A Maryland county just won one of the strongest paid sick leave protections in the country, in what its backers herald as an important precedent for state- and nation-wide efforts to secure this basic protection for all workers.
"This is an issue whose time has come," said Melissa Broome, executive director of the Job Opportunities Task Force and lead organizer with Working Matters, in an interview with Common Dreams. "Everyone you talk to, people get it."
The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday unanimously passed the legislation, which was backed by Working Matters, a coalition of 140 organizations including MomsRising, LiUNA!, Advocates for Children and Youth, United Workers, and numerous unions.
The measure means that workers at Montgomery businesses that employ five or more people are entitled to an hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked up to 56 hours a year. People employed at companies with five or fewer employees will earn a total of seven paid sick days, with four paid and three unpaid.
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The bill's impact is expected to be wide. "This policy will improve the lives of working families in our county where more than 100,000 workers currently lack even one paid sick day," said Montgomery County Council President George Leventhal in a press statement.
Moreover, Working Matters explained that "the time can be used for the diagnosis, care or treatment of the worker or a member of their family or in instances of domestic violence or sexual assault."
Meanwhile, campaigns to win paid sick leave are catching fire nationwide. The Montgomery ruling means that four states and 19 cities have now passed paid sick leave protections. A statewide Maryland bill is already advancing in Annapolis.
A recent survey by The New York Times and CBS finds that over 85 percent of people in the U.S. favor requiring bosses to "offer paid sick leave to employees who are ill" and 80 percent support requiring employers to give paid leave to "parents of new children and employees caring for sick family members."
However, without legislation at a federal level, nearly 40 percent of private-sector workers in the United States do not receive paid sick leave of any kind, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statics.
But Matt Quinlan, organizer for Baltimore-based human rights organization United Workers, told Common Dreams that the Montgomery County victory is a "great precedent as we move forward."
Not only is the push winning legislative gains, it's also building a movement. Quinlan said: "Across rural counties and urban districts, this issue resonates with folks, helps them connect with one another. Some of these are folks that otherwise would never cross paths. This is a good organizing tool for raising up the leadership capacity of workers."