Monday morning, U.S. Rep. Don Beyer advocated for legislation that would mandate paid sick leave for U.S. workers, saying it was critical both for workers and community in the time of coronavirus.
Tuesday, Beyer found himself grateful for the sick leave, health coverage and other supports he has as he began self-quarantine following a positive test for COVID-19 by a friend in Washington D.C., with whom he recently had dinner.
“This afternoon my wife Megan and I were contacted by the Virginia Department of Health to share details with us about the illness of a friend who tested positive for COVID-19 after dining with us. They informed us that the timeline of his infection began shortly after our contact on Feb. 28.
“At the request of the public health officials, I will self-quarantine to ensure that I do not pass on any potential illness to others. In the 10 days since that dinner neither of us has shown symptoms, and we understand that the probability that we have an infection is low.”
Nearly 27 percent of employees don’t have comprehensive paid sick leave.
Workers without sick pay can’t afford to stay home when they are sick, or quarantined, one of the pillars of containing the national outbreak of novel coronavirus.
U.S. Rep. Rose DeLauro (D-Ct) introduced legislation Monday that would require all employers to allow workers to accrue seven days of paid sick leave and an additional 14 days in the event of a public health emergency. Beyer, U.S. Rep. David Trone and DeLauro with advocates held a conference call to discuss the proposal with reporters on Monday.
“This comes at a critical time. A quarter of workers don’t have comprehensive paid sick leave,” said Beyer Monday.
Beyer pointed to data that shows that in cities that require paid sick leave, the rate of flu is significantly lower. “Not only is the worker protected, the whole community is a lot healthier,” said Beyer.
“This is an absolutely necessary piece of legislation,” he said.
Trone pointed to Maryland where the 2018 Maryland Healthy Working Family Act requires that paid sick leave be provided by all employers with more than 15 employees. (In 2018, Md. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) had vetoed the bill, but the Maryland Senate voted to override the veto.)
“Good business is all about taking care of your employees,” said Trone. “Now is the time to move this forward, it makes all the sense in the world.”
Maryland and Virginia have identified multiple confirmed cases of coronavirus as of Wednesday.
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va) cosponsored the emergency paid sick leave legislation, introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and DeLauro.
“A public health crisis like the coronavirus underscores the urgent need to pass paid sick leave legislation. Workers deserve the flexibility to care for their health without fear of losing a paycheck,” said Kaine. “This legislation will help ensure that no American has to put their health – and the health of others in their community – at risk to keep their job.”
MORE THAN 32 MILLION private sector workers are unable to earn paid sick days. Workers of color and workers in low-wage industries are among the least likely to have access to paid sick days.
Deborah Ness is the president of the National Partnership for Women and Families. “This is not a new issue. It has been hurting our workers and our families for too long,” said Ness.
“When emergencies hit, they often affect the people who work most closely with our public,” Ness said. Workers can’t afford to stay home and lose their pay check or possibly their jobs. “The situation is inhumane and dangerous for our nation’s health,” said Ness.
Trone and Beyer are both businessmen who tout offering paid sick leave to employees. Trone founded Total Wine which has 7,000 employees. Beyer’s family business, Don Beyer Volvo, has “about one-twentieth” that number of employees, he said.
Beyer’s congressional office will be closed until Monday, March 16, when his medical advisers say he should be clear to return.
“I am keenly aware that I have social and economic supports, including affordable health care, paid leave, and other benefits which far too many Americans lack. As I work from home and when I hopefully return to the Capitol I will have these people and those who badly need assistance from leaders in Washington foremost in my mind. We have to do more to help every American get through this pandemic.”
Last week in the Virginia General Assembly, a bill to require some paid sick leave failed in the Virginia Senate just as Virginia’s first cases of coronavirus were confirmed.
The Virginia Senate failed to vote on the conference committee report on SB 481, that would have required employers to provide five paid sick days to employees. The Virginia House of Delegates had approved the conference committee report earlier.