Regunberg introduces earned sick time legislation

Today Rep. Aaron Regunberg submitted the “Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act” to guarantee all Rhode Island workers the ability to earn paid sick time.

“Far too many workers in our state do not have access to earned sick leave. That means that every day, Rhode Islanders are forced to make heartbreaking choices between caring for their health or the health of their children and paying the bills,” said Representative Regunberg (D-Dist. 4, Providence). “Earned sick time laws have been tested and are working well across the country, including in Connecticut and Massachusetts. It’s time for us to join our neighboring states, because Rhode Island families and communities deserve better than to have to sacrifice their jobs, their health, and their economic security when they get sick.”

The legislation would allow Rhode Island workers to earn up to seven job-protected paid sick days each year to be used to recover from their own illnesses, access preventive care, provide care to a sick family member, or attend school meetings related to a child’s health, disability or special education needs. Workers would earn a minimum of one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to 56 hours per year.

If passed, the policy would expand earned sick time to an estimated 169,195 private-sector workers in Rhode Island (41.5 percent of the workforce) who currently have no access to paid sick days.

Rhode Islanders in industries that do not offer this basic right cheered the introduction of the bill.

“I believe that workers should have earned sick leave not only for their own health, but for the health of others as well. As someone who has worked in the restaurant industry for many years, it is obvious that going to work sick poses a public health threat to coworkers as well as customers. When a restaurant worker is forced to go to work sick, they are very likely to infect those around them,” said Casey Ellyn Sardo, a restaurant server. “Unfortunately for most restaurant workers, going to work sick is their only option due to their financial situations. For many, missing a day of work could be the difference between making or missing rent, between feeding their families or dealing with empty stomachs, between going to bed in a warm house or a cold one. Workers should not have to choose between their personal health and their financial health — that’s why this legislation is so important to me.”

For a typical family without earned sick time, a little more than three days of pay lost to illness are equivalent to the family’s entire monthly health care budget, and three-and-a-half days are equivalent to its entire monthly grocery budget.

In states that have passed earned sick time laws, like Rhode Island’s two neighbors, Connecticut and Massachusetts, support for the policy is high. And despite initial fears by businesses that the policy would be a burden, surveys show that most businesses come to support the policy after its implementation. A recent survey of Connecticut businesses by the Center for Economic and Policy Research for that most employers reported a modest effect or no effect of the law on their costs or business operations. Businesses typically found that the administrative burden was minimal, and the study found that more than three-quarters of surveyed employers expressed support for the earned paid sick leave law. In addition, the report found that employment levels rose in key sectors covered by the law.

The bill’s cosponsors include Representatives Shelby Maldonado (D-Dist. 56, Central Falls), Robert E. Craven (D-Dist. 32, North Kingstown), Rep. Patricia A. Serpa (D-Dist. 27, West Warwick, Coventry, Warwick) and House Majority Leader John J. DeSimone (D-Dist. 5, Providence).