The Cycle
updated 3/21/2013 9:16:30 PM ET 2013-03-22T01:16:30

Senator Tom Harkin and Rep. Rosa DeLauro re-introduced the Healthy Families Act on Wednesday, legislation that would set a national minimum sick day standard.

It’s a familiar dilemma to many Americans: you’re too sick to leave the house but too afraid to take time off from work. Now, supporters of paid sick leave are giving it another go.

Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) re-introduced the Healthy Families Act on Wednesday, legislation that would set a national minimum sick-day standard.

The bill would allow employees to earn up to 7 days or 56 hours per year to take care of their own health or the health of a family member. People would get one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked.

“When illness or emergencies strike, millions of hardworking people must make an impossible choice between the job they need and their or their families’ health and well-being,” Harkin, chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, said in a statement.

Under this bill, businesses that already give their employees paid sick time could keep the same policies intact, as long as they meet the guidelines. It also allows room for businesses to ask their workers for documentation to prove a need to take more than three days off in a row.

The Healthy Families Act has been introduced several times before to no avail. Although research suggests that majorities in both parties support requirements for paid sick days, the legislation never garnered enough support in Congress to advance.

 “It isn’t really businesses, it’s lobbyists for multi-billion dollar corporations who are most against this,” Ellen Bravo, Executive Director of “Family Values at Work,” told The Cycle hosts Thursday, underscoring that she sees it as not just an issue of economics, but of public health. “We’re talking about workers at Wal-Mart and Olive Garden. It’s a little hard to argue that the people who prepare your Kentucky Fried Chicken or your tacos at Taco Bell shouldn’t be allowed to stay home if they’re sick and not pass on the flu with your food.”

Only 19% of low-wage workers have access to paid sick days, and adults without sick leave are 1.5 times more likely to go to work sick, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families. A report by the Public Welfare Foundation found that 23% of American adults either lost a job or said they were threatened with losing their job if they took time off for being sick or to help a sick relative.

Some critics of the bill say the requirements could hinder free enterprise. The Heritage Foundation claims that employers would end up actually lowering wages to offset replacement costs, and that the bill encourages “ irresponsible employees to game the system.” A few progressive organizations challenge that assumption. According to the American Productivity Audit/Human Rights Campaign, some estimates show that coming to work sick can cost the economy $180 billion each year in lost productivity.

A few Democrats like New York City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn oppose mandating that employers pay for sick time now, saying today’s economic climate is not the right time to press a law that has the potential to cost small businesses.

Bravo refutes that assumption, telling The Cycle hosts that bills like this will actually help the economy because people will have more money to spend if they are paid for their sick days instead of not taking in any income during that time.

“We can’t have recovery and growth unless people have money in their pockets to cover the basics, keeping the lights on, keeping food on the table,” she said. “Business owners who are partners in all of our state coalitions tell us what they most need is for people to come and spend money in their shop.”

She later added, “I want to urge your viewers in Philly or New York to call Mayor Nutter and Chris Quinn and tell them your cities need paid sick days.” Cycle host Touré quickly noted one problem, referring to Quinn: “She’s not our mayor yet.”

Video: The growing push to require paid sick leave

  1. Closed captioning of: The growing push to require paid sick leave

    >>> congress is set for another battle over your bedroom. actually, it could be in your living room , kitchen, bathroom or kids' room. a fight over paid sick leave and it is spreading across the states and the halls of the nation's capital. yesterday tom harkin and representative rosa delauro that would set a baseline for paid sick days for america. would it allow employees to earn up to seven days per year to take care of their own or their families' health. interestingly, there is evidence that bill may help businesses. coming to work sick costs the economy $180 billion each year in lost productivity.

    >>> and it's gross.

    >> in the guest spot, thanks so much for being with us.

    >> my pleasure. thank you.

    >> so some of the research that i've seen from cornell university actually shows that moms are penalized more than dads when they do take sick days to take care of their kids or they have to take off work to be able to take care of their kids, their family, a loved one. does having a standard baseline get it that problem and hopefully equalize the employer response to taking sick days?

    >> well, it helps women in several days. women are less likely to have it. more likely to need it since they do most of the care giving. but they also need men to share that care giving and more men will do so if they don't get punished for it at work.

    >> i wanted to pick up on something she was talking about, this might be good for the economy. some say they would rather make their own productivity decisions. i'm wondering what you think about the context of a decision and trying to build support for this kind of federal policy.

    >> this is exactly why we need it. because of the economy. we cannot have recovery and growth unless people have money in their pockets to cover the basics. keep the lights original keep food on the table. there's no discount pump at the gas station if you've had the flu. but business own here's are partners in our state coalitions tell us what they most need is for people to come spend money in their shop. so in their interests, your workers are my customers for those workers not to lose their job or their paycheck because they're being a good parent or following doctors' orders.

    >> here in new york city , there's a battle brewing over that exact point that he mentioned. christine quinn running for mayor of new york city is standing against this legislation because she says the economy can't afford it. and she is getting some pushback from some of her democratic opponents. have you noticed a breakdown on this issue, left, right? who is a friend? who is a foe? who is with you or against you?

    >> the good news is that there is huge support for these issues among voters all across the political spectrum and across all demographics including the majority of republicans. and there are a lot of business owners on our side. it isn't really businessies. it is lobbyists for multi-billion dollar corporations who are most against this. we're talking about workers at walmart and olive garn. it is a little hard to argue that the people who prepare your kentucky fried chicken or your tacos at taco bell should not be allowed to stay home if they're sick and not pass on flu with your food. so instead, they wrap themselves in the flag of mom and pop shops. but we have paid sick days in a number of places and we have a growing body of evidence. it shows in fact, now those businesses support it because it has been a good thing for them.

    >> that's a compelling argument. let's talk about paternity leave as well. men being able to leave after they have a baby, after their wife has a baby. a the love people say that mandatory paternity leave is helpful in removing the stigma around maternity leave . so where is that in this whole piece?

    >> . men, the problem is if it is offered at all, it is unpaid. and many families cannot afford the financial hit. paid sick days and paid family leave will allow people to have income so they can put their family first. be successful, both with their loved ones and also on their job. and that's what everybody wants.

    >> so are you not in favor of paid paternity leave ?

    >> no, of course i am. i'm saying we support our, the coalitions are 20 state coalitions in our network and many of them work for workers to be able to have paid sick days. others work on the issue of family leave insurance to make family leave affordable and accessible absolutely we support it.

    >> thank you so much.

    >> my pleasure. thank you. and i want to urge your viewers in new york to call and tell them, your cities need paid sick days.

    >> thanks for that plug.

    >> she's not our mayor yet.

    >>> speaking of families, you all know i talk about mine from time to time. constantly. like her mom, my daughter ella likes to give her opinion. for instance insisting on some crazy outfit that she had to wear today. but ella also likes to give her opinion on politics. i know, i'm raising little politico. it is a little bit scary. together we are launching a new web series called political playground where ella and i discuss all things political. for instance, here's ella's take on president obama .

    >> this is good.

    >> he cause the about job. do you think he gets a lot of sleep at night or no?

    >> no? why not?

    >> because he has to do lots of work.

    >> i want to know, if any political topics you talk about your w your kids. karen and her 5-year-old son jackson discuss how cool president obama is because he likes spiderman. like us on facebook so you can weigh in and don't forget on check out the entire political playground episode. i promise, i am a little biased but i don't think you'll be disappointed. straight ahead -- i really hope i don't have any of those. we'll explain. all


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