The Rhode Island General Assembly passed the Healthy and Safe Families and Workplaces Act, benefiting more than 100,000 employees in the state as well as protecting all workers from retaliation for taking time off to care for themselves or a loved one. Advocates, led by Rhode Island Working Families Party, created an effective campaign to pass this important workplace benefit in just one legislative session, the quickest passage of a statewide earned sick measure nationally. The earned sick days bill passed the House by 59 to 11 and the Senate by 25 to 7.
Starting in July of 2018, workers can take up to three earned sick days, phasing up to four days in 2019, and finally five days starting on January 1, 2020. Workers in businesses with 17 or fewer employees can take up to three unpaid sick days each year without fear of being fired. The bill also allows workers to earn time to use as “safe time” for those escaping domestic violence. Ninety percent of Rhode Island workers will now have access to paid sick days. In addition, another 44,000 workers can take unpaid sick days. To protect workers in small businesses, advocates fought for and won language preventing those employers from punishing workers who take unpaid time off to care for themselves or loved ones.
Rhode Island’s new earned sick days bill is the first state measure passed since last November’s elections. While the federal government is stalled on working families issues like earned sick leave and raising the minimum wage, state campaigns are making significant advances.
Rhode Island Workers Families Party created a broad and effective coalition of labor, women’s, human rights, health care, and domestic violence advocates to earn quick passage of this bill so that he state’s workers could begin using this needed benefit. The coalition engaged hundreds of activists and thousands of individuals to organize, lobby, hold events, write postcards, send emails, use social media, and canvass to pass the earned sick days bill. Legislators received over 7,000 postcards and letters from constituents urging them to enact an earned sick days law.
Over 40 percent of Rhode Island’s private sector workers, approximately 170,000 employees, do not have access to a single day of sick time. These workers may forego medical care or risk financial instability when illness causes them to miss work. Workers in Rhode Island also lack protection from discipline or dismissal for short-term absences due to illness or domestic violence. The policy is widely popular among voters in Rhode Island. Polls show that over 80 percent of voters, including 90 percent of women and 68 percent of Republicans, support earned sick day legislation.
“Passing earned sick time helps many older people I work with who depend on their pay to live. Now when we get sick, my coworkers and I will no longer have to choose between missing a day’s pay or coming to work sick,” said Sandy Annicelli, a school bus aide at Metro West First Student in Cranston and Johnston resident. Annicelli appeared in a video illustrating the bind that workers face when they or a family member get sick.