There has been some monumental progress over the past several years for America’s working class. Significant increases to the minimum wage, along with new laws designed to help low-wage workers nail down more secure schedules have helped incomes grow at their fastest rates on record. But most of these changes and laws are being passed at the local level, and millions of people are still staunchly opposed to them on principle.
That evidently hasn’t dissuaded President Obama from wanting to continue to push the envelope. Obama, who is nearing the end of his second term and has presided over a sluggish recovery from near economic disaster, has become more vocal and opinionated as of late. He’s famously let states experiment with marijuana laws, pushed health care reform, and even tried to “block the box” on federal job applications in an attempt to help people with spotty backgrounds get back in the workforce.
Now, he’s pushing for paid sick leave for the nation’s entire workforce — something he’s already done, via executive order, for federal contractors.
A sick leave law would mandate a set number of paid days off for workers all across the country to use when they’re too sick to work. Many employers already have these, or include them in a set number of “paid time off,” or “PTO” days, for workers to use at their discretion. So, why would such a mandate be necessary?
Obama’s plea for sick leave
Above, you can watch Obama directly advocating for paid sick leave, via a short video released by the White House. He brings up a few points, like the fact that millions of workers don’t have any paid sick days provided by their employers, and the fact that children getting sick and being unable to attend school can become a small crisis in some households.
“Today, having both parents in the workforce is an economic necessity for many families. But right now, millions of Americans don’t have access to even a single day of paid sick leave,” Obama said. “So if you get sick, that sticks you with a lousy choice. Do you go to work and get everyone else sick, too? Or do you take care of yourself at the risk of a paycheck? If your kid gets sick, do you send her to school anyway? Or do you stay home to take care of her, lose a day’s pay, and maybe even put your own job at risk?”
Obama says there are 40 million “private sector workers who don’t get a single day” of paid sick leave. Yes, it’s an issue — one that has been discussed for a long time. And Obama is only advocating for national sick leave laws, not threatening to pass them via executive order. His previous executive order extended sick leave to 437,000 federal workers who previously lacked it.
With that done, is it a good idea, or even feasible, to do it on a national scale?
Are national sick leave laws feasible?
The short answer, in our current political climate, is a resounding “no.” With Congress unable to work together to pass just about anything, creating and mandating something as sweeping as mandating sick leave would be nearly impossible. We have many lawmakers who are against the very concept of things like a minimum wage, let alone the idea of forcing businesses to pay people to take days off.
And that’s really what would be at the core of the opposition — the idea that you would be mandating, or forcing business owners to do something that they may not want to do. This might be an encroachment of freedoms, and saddle businesses with additional costs. The argument, from there, would detail how jobs could be lost as expenses pile up, and the economy would suffer.
Those worries aren’t without merit, but they’re also the same worries that have been used to fight similar laws, like those concerning the minimum wage. Still, you have to take into account the fact that America is the only developed country in the world that doesn’t have paid sick leave laws on a national scale.
Obama’s call for a new mandate, at this point in his presidency, isn’t likely to have much impact. His executive order could be rolled back by the next President (it’s hard to think that President Trump would allow such a thing to stand), and we could be back at square one. But his words do carry weight, and with a slew of local legislation having passed in recent years, it’s not unimaginable to see a serious discussion initiated.
But talk is cheap, and you shouldn’t expect anything big to change anytime soon.