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HISTORIC ELECTION: Voters Speak, Send Resounding Victory for Paid Sick Days Nationwide

November 5, 2014

Unprecedented Year of Wins Continues With Paid Sick Days Sweep in Massachusetts; Montclair and Trenton, New Jersey; Oakland, CA

Contact: Alex Edwards, alex.edwards@berlinrosen.com, 202-800-8691

(Washington, DC) – In the biggest election for paid sick days in history, voters in four locations – the state of MassachusettsMontclair and Trenton, New Jersey; and Oakland, California – all passed ballot initiatives guaranteeing workers paid time off to care for themselves or a sick family member. The victories reflect broad public support for the sensible workplace standard, and cap a historic year in which the number of locations with the policy has nearly tripled and workers who will have access to paid sick days has more than tripled.

“If there was ever a test of the public support for paid sick days, it was this election,” said Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work and nationwide leader in the fight for paid sick days. “And voters answered unequivocally: no worker should have to choose between missing a day’s pay and caring for their health or the health of a family member.”

Despite efforts by business front groups and industry-backed lobbyists to thwart progress, an overwhelming majority of Americans support paid sick days, and polling shows that voters are less likely to support a candidate for elected office if they oppose the policy. Yet, nearly 40 percent of the workforce lacks even a single paid sick day, and millions more can’t use their time to care for a sick child, or are given disciplinary points for using the time they’ve earned.

With Tuesday’s victories at the ballot box, three U.S. states and sixteen cities have passed paid sick days legislation – including two states and ten cities in 2014 alone. And additional paid sick days laws are under consideration in numerous states and several municipalities, including Chicago and Tacoma, WA.

“From rural towns in Massachusetts to metropolitan Oakland, Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike didn’t just support paid sick days Tuesday, they demanded them,” continued Bravo. “For months, diverse coalitions of workers, small business owners, and community groups organized to put paid sick days on the ballot, and then launched unprecedented public education and mobilization campaigns. It was democracy in its truest form. Legislators and candidates everywhere should take note of the political power of paid sick days.”

How Paid Sick Days Played Across the Country

Massachusetts

The paid sick days referendum in Massachusetts, Question 4, was a leading news story throughout the election cycle, with one Boston Globe columnist noting that the “campaign seemed to be generating more enthusiasm than either candidate topping their party ticket.” More than 75 Massachusetts economists; the state’s Catholic bishops; dozens of businesses, including the state’s leading hospitals; and the overwhelming majority of Massachusetts newspapers endorsed Question 4.

In fact, voters’ consistent and strong support for Question 4 – polls throughout showed a 25-point plus margin in favor of the measure – even led Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker, initially opposed to paid sick days, to introduce his own alternative proposal in September. Ultimately, voters approved Question 4, ensuring that Massachusetts workers in businesses with more than 10 employees can earn one hour of paidsick time for every 30 hours worked, up to maximum of 40 hours per year. As a result, nearly one million Massachusetts workers who did not have paid sickdays will now have access.

The victory in Massachusetts is due to a large-scale grassroots effort that began as early as 2013, when the Raise Up Massachusetts coalition collected a record-breaking 250,000 signatures to put a higher minimum wage and paid sick time on the 2014 ballot. The campaign continued throughout the year and into the fall, gaining the attention of the Associated Press and Boston Globe, among others, for its extensive organizing work. Just days before the election, the coalition announced it would reach 1.5 million Massachusetts voters about Question 4 by election day – the largest effort for a ballot referendum in the state’s history.

“Voters in every community understood the need for earned sick time, and when they learned about Question 4 from our grassroots volunteers, they were eager to vote yes,” said Deb Fastino, co-chair of the Yes On Question 4 coalition. “Our field campaign was unprecedented for a ballot question, and the impact of thousands of volunteers talking to their neighbors about the benefits of Question 4 was a powerful force in this election.”

New Jersey

Voters in two New Jersey cities – Montclair and the capital Trenton – passed ballot initiatives Tuesday allowing workers to earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. Employees who provide food service, child care or home health care, or who work for companies with 10 or more employees, could earn up to 40 hours of paid sick leave each year; all other employees would have access to up to 24 hours.

Tuesday’s victories follow a historic streak of wins in New Jersey – called the “biggest wave of paid sick days victories ever” by one national media outlet. In the past two months, a broad New Jersey coalition of workers, advocates, labor and community groups helped pass paid sick days in four New Jersey cities — Paterson, Irvington, East Orange and Passaic. In each of the four cities, supporters gathered enough signatures to put paid sick days on the ballot in November. Under New Jersey’s Faulkner Act, local lawmakers instead took up the ordinance and passed it as law themselves.

In October, the coalition launched two public education and get out of the vote campaigns in Trenton and Montclair. Several prominent national figures weighed in supporting their efforts, including Anne-Marie Slaughter, who wrote an October column in the Star-Ledger “encouraging all residents in Montclair and Trenton to vote ‘yes’ on paid sick days.”

With 83% of New Jerseyans supportive of a statewide paid sick days bill that would cover 1.2 million workers, state legislators began to notice. Last week, momentum at the local level spurred the NJ Assembly to advance the legislation, setting up a potential facedown with New Jersey Governor and possible 2016 presidential candidate Chris Christie. In total, more 100,000 New Jersey workers gained coverage under local paid sick days laws passed in recent weeks, and success in Montclair and Trenton adds another 20,200 workers.

“We let voters know that the top priority for Trenton and Montclair’s working families was at the bottom of the ballot this year,” said Phyllis Salowe Kaye, executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action and spokesperson for the New Jersey Time to Care Coalition. “This is an issue with tremendous momentum and popular support, and voters realize they have the power to make their cities a fairer, healthier place to live and work.”

Oakland, CA

On Tuesday, Oakland residents passed a ballot initiative – proposition FF – that will increase the city’s minimum wage to $12.25 and ensure that workers can earn paid sick days, either nine or five depending on the size of their employer. The measure, which was modeled on the successful policy in San Francisco, would help 56,000 private sector workers who currently don’t have access to a single paid sick day. And the legislation goes well above the minimum number of paid sick days recently passed by the State of California.

The proposition was supported by Lift Up Oakland, a diverse group of labor and community groups, who led a widespread voter outreach effort. The coalition gathered more than 33,000 signatures to put the initiative on the ballot, successfully stopped a competing measure, andknocked on thousands of doors in the final days of the campaign. Throughoutelection season, polling showed strong support from Bay-area voters for the proposal, which was backed by the United Way of Bay Area, and dozens of small businesses and community organizations. Research from the University of California Berkeley found that the measure would put $120 million in workers’ pockets, benefit the local economy, and have no negative impact on employment.

Family Values @ Work is a network of coalitions in 21 states that organize for paid sick days and paid family leave. See more at www.familyvaluesatwork.org

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