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Many Americans are watching their job benefits shrink as states grapple to close budget gaps. But Connecticut is about to defy the trend. It's set to become the first state to mandate paid sick days for some low-wage workers. Across the country, 40 million people have no paid sick time.
As NPR's Jennifer Ludden reports, advocates see momentum for a national movement.
JENNIFER LUDDEN: Connecticut's Democratic Governor Dan Malloy campaigned on this issue. He said he'll sign the bill that passed this weekend. It will provide up to a week of paid sick time to service workers, in companies with 50 or more employees.
The new mandate is welcome relief for people like Desiree Rosado. A few years ago, first one of her children, then the other two came down with swine flu. Rosado had to stay home from her job as a teaching assistant for two weeks with no pay.
Ms. DESIREE ROSADO (Teaching Assistant): It was pretty rough for a little bit because, I mean, I work because we need it, you know. We have no choice right now, where we're at.
LUDDEN: Rosado's husband was out of work for a time, and the couple's struggling to rebuild their credit. He's a security guard now, but also has no paid sick time. After the swine flu setback, they had to postpone a mortgage payment, and stop repaying some debt.
Like so many, Rosado says she feels compelled to show up for work, even if she's sick.
Ms. ROSADO: Oh, yeah. Because I remember even trying one time to go to work and I didn't realize I had fever.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. ROSADO: I went to the nurse and they're like, yeah, you need to go home.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. ROSADO: I'm like, ugh.
LUDDEN: During debate over the bill, lawmakers heard from people who'd been fired for missing work when they or their children were ill. Jon Green heads Connecticut Working Families, and says the newly passed law is a matter of public health.
Mr. JON GREEN (Executive Director, Connecticut Working Families): Nobody wants the person who is serving their food, driving their kids to school, providing day care, or home health care to be going to work with an illness. That just doesn't make any sense.
LUDDEN: Businesses lobbied hard against the legislation and it was scaled back. It won't apply to manufacturing, temporary workers, or independent contractors. Still, lawmakers like Republican John Rigby say it will burden restaurants and other businesses already struggling in a tough economy.
State Representative JOHN RIGBY (Republican, Connecticut): They're going to have to shed jobs. They're going to have to let people go. They're going to have to make a decision about whether to open the next brew pub in Connecticut, or if they're going to have to do it in Massachusetts or Rhode Island - states that are considered more business-friendly than our state.
LUDDEN: Those same dire predictions have been made before, when San Francisco and Washington, D.C. mandated paid sick days a few years back. But Ellen Bravo, of the nonprofit Family Values at Work, says it didn't happen.
Ms. ELLEN BRAVO (Executive Director, Family Values at Work): Not at all. In San Francisco, where they've now had it four years, studies have shown not just that it hasn't hurt productivity or profitability, but two-thirds of employers now support the law.
LUDDEN: Bravo hopes Connecticut's new law will inspire others. Philadelphia, Seattle, and Denver are all expected to vote on similar legislation in coming months, and there are campaigns in other cities.
Ms. BRAVO: It says a lot, I think, about the fact that working families are desperate for some relief, and that lawmakers are seeing more and more the enormous public support for it.
LUDDEN: Not that public opinion is decisive. In 2008, Milwaukee approved a paid sick-days law with nearly 70 percent voter support. But a business group sued and Wisconsin's legislature and governor brought legal action to stop it. That effort is now tied up in the courts.
Jennifer Ludden, NPR News.
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