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Cities Say Paid Sick Leave, States Try to Lock Back Door

New Orleans    Portland became the fourth city to approve an ordinance for paid sick leave for workers in their city, joining Seattle, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. with Philadelphia on the verge of becoming the fifth city any day.  Connecticut is the only state to have created a mandatory employer obligation.  The benefits are not huge, in fact that is one of the attractions, but allowing workers to earn four, five or six paid six leaves during a year is critical, especially given the difficulty workers have, even under union contracts in accessing any kind compensatory leave.

Much of this emerging city-by-city strategy mirrors what ACORN initiated in moving living wage ordinances around the country, and in fact some of these fights in Connecticut and in various cities date back to the campaign ACORN initiated before 2008.  Unfortunately, as exciting as this prospect is for workers as it appears to be gaining traction, the conservative forces of ALEC and others are also duplicating their blocking strategy first employed to stop the city-by-city spread of citywide living wage increases in places like Denver, Houston, and New Orleans by going to state legislatures controlled by Republicans as opposed to cities where Democrats might have the majority, and usurping home rule provisions that allow a city to take independent action in this area of worker protections.

Bills to trump sick leave provisions have now been introduced in Florida, Washington, Mississippi, and Michigan, and I would bet hard cash right this minute that another dozen bills will be introduced along these lines this year in states from Wisconsin to Louisiana to Arizona where Republicans have a death grip and can squeeze it on worker needs for health relief.  This is precisely what happened in Florida, Louisiana, Colorado, Texas, and numerous other states after citywide living wage initiatives gained traction.

Unless progressives are moving preemptively to counter these legislative usurpations, we will be watching another door locked shut and bolted down forever just as we are prying it open.