HARTFORD – A bill that would expand paid sick leave to nearly a million more Connecticut workers passed the state Senate on a party-line vote Thursday.
Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said the bill, which effectively requires all businesses to provide their employees with 80 hours of paid sick leave a year, was the “fulfillment of a promise” that lawmakers partially delivered when they passed the state’s first sick leave law in 2012.
“Those who are more affluent don’t really appreciate what a day’s pay means to low-income people,” Looney said. “We often think in terms of annual or monthly salaries, but a day’s pay makes a huge difference to a low-income worker, and that is what people are losing when they are sick.”
The bill passed the Senate 20-12 on a party-line vote, with all Republicans voting against it and four Democrats absent from the vote. It still needs approval from the House and Gov. Ned Lamont.
While Democrats hailed the bill as a necessary expansion to workers who aren’t currently covered under the state’s existing sick leave law, Republicans derided it as a government overreach that adds costs and regulatory burdens to businesses.
State Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, said the government doesn’t need to mandate benefits like paid sick leave, and that businesses will offer those benefits on their own as a way to attract employees.
He argued that the mandate would saddle businesses, especially small businesses, with a cost they might not be able to afford and require them to track hours even in jobs where that isn’t practical or possible. He said the bill was “arbitrarily” putting a policy on “people who didn’t ask for it.”
“Not everyone works the same work week all the time. There are people that travel for work, there are people that work several weeks out of a month and not other weeks, there are people who work at multiple different jobs, or have flexible schedules, or work on commission, or tips,” Sampson said. “You can go on and on about all the different ways people work and are compensated, and this bill is written by people who don’t have that understanding.”
But State Sen. Martha Marx, D-New London, said even with the existing paid leave law, there are people who need sick leave who aren’t getting it.
As a home care nurse, Marx said she worked with homemakers and companions for her patients who received “absolutely no benefits – no sick time, no vacation time, no travel time, nothing.”
When the state’s sick leave law passed, Marx said she was shocked they weren’t covered because they were classified under federal law as “maids,” who weren’t eligible.
“These are the women, who we call angels, who come into the homes of the elderly and the disabled, and take care of our family members so that we can go to work and we can continue living,” Marx said. “And they’re not able to get Connecticut paid sick leave.”
The bill that passed the Senate on Thursday was even more expansive than one debated during a lengthy public hearing in March.
The 2012 sick leave law required all employers with more than 50 workers to provide sick leave to “service workers,” which Lamont’s office said account for about a tenth of workers in the state. The original bill would have expanded that to all employers of service workers.
But the new version of the bill includes all employees of all businesses, not just service industries. State Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, said it would apply even to businesses with one part-time employee, and would bring about 1 million more workers under the law. It also doubles the amount of sick leave workers are entitled to from 40 hours a year to 80 hours.
The only exemption is for construction trades, who would stick to their collectively bargained benefits because they have a “very different way of paying benefits,” Kushner said.
State Sen. Henri Martin, R-Bristol, said the bill would add to the burdens that already make it overwhelming to own a small business in Connecticut. Adding more mandates for businesses compound those stresses, he said.
“If I was going to start expanding my business in Connecticut and taking on employees, now I’m pausing. I’m like ‘wait a second, you’re gonna make it even harder for me to to bring employees into my business?’” Sampson said. “That’s opportunity lost. That’s economic growth lost.”
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, argued the bill makes Connecticut more competitive with the rest of the country in attracting employees. People want to be treated with “dignity and respect,” and they look at states where there are laws that protect that, he said.
“It’s important that we stand up for [workers], and that we acknowledge the fact that it is the 21st century, and that paid sick days is not just a benefit one negotiates, but it is something that should be a bedrock of what we do in our state,” Duff said.