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Paid Sick Days Bill (SB 481) Fails – Putting the Health of ALL Virginians at Risk

"Senator Chap Peterson, Democrat of Fairfax, led the opposition to the bill"

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From the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy:

Paid Sick Days bill (SB 481) fails – putting the health of ALL Virginians at risk

This afternoon, on the day the Virginia Department of Health announced two confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Commonwealth, the Senate refused to vote on the conference committee report on SB 481, a critical bill that would have required employers to provide five paid sick days to employees. The House approved the conference committee report on March 5 by a 52-45 vote.

When the bill first came to the Senate floor, it passed 23-17, but since then, legislators have been hammered by lobbyists from the National Federation of Independent Businesses, the Virginia Retail Federation, the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association, the Virginia Manufacturers Association, United Airlines, American Airlines, and the Virginia Poultry Federation.

During today’s conference committee report, Senator Chap Peterson, Democrat of Fairfax, led the opposition to the bill arguing that part-time workers should be exempt from coverage. Ironically, one of the confirmed coronavirus patients lives in Senator Peterson’s district.  The bill was “temporarily passed by,” which in General Assembly language at the end of a session means the bill was killed.  Passing it by allowed legislators to avoid having to vote against a paid sick day standard, which is desperately needed in Virginia and is extremely popular with voters.

“We are deeply disappointed by the legislators who have put Virginians at risk by refusing to pass a modest bill that would protect workers, families and public health. Without a paid sick day law, 1.2 million Virginians have no paid time off and many are forced to go to work sick and send their children to school sick,” said Kim Bobo, Executive Director of Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.

Workers who have no paid sick days include 81 percent of food service workers, 75 percent of childcare workers, and 47 percent of nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides. These workers handle our food and care for our children, the sick and the elderly. In fact, one of the most significant coronavirus outbreaks occurred in a nursing home.

Virginia’s failure to require employers to offer paid or unpaid sick days, given the coronavirus outbreak, is a missed opportunity to proactively address a public health emergency.  In fact, a 2018 study revealed that cities with paid sick day policies had 40 percent lower rates of the spread of infectious diseases.

The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy (VICPP) views paid sick days as a moral and an economic justice issue.  “We have met with countless workers who tell us they have been forced to go work sick because they had no choice.  Others sent their children to school sick when they’d rather have stayed home with them. They knew they put others at risk, but couldn’t risk losing their own jobs or their paychecks. We’ve also met with many business owners and community leaders who feel this bill is essential to protect the residents of the Commonwealth,” said Kim Bobo.

VICPP worked for more than a year with the bill patrons, Senator Barbara Favola (D-31st) and Delegate Elizabeth Guzman (D-31st) and the Virginia AFL-CIO and SEIU to try and pass this modest, yet essential law.

Worldwide, more than 101,000 cases have been reported and the virus is spreading at an alarming rate. The flu also spreads like wildfire and last year 34,200 people died from the flu. Perhaps some of them could have been saved if they had access to paid sick days to take care of themselves and heal.

“Stopping the spread of the flu and the coronavirus is best done by allowing sick people to recover at home,” said Amanda Silcox, coordinator for VICPP’s Paid Sick Days campaign. She added, “We are concerned that with no paid sick days, workers will show up to work sick and disease will spread across the Commonwealth. It’s the job of our legislators to protect public health and they have failed.”