“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” -Mahatma Gandhi
It wasn’t long ago that paid sick days didn’t register even a blip on the political radar. Outside the offices of a few dedicated policy wonks, it was virtually a non-issue.
The problem was already there, of course. For millions of American workers and their families, missing much-needed pay, or even losing a job, could be as easing as catching the flu or needing to take a child to the doctor. But no one was proposing a solution.
Today in Connecticut, things are a little different. Outside the budget, paid sick days is one of the highest profile questions of public policy at the state level. It’s even passed in both houses of the state legislature — but not in the same year.
I don’t want to overstate our progress. There’s still a long way to go to win a basic workplace standard for paid sick days in Connecticut. And we’re facing unrelenting opposition from some well-funded business lobbyists. But we have reached the point where the idea is a serious, if not quite inevitable, possibility, and I think it’s worth a moment to reflect on how we’ve gotten this far.
Make new friends.
Many organizations — just like people — have a comfortable social circle. It’s easy to stay inside them and only work with your friends, the usual suspects. But we’ve found that paid sick days is the kind of issue that can unite broad and diverse constituencies, and that identifying new voices to speak in support of paid sick days legislation can be tremendously valuable.
Outside our own base — union members and community organizations — we’ve successfully reached out to public health professionals, women’s advocates, educators and even small business owners.
Within our own membership of working class and middle class families, we’ve been able to identify stories of workers without paid sick days.
But doctors can convincingly make the case that the lack of paid sick days creates a real public health risk, especially in the event of highly infectious illness like swine flu. like in this op-ed from Dr. Laurel Baldwin Ragaven. Doctors could also explain how the lack of paid sick days increases the cost of our healthcare system by discouraging workers without paid sick days from getting preventive care — as in this op-ed by Dr. Phil Brewer.
Women’s advocacy groups could explain why paid sick days is particularly critical for working women and how access to paid sick days is critical for victims of abuse or domestic violence.
And while responsible business owners willing to speak publicly in support of higher standards at work are hard to come by, their message can be uniquely compelling. Check out this op ed by Kate Emery, CEO of a networking and computer technical support firm. Here are more business for paid sick days.
Those aren’t all groups we routinely work with — but building those alliances has made our campaign substantially stronger.
Engage the media.
If you want to make elected officials start caring about an issue, it’s not enough to just be right and to have well articulated positions backed up by well researched facts — you’ve got to go to be able to get that message out to the public. And unless you’ve got a huge budget, that means earned, not paid, media.
It can be challenging to keep an issue alive in the media for a long period of time. But luckily paid sick days is an issue that lends itself to many different perspectives.
From rallying outside the Restaurant Association with signs reading ‘no more boogers in my burgers’ to a Capitol press conference with public health leaders about the impact of working without paid sick days on the public health to our ‘take your sick child to work’ day, to press statements outside of supportive businesses, we’ve worked hard to get our message into the media often — and during the legislative session, almost once a week.
There are a thousands ways to tell the story of why paid sick days is so critical. Try to tell it as often as you can. It’s no accident that when we go knocking on doors, many people tell us they’re families with the issue.
Knock on doors a lot.
Over the past few years advocating for paid sick days, we’ve knocked on doors in cities and towns across the state — almost 150,000 doors.
Our conversations have led to thousands of personal letters, phone calls and emails to elected officials. Some legislators have been bowled over with hundreds of calls or letters within a few weeks.
There’s nothing more critical than building grassroots supporting on a massive scale. If there’s any single element to this formula that’s crucial it’s this one. When elected officials hear their neighbors and friends talking about this issue, that has a major impact.
Our extensive door-knocking has also helped as a gut check. If we experience a moment of doubt in the face of cynical politicians and round-the-clock business lobbyists, it helps to know that when we talk to every day people about making sure workers can take the time to take care of themselves and recover instead of going to work sick, it strikes a chord with nearly everyone.
Coalitions, media and grassroots outreach can get you pretty far — but at the end of the day, it’s legislators who get to make the final call on paid sick days legislation. And if you want to really get a politician’s attention, you have to hit them where it counts: the vote.
It’s no secret that when the Working Families Party interviews candidates seeking its endorsement, a candidate who doesn’t support paid sick days legislation isn’t likely to get endorsed.
Among the members of our coalition who endorse candidates for office, more and more of them are now asking candidates to take an stand on paid sick days in order to earn their support.
We don’t quit when the legislative session is over. Today, Working Families volunteers and staffers are still knocking on doors in support of paid sick days legislation. And when incumbents who are busy seeking re-election start getting calls from constituents asking them about their position on an issue like paid sick days, eventually, they’ve got to have an answer.
Paid sick days is a good policy — that much is clear. It provides much-needed economic security for hard working families, it prevents the spread of infectious illness, it encourages preventive medicine, and it’s even smart for business in the long run.
But good ideas alone don’t always win the day — we’ve got to prove it’s good politics too.
Originally published at: http://connecticutworkingfamilies.org/2010/07/first-they-ignore-you/