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Pandemic hasn't changed partisan divide on paid time off

Sophie Quinton, Stateline.org on

Published in News & Features

Under the New York law, which was tucked into the fiscal 2021 state budget, state residents can earn one hour of leave for every 30 hours they work. Larger employers are required to offer more sick days than small businesses.

When the budget was signed last year, the first wave of COVID-19 cases was ripping through New York. Cuomo had ordered nonessential businesses to close, and the economy was in free fall.

Republicans opposed the paid sick day provisions. “People are more worried about their jobs, as opposed to whether or not they're going to have the appropriate sick leave,” then-Senate Minority Leader John Flanagan said during floor remarks.

In New Mexico, Republicans and business groups likewise opposed Chandler’s sick leave bill, which also will allow state residents to earn one hour of leave for every 30 hours worked, up to 64 hours a year. New Mexicans will be able to use sick days to care for themselves, family members or close friends.

“It just felt like it was going to hinder economic development, as well as be a hardship on our businesses, when they’d already been through so much,” said Jamie Church, president and CEO of the Farmington, New Mexico, Chamber of Commerce.

Church noted that workers start accruing sick leave on their first day on the job. She said it could be difficult for some businesses to track the benefit, particularly for part-time and seasonal workers. “It’s just another thing for small businesses to be dealing with,” she said.

Sharer, who runs a debt-collection business in Farmington, said he doesn’t think the state mandate was necessary. “The reality is, no small New Mexico business wants a sick employee coming in,” he said.

Business groups’ concerns are “shortsighted,” Chandler said, and offering better benefits can boost morale and productivity, she argued. “People accommodate, the businesses adjust,” she said. “And it’s not the crisis that I think the business community, or at least the organized business community, likes to predict.”

 

Colorado’s Democratic-led legislature also passed a paid sick time law last year. And voters approved a paid family and medical leave ballot initiative in November.

It’s harder for lawmakers to create the pricier and more expansive family and medical leave programs than to require businesses to offer sick days, said Sherry Leiwant, co-founder and co-president of A Better Balance. Few businesses offer paid family and medical leave, in part because they can’t afford to.

“It’s not a common benefit. That’s why it’s necessary, really, to have a law that requires it,” Leiwant said of paid family leave. “But I think that legislators are reluctant to say to all employers in America, ‘You have to give 12 weeks of [paid] leave.’”

To expand access to paid leave, some states have created social insurance programs. The Colorado ballot initiative, for instance, directs the state to create a program funded by a payroll tax on employers and employees. When it launches in 2024, the program will fund at least 12 weeks of leave for eligible workers.

Polls conducted before the pandemic showed a similar level of support for the ballot initiative as the final vote, said Jared Make, a Denver-based vice president at A Better Balance.

“That same level of support existed before the pandemic,” he said, “and I don’t know if it shifted the debate or the outcome.”

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