Coalition pushing for paid sick days for essential workers

Updated: Jan. 5, 2021 at 4:26 PM EST
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - As the pandemic continues to impact communities in Virginia, The Virginians for Paid Sick Days Coalition is pushing to expand access to paid sick days for essential workers.

“We expect we can get a bill through the house--we are working with senators and have been working with senators for the last few months to craft a bill they can support,” explained Kim Bobo with the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. “The essential workers bill would require 5 sick days for essential workers and we have outlined 10-12 categories of workers in that--health care workers, education workers, first responders--they would be covered with a paid sick day standard.”

Bobo says other paid sick day bills have died in the senate in the past, but the hope is to see the essential workers bill pass in 2021.

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Posted by Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy on Monday, January 4, 2021

“A paid sick leave not only benefits that individual, but allows them to make good decisions for them and their family but it benefits the work place, a vast majority of our out breaks are happening in work places,” explained Dr. Danny Avula.

Dr. Avula was the first speaker during the launch of the The Virginians for Paid Sick Days Coalition’s virtual tour.

“The tour highlights the importance of protecting frontline workers and public health across the Commonwealth. The tour will run throughout January in Richmond, Fairfax, Hampton Roads, and Charlottesville,’ the coalition explained in a statement. “The Coalition is calling on Virginia lawmakers to pass legislation to expand access to paid sick days, such as the bill sponsored by Delegate Elizabeth Guzman that would require employers to provide essential workers with 40 hours of paid sick leave. The Coalition sees paid sick days as a critical issue that must be addressed by the General Assembly, which starts on January 13th.”

Bobo admits the bill is not The Coalition’s “dream bill” but calls it a first step in seeking a paid sick day mandate. The bill currently does not include restaurant workers.

“We’ve tried to craft a bill that we think will address some concerns of senators so we could get something through the senate that would make a difference for not all but a good number of workers in Virginia,” Bobo explained.

Restaurant workers like Joshua Briere continue to speak as a part of the coalition, hoping part time and full time employees and those in his industry will be included.

“Catching a cold should not get you evicted or leave your family hungry,” he said. “Right before things really shut down, we really could have used paid sick days. There were few [COVID-19] tests available and many people just kept chugging along because they thought they had a common cold.”

Buzz Grossberg, owner of Buz and Ned’s supports giving 40 hours/5 days of paid sick leave to full time employees.

“It needs to be mandated by the government so everybody is on the same field,” Grossberg said.

Nicole Riley with the National Federation of Independent Businesses in Virginia says they oppose what they call, a one-size-fits-all mandate. NFIB released the following statement about the legislation.

“Legislation is being considered in the upcoming legislative session that would require Virginia businesses to provide paid employee leave. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) opposes such a one-size-fits-all mandate which will make it especially difficult for small businesses with fewer employees to operate, especially when many are struggling to recover economically.

“Small business owners need a flexible workplace and the ability to make decisions that allow them to operate with the employees they have,” said NFIB’s State Director in Virginia, Nicole Riley. “They know the challenges of finding and keeping good employees and offer the highest wages and best benefits packages they can afford. But a cookie-cutter approach to paid leave makes it exceptionally difficult when every small business is different.”

According to a survey conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research for the NFIB Research Foundation, 73 percent of small business owners offer their full-time employees paid time off, and 67 percent offer two weeks or more of leave—without a government mandate. And when NFIB specifically balloted members in Virginia on whether they support legislation requiring they provide paid medical leave, 92% opposed.

“What our members oppose is a government mandate that assumes every business of any type or size can afford to offer the same benefits as large companies offer their employees,” added Riley. “In the long run, if the company can’t sustain such a plan, especially when many small businesses are struggling financially, it will ultimately hurt the workers if the small business can’t manage the requirements.”

As the next general assembly session begins February 13th, The virtual community tour will run throughout January, with the next events focused in Fairfax, Hampton Roads, and Charlottesville.

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