Almost two years ago – a paid sick leave ordinance went to vote. It lost by not even a full percentage point. Most voters hadn’t even turned their ballot over to see the question.
The Heatlhy Workforce Ordinance would have given all employees the right to accrue sick leave at a rate of 1hr for every 30 worked – capped at 5 days a year for small businesses and 7 a year for large ones. You could use that time if you were sick, but also for legal aid, in the case of sexual abuse, to take care of a family and loved ones, even mental health was included - and you would never have to justify it to your boss. It wasn't any of their business.
For the 100,000 workers without any benefits at all, that would’ve made a huge difference.
It’s inhumane to force someone to work when they’re barely able to. We need to be able to take care of ourselves, and denying us that right puts our health at risk and risks spreading anything to our coworkers, or making an injury worse.
The right to take care of yourself and your loved ones is a pretty basic one, but we have been constantly treated as though it was something radical – even though it was one of those basic benefits that had come with full time work, just a few decades ago!
An extremely wide coalition formed around the issue, with women’s abuse shelters, El Centro (an immigrants’ rights group), the Center of Law and Poverty, the United Food and Commercial Workers union, and OLE (who I was working for as an intern at the time) all taking an active role in the campaign.
Originally sick leave had been imagined as just one part of a far larger labor reform - called the Fair Worked Week - which would have included 3-weeks advanced scheduling and pay for any changes made outside of that, a minimum of 8 hours between opening and closing shifts if the same employee had to work them, and maternity leave (although it proposed as a separate bill).
The vast majority of food and retail workers lack those rights today, having to deal with sudden schedule changes -and open availability for them, a minimum wage far below that of any other industries - $2.13 compared to the $8.80 the rest of us have, the inability to get a full 40 hours at any one single job, and few if any benefits – something that disproportionately hurts the women and people of color who make up the majority of service workers.
And in an economy where 2/3rds of all workers are in that sector (1/3rd just in food and retail), that’s a big deal for all of us!
The move to a service economy has largely eradicated 40-hour-a-week-employement, and with it - nearly all of the gains that the labor movement had fought for and won over the last century and a half. Workers today have the lowest real earnings in nearly a century and have fewer benefits and less hours now than they did even just 20 years ago.
Sick leave wasn’t radical then – and its not radical now. It’s survival under horrible conditions. But like I said, we were treated like it.
That first week that we announced the campaign, May Berry made a public statement that he would veto the Fair Workweek if it crossed his desk, and the Democrats on City Council refused to get involved – asking us to split the one reform into several, smaller ones instead.
The coalition was pretty hesitant to work outside of them, and agreed to split up the bills. But when they went on record and refused again - we made the decision get sick leave on the ballot ourselves, and were able to collect over 24 thousand petitions in just two months.
Those same politicians struck the ordinance from that year's city ballot, putting it on the county one instead - but then the County Commission struck it from their ballot, too.
We were pushed back almost 2 years – and the reason they told us was that we were going behind their backs. As though they had a right to limit ballot measures!
Even when we were finally given ballot access, were refused the right to a summary on the ballot and the over 20 pages of definitions and text were put on the backside of it, in illegible and illegally small, size 4 print.
We didn't lose because we were unpopular - the petitions proved that.
We lost because we took politicians at their word, and had even the self-proclaimed progressives working against us. The Democrats worked hand-in-hand with the Chamber of Commerce and Restaurant Association to undermine the bill, going on record to say how much it would hurt businesses. They even ordered an economic report from BBER to see what it's impacts were - and when the report agreed with us, they threw it away!
What it says is that sick leave would only cost $331 a year for the smallest business, and $140 for the largest - barely anything at all. The report said that our earn rate was actually too weak, and that any exceptions would be meaningless since franchises are counted as separate businesses and businesses were more likely to fire staff to meet the cutoff.
They still haven't released it, and have claim that they never got it. I have a copy of it with me today, if you want to take a look at it, yourself.
A competing bill was introduced just a week after the vote, by Councilors Ken Sanchez and Brad Winters - a bill that would only have covered 6% of those 100,000 workers, not given leave for any reason but sickness proved by a doctor's note, and had no means of enforcement.
It's was, and still is, weakest sick leave bill proposed in the entire country.
The council refused to take it to a vote for over a year, but used it as an excuse to accept any new, competing bills either. It died just last December, three months ago.
Not even two weeks after that, a third sick leave bill was proposed by Councilor Davis, reflecting the original, only for him to pull support from it himself - and go on record to say that he wasn't going to vote for his own bill, unless it was amended to compromise with the Sanchez one.
I'm sorry for the long history, but I need to make this point as clearly as I can. City Council isn't our friend. The 'progressives' on it won't even support progressive legislation - and we can't rely on them
They've stood in the way of a basic reform, every step of the way, and they won't change their minds if we keep voting for them. No matter how awful these people are - we keep voting for them! It's absurd!
The only way we're going to get anything done is if we do it ourselves - and this a great example of that. The Democrats don't care about us, all they care about is getting re-elected.
When they cross the Chamber, they get campaigned against, they get slammed in the media, and they lose their job.
But when they cross us - nothing happens. And that has to end.
We can't rely on a politican just because they're blue or call themselves a progressive, when they'll be putting their neck on the line.
The only way we can count on legislation to pass is if we really organize - mass action is the only tool we have. We don't have the money that the chamber does.
Just look at the Air Trafic Controllers and TSA. They went on strike and that's actually what ended the govornment shutdown. It wasn't Pelosi or the Democrats - they caved and compromised!
Or the way McDonald workers went on strike against sexual abuse, and were successful. Something that was inspired a ton by #MeToo
Or the teacher's strikes in Los Angeles and Denver. They won almost all of their demands - a better pay schedule, smaller class sizes, and they were able to stop their administration from terrorizing immigrant teachers.
We are seeing the rebirth of a major labor movement for the first since the 70’s - and the only way that we can move it forward is by organizing together. The teachers strikes were succesful exactly because those teachers had been organizing in their communities, around local demands for years. And when they went on strike, the community and their students and the parents supported them!
That's the only way we're going to build this new movment and keep it going. By organizing, union and non-union workers, hand in hand for better conditions for all of us. United we have the power - divided we have nothing.
It's how we'll put an end to the pay gap, it's how we'll stop abuse on the job, and it's how we'll win better conditions. It's the only way that we can do that.