President Obama celebrated Labor Day on Monday by signing an executive order that allows employees of federal contractors to earn up to seven paid sick days every year.
Federal contractors starting in 2017 will be required to let their employees earn at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours they work. Those days can be used to recover from an illness, care for a family member, or deal with the fallout from domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
Obama said that about 300,000 federal contract workers will have paid sick leave for the first time under the new order.
“This will affect thousands of people who are currently forced to choose between putting food on the table and caring for themselves or their loved ones,” Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work and a leading advocate for paid family leave, said in a statement. “We especially commend the President for announcing this move on Labor Day and paying tribute to working people in our country, many of whom continue to face falling wages and a lack of access to paid sick days.”
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The order, which was drafted last month, is Obama’s latest effort to use his executive powers to set an example of what worker-friendly policies should look like, and to pressure Congress to follow suit for workers nationwide. Obama has already expanded paid family leave for federal employees and raised the minimum wage for federal contractors.
A White House press release points out that about 40 percent of the private-sector workforce has no access to any paid sick leave, and that low- and middle-income workers are much less likely to have paid sick time than higher-income workers.
In other words, a typical visitor to the Pentagon will get paid sick days, but the people who serve coffee at the Pentagon won’t. The people who can least afford to miss a day of work are often the ones who don’t get paid time off—and as a result, people are either coming to work sick or risking their jobs to stay home and care for a sick child.
This has serious repercussions for both families and businesses, as detailed in a new report by the Department of Labor.
That report, The Cost of Doing Nothing, pushes back against the idea that paid leave is too costly for businesses by laying out the national costs of no paid leave. Those costs include poor health outcomes for mothers and children, poor employee retention and reduced competitiveness for businesses, and lower earnings for workers—especially women, who already tend to earn less and take on most of the nation’s child-care responsibilities.
The White House is pushing for more comprehensive paid family leave, like maternity and paternity leave, along with basic paid sick time that this order will give federal contractors. Obama is one of many who point out that the United States is the only developed country that doesn’t offer national paid maternity leave.
Obama specifically mentioned Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-NY) FAMILY Act as one national family leave insurance proposal that Congress should consider. That proposal would be funded with tiny payroll contributions and give workers up to 12 weeks of time off paid at two-thirds of their normal wages.
Obama called on Congress to pass Sen. Patty Murray’s (D-WA) Healthy Families Act, which would extend seven days of paid sick leave to all workers at businesses with more than 15 employees. That proposal isn’t close to passing yet, but it has more Republican support than its supporters were expecting.