The Senate ultimately approved Senator Maryellen Goodwin (Democrat, District 1, Providence)’s earned paid sick time bill on a 27-8 vote yesterday, but not before concluding a 50 minute debate that repealed two last-minute amendments meant to weaken the bill’s impact. The Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act (S0290Aaa) will now go to the House, where Representative Aaron Regunberg (Democrat, District 4, Providence) is sponsoring companion legislation (H5413).
The legislation “would allow workers at businesses of 11 or more employees to earn one hour of paid sick or safe (for handling domestic violence situations) time for every 30 hours worked, capped at a total of 32 hours in 2018 and 40 hours in subsequent years. Independent contractors, subcontractors and municipal employees would be exempt, but part-time employees are included. Companies with 10 or fewer employees would be required to allow sick time, but it would not have to be paid.”
On the floor, Goodwin gave a shout-out and thanked Kevin Durfee, owner of George’s of Galilee, for popularizing her bill. Goodwin received a threatening email from Durfee opposing the bill, though Durfee maintains his email was hacked. (You can see Goodwin’s remarks on Durfee at the 5m30s mark in the video.)
Senator Leonidas Raptakis (Democrat, District 33, Coventry, East Greenwich, West Greenwich) led the charge against the bill. As the owner of Venus Pizza in Coventry, Raptakis feels unfairly burdened by regulations that seek to help his employees. He entered an amendment that would make the legislation apply to businesses with 50 or more employees, but this amendment failed.
“What’s next? Mandatory paid health care?” asked Raptakis sarcastically.
A second amendment, from Senator Daniel Da Ponte (Democrat, District 14 East Providence) that would have limited the effect of the legislation only to full time employees, also failed.
Georgia Hollister Isman, director of Rhode Island Working Families and a leader in the campaign for earned sick days, said, “We commend Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, Senator Maryellen Goodwin, and their colleagues for their work in reaching a thoughtful compromise that will benefit thousands of state residents. Support from Rhode Islanders demonstrated to legislators that there is a real need for this policy and they are counting on their elected representatives to make it a reality.”
“While some employers already realize both the benefits and the need for paid sick time, many Rhode Islanders are forced to choose between taking care of their health or their family and being able to pay their bills. Lower-income workers, many of whom are part-time, are disproportionately affected, and they are the workers who can least afford to take unpaid time off,” said Senator Goodwin in a statement, “I’m proud of this legislation, which will ensure that most workers in Rhode Island can take care of very basic needs without it becoming a situation of trading one problem for another.
“Ensuring that most working Rhode Islanders have paid sick days is not only good for workers, but it’s good for public health. It means many workers who currently go to work sick because they can’t afford to miss work will be able to stay home, and not spread illness to their coworkers and the public. It will mean kids who are sick whose parents are barely scraping by will be able to take the time off they need to bring them to the doctor, get them whatever they need, and keep other kids at school from getting sick. All Rhode Islanders benefit when people who need sick days have them.”
The Rhode Island Earned Sick Days Campaign released the following statements from Rhode Island workers who will be positively impacted by this legislation:
“It’s really important that the final legislation will actually meet the needs of working parents,” said Carley Chambers of Bristol. “I’m a single mother and low-income. I worked for four years in a healthcare facility and got three sick days a year. It was always a struggle to get the care both my child and I needed with so few days. One year, I was hospitalized and was out for four days. On the fourth day I was fired. With the ability to earn five days a year, people will be able to get the proper care for their families. They’ll know they aren’t going to be fired during a medical emergency. The importance of that to people in my situation can’t be overstated.”
“The Senate came up with a compromise that works,” said Bobbie Hunger, who attended last Wednesday’s hearing in the Senate Committee on Labor. “Sick days are a basic protection that everyone should have. We all want to see this bill pass so that working people can afford to take care of their families and so we can improve the health of our schools and workplaces. To do that, of course the policy has to be strong. It doesn’t matter where you work or what job you do – everyone gets sick. This will stop putting people in financial hardship.”
“I am so happy to see this bill come a step closer to passing today,” said Maggie Kain, a Narragansett resident. “I’ve worked in the food service industry for years without access to earned sick days. I’ve watched my co-workers come into work sick because they can’t afford to miss a day to get rest and care. People shouldn’t be treated like that. We deserve to be valued as people and as employees of a business. As a state, we should also be very aware that without this legislation, we’re forcing sick employees into contact with the public. In food service, that’s especially dangerous.”