Unions want paid sick-days - sick or not

The Service Employees International Union wants the West Virginia Legislature to consider mandating employers to provide paid sick days for their workers. The international health care union, which represents 4,000 West Virginia workers, and others are gathering support for legislation dubbed the West Virginia Healthy Families Act.

The act will require employers with 25 or more employees to give full-time workers up to seven paid sick days per year. Part-time workers can earn paid sick days too, based on the number of hours worked.

These sick days can be used for oneself, a child or aging relative, according to the proposed legislation. The days accrued can carry over from year to year, but an employer is required only to give seven days per year, which includes days that are carried, according to the legislation.

More than 282,000 West Virginia workers have no paid sick leave, said Sherri McKinney of SEIU Local 1199, which serves 27,000 health care and social service workers across West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio.

“Considering West Virginia’s population, that’s a lot of people without paid sick time,” she said. “For some, missing one day’s pay can make the difference in keeping the electricity on.”

While the majority (86 percent) of West Virginia businesses have fewer than 20 employees, nearly 80 percent of the state’s workers are employed by business with more than 20 employees, according to 2004 census data.

In a poll conducted by the SEIU within the last six months, 81 percent of West Virginians supported the proposal, McKinney said. This is the first time such legislation has been proposed, McKinney said.

Along with the local SEIU chapter, other groups have given their support, including the AFSC-WV Economic Justice Project, Mountain State Education and Research, the South Western District Labor Council, West Virginia AFL-CIO, West Virginia Citizens Action, the West Virginia Council of Churches and West Virginians for Affordable Health Care.

The SEIU also has talked to legislators for their sponsorship, including Delegates Doug Reynolds and Dale Stephens, both D-Cabell; Don Perdue, D-Wayne; House Speaker Richard Thompson, D-Wayne; House Majority Leader Joe DeLong, D-Hancock; and Majority Whip Mike Caputo, D-Marion, McKinney said.

Still lacking is the support of local businesses and their organizations, she conceded. However, McKinney said the SEIU has been concentrating on likely supporters so far.

Nationwide, the push for paid sick time is prevalent, said Jennifer Farmer of the SEIU in Columbus, Ohio.

Nearly half of all full-time workers in the U.S. have no paid sick days, Farmer said, referring to data from the National Partnership for Women and Families. Of these workers, half are taking care of children or the elderly, she said.

Lower-wage workers are hit the hardest, with three out of four having no paid sick days, she said.

Currently, only San Francisco has passed such provisions, she said. A city ordinance requires employers to provide sick leave (up to 72 hours for companies with 11 or more employees) to both full-time and part-time employees.

Other policies are proposed in Ohio, Connecticut and Washington, D.C., Farmer said.

So far, opposition to proposed paid sick day legislations has come primarily from the National Federation of Independent Business, Farmer said.

The NFIB has said people are going to cheat and take days when they or their families are not ill and that the bill takes away a business’ flexibility to offer sick days to employees, Farmer said.

Both Farmer and McKinney said similar criticisms could be made of the West Virginia act, but they have yet to hear any local rumblings.

Overall, the legislation could help some low-wage workers keep their heads above water.

“This [legislation] provides a way for families to take care of themselves,” Farmer said.


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