This past Tuesday, dozens of advocates and petition circulators convened in the library of Lansing’s Central Methodist Church to announce the gathering of more than 380,000 signatures to put earned sick leave on the ballot this coming November. Organizers then took the boxes of signed petitions to the Michigan board of Canvassers for certification.
Spearheaded by a group called Michigan Time to Care, the proposal would allow people to earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked. Workers could earn up to nine days of paid sick time per year, depending on the size of the business.
Putting earned sick leave on the ballot gives voters an opportunity to do something that Michigan’s Legislature has persistently refused to do: establish that all workers should have the opportunity to earn time for sick leave in order to recuperate or take care of their children without losing pay.
It has not been for lack of trying by some legislators, however, who introduced earned sick leave bills on more than one occasion that that were never given a hearing by House and Senate leadership. Around the same time, President Obama urged Congress to pass a national earned sick leave law, and that also was denied a hearing by leadership.
Despite polling showing that this is something that a majority of Michigan residents want, the Michigan Legislature has gone in the opposite direction. Not only did it let the bills for a statewide earned sick leave policy die, but it passed a bill prohibiting local governments from enacting their own earned sick leave ordinances.
Earned sick leave is good for workers, helping them to keep their pay and their jobs when they cannot go into work for good reason—something many in the professional world may take for granted. It is also good for their children, who can get the rest and care they need rather than going to school or day care and exposing other children to their sickness. Finally, it is good for public health. Do you want your loved one in the hospital to be taken care of by a nurse with a cold, or your restaurant food prepared by a cook with the flu, because they cannot take time off when sick?