As we look forward to 2011, paid sick days campaigns in the states are reaching critical mass: since President Obama was elected, a majority of states have taken up the issue, with twenty-three legislatures introducing bills, and city campaigns moving in three other states. Several more states will introduce paid sick days bills in 2011, and the broader movement for work-family balance has even more steam when you count states that are advancing other family-friendly labor standards, such as paid family leave. We are now at a tipping point where we can change the national debate on paid sick days – but we need some tools to ensure that the whole adds up to more than the sum of all of our parts.
To this end, Progressive States Network, having adopted Paid Sick Days as a top priority issue at our conference last year, is helping state legislators organize a network across the states on paid sick days and other family-friendly labor standards. Along with a resource page on how to effectively support paid sick days policy, we now have dozens of legislators across the country championing our cause. By coming together, our legislators are building a national stage from which they can speak with a unified voice. The network is an infrastructure for them to share information, resources, and strategies for better organizing their colleagues and countering the opposition lobbyists. And particularly for legislators wanting to champion paid sick days in states without coalitions already in the fight, it will be a bridge for them to find grassroots allies and national organizations to help them move the issue.
The collective power of the states has always been the driving force behind expanding our nation’s labor standards. Most recently, the states led the federal government to raise the minimum wage by over $2.00 an hour, against aggressive opposition from the business community. The federal government had allowed the minimum wage to stagnate for ten years, but after a majority of the states began moving and passing their own laws to raise it, Congress was forced to act. The collective political impact of state legislators and advocates all over the country standing up for the most vulnerable helped change the political climate – and ultimately made it too difficult for the President to veto it.
By creating ways to bring our state campaigns together onto a national stage, we will be able to write a similar story for how we turned the corner in 2011 toward making sure all workers get paid sick time – and no one has to risk their family’s economic security to take care of a sick child anymore.