MIDDLESEX — All Vermont workers should have the right to seven days of paid sick leave a year, legislators and advocates said at news conference in Middlesex on Thursday.
The event was held at Red Hen Bakery, an employer that has offered workers paid sick days since 2009, and served as the launch of a campaign to give a bill that would require Vermont employers to offer up to seven paid sick days a year another go in the 2014 legislative session. The bill was brought up in the House in 2013 but did not pass. This time, legislators from the House and Senate have expressed their support.
Several lawmakers who intend to sponsor the bill in the upcoming session attended the event. Former Gov. Madeleine Kunin also gave a passionate speech.
“I urge all of you to let your voices be heard,” Kunin said. “Tell your stories of what it means to be afraid to call in sick, what it means when you can’t take your mother to the doctor, and when you have to send your child to preschool because there is nobody home.”
The paid sick days bill has been on the table since it was first introduced in 2009 and in the 2013 session it was raised in the House by 35 co-sponsors.
With indirect support from the more than 1,200 members from Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility (VBSR) and two dozen businesses giving their direct support together with Vermont Workers’ Center and legislators — now is the moment to get the bill passed, said Lindsay DesLauriers, campaign director at Vermont Paid Sick Days Coalition, an advocacy group working to get the bill passed in 2014.
Rep. Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, and Rep. Johannah Donovan, D-Burlington, two of the co-sponsors of the House bill in 2013 and who intend to sponsor it in 2014, spoke at the news conference. Krowinski plans to make the bill her priority for the upcoming session. She believes it has a good chance to pass this session, especially since Sen. Anthony Pollina, D/P-Washington, and possibly other senators, will introduce the bill in the Senate.
After a hearing on the bill in the House last session Gov. Peter Shumlin said it “goes too far,” according to a news brief from Vermont Public Radio in April.
But at a separate news conference in Montpelier on Thursday he did not remember making those remarks.
“I’m having a blip, I’m a little hesitant to comment on that,” Shumlin said. “What I can tell you is that employers wish they had a way to take care of family members and employees and wish they could figure something out. I think we should put our heads together and figure out something that makes sense.”
Part of Shumlin’s hesitation is over the cost to employers. “I’ve always been a big supporter,” he said. “The challenges are how do you pay for it how do you make it work.”
The Vermont Chamber of Commerce has expressed concern over the potential economic pressure that such a bill could put on business owners in the state.
“The proposed bill would mandate a one-size-fits-all policy to all small businesses of Vermont, regardless of size or sector,” said Jessica Gingras, Government Affairs Program Manager for the state chamber. “As we are slowly, but steadily, climbing our way out of a recession, businesses in Vermont are worried about the impacts that this bill would have on their ability to hire more employees, provide employees with raises or salary increases, and their ability to continue to afford the benefits they already do provide.”
A lot of the opposition comes from people who don’t understand the proposed legislation, said DesLauriers of the Paid Sick Days Coalition.
The bill proposes a system that would make it possible for Vermonters to earn up to 56 hours (7 days each year) to use as sick days. The sick time could be used to recover or receive treatment for illness or injury, care for family when they are ill, obtain health care or to take necessary steps for safety as a result of sexual abuse or domestic violence. Sick days can be part of other paid time off that’s been granted employees, as long as the employee can use those sick days whenever is needed, DesLauriers said.
Public sector employers in Vermont offer paid sick days and according to the Department of Labor’s 2011 fringe benefit study, 75 percent of private businesses in the state already provide paid sick days, she said.
If the bill is passed in the 2014 session, Vermont will become the second state, after Connecticut, to mandate paid sick leave. Five major cities: San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Seattle, Portland, Ore., and New York City have legislation that requires employers to offer paid sick leave.