Why North Carolina needs federal action on paid sick days
North Carolina workers aren’t alone in their desperate struggle to balance the competing demands of work and family. Half of North Carolina’s private sector workers—1.6 million to be precise—lack a single paid sick day to care for themselves or a sick family member.
Here is the great Tar Heel state, we talk a lot about family values. But when every day, workers here have to risk a paycheck or even their jobs to care for themselves or a sick family member, we’re not walking the talk when it comes to valuing our families at home and in the workplace.
That’s why, starting in 2007, a couple of us—including advocates for children, seniors, low-wage workers, and women—came together to start a state campaign for paid sick days in North Carolina. We’ve been working for over three years now to move paid sick days legislation through the North Carolina legislature that would guarantee all NC workers a modest number of paid sick days.
We’ve built a coalition of more than 50 diverse organizations from across the state, held Town Halls from the mountains to the sea, staged press conferences and written countless Op-Eds, worn our soles down walking the halls of the legislature, and have conducted reams of research to make our case for why paid sick days is good for workers, businesses, and our public health.
Our persistence has led to some progress in moving paid sick days in North Carolina. In 2009, we succeeded in getting the first-ever legislative hearings on our paid sick days bill—the Healthy Families and Healthy Workplace Act—in the South. More recently, we’ve continued to push paid sick days through a Joint Select Committee on Work and Family Balance that’s been meeting to study family-friendly workplace policies.
We’re hopeful that one day, we in North Carolina can join the growing number of states that will be victorious in passing state-level paid sick days legislation.
But let’s also be real. North Carolina, the least unionized state in the nation, is not exactly a place where groundbreaking pro-worker legislation usually starts. We’re still a state deeply embedded in its rich and well, dirty Southern history despite the fact that an awful lot of Northerners now call this place home. And politics down here are still largely run by the good ol’ boys network.
When it comes to workplace standards, we typically rely on federal laws and regulations to improve work conditions for Southern workers. We’ve never come close to passing a state minimum wage increase that surpasses the federal minimum wage, for example. And while we’re by no means going to slow our efforts to pass a state paid sick days law, we need some help from Washington D.C.
More precisely, we here in North Carolina are calling on our elected officials and those from around the country, to move the Healthy Families Act forward. North Carolina’s working families are desperately trying to hold their families together and keep the paychecks coming in. But they can’t do it without essential tools like paid sick days. And what North Carolina, and all of our Southern peers—like South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi—need, is a national paid sick days standard. It’s about time that the U.S. updated its labor standards to match the needs of today’s workers.
Louisa B. Warren is a Policy Advocate with the North Carolina Justice Center, which works on behalf on low- and moderate-income working families in the Tar Heel State.