CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Senate Minority Leader says now is the time for West Virginia to start talking about guaranteeing workers paid sick time.
Sen. Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall, 02) and five other Democrats have introduced legislation at the State Capitol that would make the Mountain State the fourth state with such a law.
“That’s a tough choice to make between going to work when you’re sick as a dog or not putting food on the table at the end of the week,” Kessler said of the estimated more than 225,000 workers in West Virginia who are currently allowed no paid sick days to care for themselves or other family members when ill.
“By giving them one hour for every 40 (hours), put it in the bank and only use it for true sick days so they can stay home, recuperate, perhaps not contaminate the rest of us, particularly in the food handling industry, I think it’s a win-win,” he said of the proposal.
In 2006, San Francisco, Ca. became the first U.S. locality to guarantee access to earned paid sick days, according to information from the National Partnership for Women and Families. Several other cities including Washington, D.C. and Portland, Ore. have implemented such policies.
Two states, California and Connecticut, already have statewide paid sick day laws. Similar legislation will take effect this July in Massachusetts.
Kessler’s proposed Earned Sick Time Act would set standards for the use and accrual of the time. It distinguishes between unpaid and paid sick time for certain employers based on employer size, while allowing exceptions for more generous employer policies and collective bargaining agreements.
Employers who do not comply would face monetary penalties or misdemeanor charges.
“We keep going back to ‘free market, free market,’ but sometimes the government’s got to prod the free market to do that right thing,” Kessler said.
On Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline,” Kessler admitted SB 528 is a long shot for passage before the end of the 2015 Regular Legislative Session on March 14, but he said it’s a step he thinks West Virginia should eventually take.
“It gives those folks who are working and working without any type of sick leave an opportunity to stay healthy, keep the rest of us healthy, so they can tend to their families,” said Kessler.
The first of three Senate committee stops for the bill is the Senate Labor Committee.