Obama official encourages Vermont to adopt paid sick leave bill

Chris Lu
Chris Lu, deputy secretary of the Department of Labor.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Labor Chris Lu stopped in Montpelier Monday as part of a national tour to support cities and states that are considering paid sick leave legislation.

The Obama administration would like to establish a national policy that would guarantee workers time off when they are sick, but that’s not in the cards, Lu said.

Instead, the White House is encouraging states and cities to pass sick leave benefit rules. As part of that PR campaign, Lu met with Vermont advocates and supporters of a paid sick leave bill at an afternoon roundtable event over lunch held at Three Penny Taproom.

Lu said he had found support even in some red states he’s visited recently. “Groupthink in the business community is changing,” he said, as more and more see such benefits as “important to a creative economy that works for everybody.”

If paid sick leave rules are adopted by states, he said, eventually they will become as accepted as the 40-hour work week, a ban on child labor and other fair work laws.

Lu’s visit comes just after the passage of H.187, the Vermont paid sick leave bill, in the Senate. That victory was upended last Friday when Sen. Bill Doyle, R-Washington, asked for a revote on an amendment to exempt businesses with five or fewer employees, which was narrowly defeated in a 15-14 vote Wednesday. Should a revote lead to passage of the amendment, which came from Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington, opponents say an estimated 13,000 of the 60,000 workers the bill was intended to cover would be left out.

Supporters of the so-called Campion amendment say that if Vermont requires all businesses to offer the sick leave benefit, the state will be an outlier. Most states that mandate paid sick leave exempt small businesses, according to Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland.

If the exemption for small businesses passes, the Senate version of H.187 would be very different from the bill that came from the House because the Senate has already added exemptions for certain part-time employees and workers under the age of 18.

After last Wednesday’s vote, in which the amendment was defeated, and the bill passed 21-8, some in the Senate leadership who support the paid sick leave were cautiously optimistic that the House would concur and the bill go forward as revised by the Senate.

But on Monday, House Speaker Shap Smith said the amendment would be a “deal breaker” as it leaves out the 10 percent of workers whom, he says, already have not seen real wages rise even as the economy has grown.

The House, he said, will stand firm in conference committee on excising the five-and-under carve out should it be approved by the Senate.

At the roundtable discussion, Lu heard from supportive businesses allied with the Main Street Alliance and from backers in the legislative leadership, including Smith, Sen. Christopher Bray, who was standing in for Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, and House sponsors Reps. Helen Head and Tristan Toleno.

Several employees told stories about struggling with the decision to stay home to care for a sick family member and forgoing work income.

Business owners said paid leave improved employee morale, led to better worker retention rates and lowered costs for training new employees.

Lu underscored that businesses around the country are in great need of skilled workers, and paid sick leave benefits can be a valuable recruiting tool.

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  • Paul Richards

    “U.S. Deputy Secretary of Labor Chris Lu stopped in Montpelier Monday as part of a national tour to support cities and states that are considering paid sick leave legislation.”
    He is traveling around the country on a tour to do what the liberals do best; take rights away from small business owners. No doubt our legislators will heed the call. They can always be counted on to sign us up to be the Guinea pig and advance the size and ever growing corrupt power of the federal government. The last I knew there were way more important issues to deal with. I guess it depends on your priorities. If they are to continue the decline of this nation then I guess Mr. Lu’s visit to Montpelier was worth the trip.

    • Walter Carpenter

      “take rights away from small business owners.”

      But what about rights of employees? Do they account for anything, or are we employees just expendable? Why is it that if one employee works for another employer and another works for another, that only one of them will have sick days? I have even worked in a company where the employee next to me had sick days and I did not, or vice versa, simply because of a few words in our job classification. In every other democratic nation, paid sick days is a part of life.

      Why is it not that way here?

      • Paul Richards

        “Why is it that if one employee works for another employer and another works for another, that only one of them will have sick days?”
        Why is it that if one employee works for one employer and another employee works for another that only one of them gets a pair of steel toed shoes? Why does only one of them get a company truck to drive home? Why does only one get a free set of clothes, a hat and winter gloves? Why does one get free coffee and danish every morning? Why does only one get 3 weeks of vacation? Why does only one get a performance bonus? Why does only one get to use the company conference room for their kids Birthday party? Why does only one get to use the company’s extension ladder on the weekend to paint their house?
        The answer is simple: because the employer and the employee have worked out the best total compensation arrangement given their particular situation. It’s none of the governments business nor is it their place to step in between the employer/employee to dictate who gets what. The few small businesses in Vermont who decided to offer their employees free sick pay did so because it made sense for them and their employees. I applaud that but rather than jump on board with the AARP and the national narrative of the obama administration they should have fought to retain that choice for all employers. Now, thanks to the whole bunch, the employers freedom to choose what benefits work best for them and their employees, in their unique situations has been diminished. Another nail in the coffin of freedom at the hands of a tyrannical government. Well, at least they “got something done”.

  • Dan Cunningham

    Here is a real-world example as to why the Campion amendment makes so much sense. This happened yesterday.

    A good friend of mine owns a small business in a New England state that now has paid sick leave. In manufacturing in his town, the Monday after the Super Bowl, every year about 33% of the workforce doesn’t show up, because they are “sick” that day. This year it was 2 of 6 employees. Anticipating this, the owner came in early to start working on the machines and injured himself. He had 8 stitches but insisting on leaving the ER so he could get back to work to get the job done for the customer. The 2 employees, tired out from the Super Bowl, got to collect pay for the day while he worked with an injured hand.

    The owner pays himself about $500 per week and works all 7 days of the week to keep the business afloat.

    No government agency is protecting small business owners, and in this size operation, the owner functions like an employee. It’s not as if they are Gates running Microsoft from on high.

    I asked him when he was going to do all of the compliance reporting paperwork for the state for the 2 employees recovering from the Super Bowl. He said “Saturday night I’ll work on that.”

    I asked him how long he was going to keep this up. He said “as soon as I can possibly get out of small business, I’m out.” That might explain this sad U.S. trend:


    Kudos to Brian Campion and his supporters for being aware of this.

  • Neil Johnson

    If you didn’t think we were an experimental state for any new idea, this pretty much sums it up that we are. We don’t run our state, the DNC does and the lobbyists.

    We need to bring back local control, in our towns and in our state.

  • sandra bettis

    Why is this such a difficult decision? Paid sick leave is the norm everywhere but here.