Congress Writes Off the Health of American Workers
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Congress Writes Off the Health of American Workers

December 7, 2017

By Lorelei Salas

The “Workflex in the 21st Century Act” is making its way through the legislative process and would cost American workers dearly

Congress is threatening to rollback paid sick leave protections, warns New York DCA Commissioner Lorelei Salas.

by taking away key workplace protections that are provided currently by states and localities across the country. At least eight states and 32 localities have paid sick leave laws that would be stripped away by Workflex. This legislation, would allow businesses to opt-out of local and state paid leave laws, leaving workers at the mercy of their employers and in a position where they may need to choose between their paycheck and their health.

The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, the agency charged with implementing and enforcing NYC’s Paid Sick Leave Law, vehemently opposes Workflex because it preempts state and local paid leave protections and is designed to limit employer liability and deny workers the certainty of paid sick leave protections, allowing big corporations to evade local laws and take away guaranteed protections. Supporters of this bill argue that a national standard for paid sick leave laws or scheduling standards is needed to help businesses with multiple locations navigate varying requirements. However, employers with locations in multiple states and cities already deal with different rules and wage requirements for various other workplace laws. If these businesses are looking to simplify compliance, they need only to create company-wide policies that match the strongest standards in effect to ensure that they are following all labor laws. Instead, Workflex does not provide uniform leave for workers – it simply denies states and localities the ability to provide any.

Here in NYC, we are working tirelessly to ensure all workers have access both to paid leave so that they can care for themselves and their family, and to predictable schedules so they can create budgets, plan child care, or pursue education or a second job. In the three years since the NYC Paid Sick Leave Law went into effect, DCA has closed more than 1,150 cases, securing nearly $4.7 million in restitution for more than 20,000 workers. Many of these New Yorkers work for low wages as security guards, home health aides, restaurant workers, and retail workers, and many are immigrants, people of color, or women.

Paid sick leave laws have actually been good for business. Research by the Murphy Institute and Center for Economic and Policy Research shows that NYC’s Paid Sick Leave Law did not have a negative impact on businesses; In fact, the overwhelming majority of employers surveyed (more than 85 percent) reported the law did not increase costs, while more than 94 percent reported that the paid sick days law had no effect on productivity, and two percent reported that productivity increased. Similarly, 96 percent of employers reported no change in customer service as a result of the new law, and more than three percent saw an increase; less than one percent reported a decrease in customer service. Virtually no employers reported any change in turnover.

Last month, Mayor de Blasio signed the Paid Safe Leave Law, which expands paid leave in New York City to cover the needs of

DCA Commissioner Lorelei Salas.

survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and trafficking. The law will allow the nearly 3.5 million New Yorkers already eligible for paid leave to attend to immediate safety needs without fear of penalty or loss of income. It also expands the definition of family member for all uses of paid leave, Sick or Safe, to recognize chosen families, not just biological ones. The Workflex legislation would have a detrimental effect on the wellbeing of American workers by preempting these essential labor rights.

Congress is actively moving to take guaranteed protections away from employees and give more power to big businesses. If this makes you sick – pun intended – let Congress know you oppose it.

Lorelei Salas is the commissioner of the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs, which houses the City’s Office of Labor Policy and Standards (OLPS). OLPS is a dedicated voice in City government for workers in NYC. The Office protects and promotes labor standards and policies that create fair workplaces to ensure all workers can realize their rights, regardless of immigration status.

December 7, 2017

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