Obama Marks Labor Day With New Order Expanding Paid Sick Leave

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Obama Marks Labor Day With New Order Expanding Paid Sick Leave

Benefits to spread to 300,000 workers, but rhetoric contradicts White House push for pro-corporate trade deals

President Barack Obama is pushing to expand paid sick leave for more federal contract employees. (Photo: IIP Photo Archive/flickr/cc)

President Barack Obama on Monday will issue an executive order expanding paid sick leave for federal contract employees and call on Congress to pass similar legislation, marking Labor Day with a speech at a morning rally in Boston, Massachusetts, where voters recently approved a more worker-friendly policy.

The order will require federal contractors to offer one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, although individual firms could choose to give greater coverage. Overall, the new rule is expected to benefit nearly 300,000 workers who did not previously have paid sick leave. An estimated 44 million private sector employees do not have such coverage.

The new policy will not go into effect until after a public comment period and only applies to new federal contracts that start in 2017. But White House officials say they hope it will help keep up momentum for the country's growing workers' rights movement.

"We have to do better, and we can do better," said White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett during a press call Sunday. "It's good for business, it's good for our economy, and it's good for the American family."

Obama is also expected to urge lawmakers to adopt the Healthy Families Act, which could mandate that any company with 15 or more workers must provide at least seven days of paid sick leave annually.

In his State of the Union speech in January, Obama noted that the U.S. is "the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers."

"[T]hat forces too many parents to make the gut-wrenching choice between a paycheck and a sick kid at home," he said at the time.

Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, a public policy group, on Monday echoed that remark, stating, "The executive action announced by President Obama today is a significant and critical step in establishing national workplace policies that will put a halt to workers having to choose between their families and their livelihood."

"The executive order sends an important message about the basic standards that should be available in any workplace," Tanden continued. "No one should be forced to choose between keeping their job and caring for a sick child or parent or recovering from their own illness. Nor should access to paid sick days be reserved for the highest-paid workers while the lowest-paid workers—who can least afford to lose pay or a job—risk financial ruin."

Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work, a labor advocacy group,  added, "Guaranteeing affordable and accessible paid sick days for all Americans—including time to recover from routine illnesses and receive preventative care—is way past due."

However, while the executive order champions American workers and aims to help middle class families "get ahead," the rhetoric contradicts a number of Obama's other policy decisions, including his continued push for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—the secretive deal being negotiated between 12 Pacific Rim nations which critics say would fuel corporate power at the expense of workers and democracy.

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