Free lunch conflicts with collective bargaining

A narrow, bipartisan Connecticut state Senate majority approved a measure Thursday requiring businesses to provide workers with free sick leave, to the delight of workers' rights advocates and the chagrin of business lobbyists.

The Senate voted 20-16 to approve the sick-leave bill late Thursday, with five members of the Democratic majority opposing the bill, and two Republicans in support.

The vote was a victory for the bill's chief proponent, Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, who had introduced it a night earlier, before senators had to halt debate to rewrite sections to avert a conflict with Connecticut's collective bargaining laws.

Despite protests from business groups, including the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, Prague contended the bill would actually help employers and their workers.

Under the bill, which moves to the House of Representatives with less than a week remaining before Wednesday's deadline to adjourn the regular session, workers would earn an hour of paid sick time for every 40 hours worked, up to a maximum of 52 hours per year.

The resulting 6.5 days of paid sick leave could be used at any time through a calendar year. Unused sick time could be carried over into the next calendar year - to be used in the early months, for instance, before an employee had accrued any new sick time - with the proviso that no more than 6.5 sick days could be redeemed in any calendar year.

The bill applies only to employers with 50 or more employees.

According to proud advocates of the legislation, including Senate Democratic leaders and the Working Families Party, Connecticut would become the first state in the nation to mandate that employers provide sick leave to their workers.

If it becomes law, the proposal would enable workers who lack sick time in their jobs to take better care of themselves, and by extension, their coworkers, Prague said.

But opponents in the Senate and in the corridors outside were critical of the proposal, saying it would add new costs to businesses who can ill afford them in the current, declining economy.

, and who are already looking for a reason to bolt high-cost states like Connecticut.

”If I thought it would grow jobs, I'd vote for it in a heartbeat,” said Sen. David Cappiello, R-Danbury.

”We send a message every single year in this chamber and this building that we are unfriendly to businesses large and small,” Cappiello said moments later.

But supporters of the legislation dismissed such worries, saying they had heard similar complaints at every attempt to regulate businesses or provide better benefits for workers.

”There were probably people who were saying the world would come to an end when the 40-hour work-week was established, or when the minimum wage was established,” Senate President Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, said in a brief meeting with reporters and Prague after the vote.“In comparison, the step we have taken today is a small step.”

Prague was confident of her bill's chances in the lower chamber, saying Working Families party officials had said they have a commitment from House Speaker James A. Amann, D-Milford, to run the bill if they have enough votes to pass it.

At an estimate of 80 supporters, Prague's margin is slim for the 151-member House; a bill requires 76 votes of the full chamber to pass.

But she was predicting a good result:“They have the votes,” Prague said.


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