On Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) introduced a bill that would, for the first time, guarantee paid sick leave for workers across the U.S. and end the country’s streak as the only wealthy nation on earth that doesn’t ensure that its workers can take off work when they’re sick.
The bill would allow workers to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave per year, accruing a minimum of one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked up to 56 hours of leave a year. These days could be used for a worker’s own illness or for them to visit the doctor or take care of sick family members and children.
Sanders and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut) introduced the bill, entitled the Healthy Families Act, alongside 41 other senators and 80 other House representatives. It has the endorsement of over 120 organizations, including many major labor unions like the AFL-CIO.
“The time is long overdue for the Congress to begin listening to the needs of working families, struggling people, and not just big money interests,” Sanders said at a press conference on the bill on Wednesday.
Analyses have shown that the U.S. is the only wealthy country on earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave, leaving about 34 million workers without the ability to earn a single paid sick day. This is about 25 percent of workers in the private sector and 9 percent of public sector workers.
This has wide-reaching consequences for workers. Research has found that workers without paid sick leave are three times more likely to forgo medical care for themselves, endangering themselves and sometimes their coworkers. This especially affects lower-wage workers, who disproportionately lack access to paid sick leave, and either have to forgo crucial pay in order to recover or risk their health by attending work anyway.
Sanders emphasized that, if members of Congress truly cared about workers, they would pass his bill.
“We hear here in Washington a lot of talk about family values,” he said. “Well, let me give you my perspective on what family values means to me and what it means to our country.”
“When a wife is diagnosed with cancer and a husband cannot take time off of work to take care of her, that is not a family value, that is an attack on everything that a family is supposed to stand for,” said Sanders. “When a working mom … is forced to send her sick child to school because she cannot afford to stay home with that baby, that child, that is not a family value. That is an attack on everything that a family is supposed to stand for.”
“At a time of record breaking corporate profits and exorbitant CEO pay, the idea that the richest country in the history of the world cannot guarantee paid leave for its workers is an international embarrassment,” the lawmaker concluded.
Lawmakers also called for Congress to pass universal paid family leave, which is not included in the bill, at the press conference. The U.S. is also the only wealthy country in the world – and one of seven countries on earth – that does not guarantee paid family leave to its workers.
Sanders and many Democrats had fought for universal paid sick and family leave to be included in the party’s major budget reconciliation package negotiated in President Joe Biden’s first year in office, but the provisions were nixed after fierce opposition from conservative Democrats in Congress.
However, the concept of guaranteed paid sick and family leave is extremely popular among the public. Polling by Navigator last year found that 80 percent of voters support establishing universal paid sick and family leave, including 89 percent of Democrats.
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