The Logic Behind the Oregon Paid Sick Leave Mandate Holds

Paid sick leave is humane, necessary, popular, and doesn't hurt businesses. So why have only four states adopted it?


It’s great that the Oregon legislature has passed a bill mandating paid sick leave. It’s universally popular, moral, and increasingly necessary. More to the point, it is a win-win for the business community, which is made up of humans who occasionally come down with something.

There’s been a groundswell of support for the mandate in Oregon for years as roughly half of the state’s private sector workers labor without any sick leave along with a full 80 percent of the low-wage earners. Still, The American Prospect reports that the state legislature needed a raresupermajority of Democrats to pass legislation, and that the 17-13 vote was split straight across party lines. A 2013 attempt at this failed.

“There’s a huge political consequence for being against paid sick days,” Dan Cantor, the national director for the Working Families Party, told Think Progress. Well, sorry Dan, but no, there isn’t.

Not that the 13 legislators who voted “nay” represent most people. Paid sick leave is one of those deals that transcends party alignment so long as you don’t happen to belong to a party professionally. Americans overwhelming support the right to paid sick leave, as many as 85 percent in one poll. Try getting even 85 percent of people at your job to even agree on what kind of pizza to order for lunch.

A likely answer is that so many of us can agree because sickness doesn’t discriminate. We have an aging population who have elderly relatives to take care of no matter who they voted for. We have new moms that need time to be new moms. We seem to blessedly understand that there’s something shameful about using an employees health for leverage. And if all that fails you, maybe you remember that time that asshole Rick came in spewing phlegm all over his keyboard and pretty soon the whole place sounded like a tuberculosis sanatarium. But you know what, Rick’s not the asshole, the people who made Rick choose between making rent and staying home are the assholes.

Forgive Rick. 

Opponents say this will hurt businesses, that employees will abuse the power to nurse their newborn children, and employers will finally be forced to let people go. But, thanks to the sadly few pioneers in the field, we now have enough test markets to prove that none of these things are remotely true. The bottom line is solid, the CEO’s manage to get through the year without hoping grandma sends a card with a check for $10 on their birthday. 

Still Obama’s push for a federal law languishes and while Hillary and Bernie have both made sick leave part of their campaigns, that it even remains a point of contention is straight comedy. But hey, congratulations at least to Oregon. Your politicians finally rose up to be almost as good as your people. Sort of. 

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