law even as his state's cities and towns keep passing them.