By Sheri Williams
Pushed by unions concerned about the health of workers, Governor Gavin Newsom and California legislators are fast-tracking a deal to bring back two weeks of paid sick leave for employees hit by the coronavirus.
“Working people deeply appreciate the Governor and legislative leadership acting with urgency to extend paid sick leave for workers stricken by COVID. From the first day of this pandemic, working people have been on the frontlines protecting our families, communities and economy,” said Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation.
“Paid sick leave is one of the most potent weapons we have in the arsenal to protect these brave workers and slow the spread of this deadly disease,” Pulaski continued. “With Omicron surging in California and the potential of other variants right around the corner, we can’t waste any time in reinstating COVID paid sick leave. California’s unions are fighting tooth-and-nail to ensure that no worker has to choose between going to work sick or feeding her family. Not only does this measure protect workers, it’s vital to tamping down the surge and keeping schools and businesses open.”
The previous effort to provide sick leave for workers during the pandemic expired in September of last year, leaving essential workers vulnerable to cut paychecks and lost jobs just as the Omicron wave hit U.S. shores. There have been reports of employers pressuring workers to return to their jobs even after testing positive for the virus, putting others at risk.
The new deal will give workers 40 hours of paid sick leave if they contract the virus, and an additional 40 hours to take care of family members that fall ill. The Legislature is expected to move quickly to pass the measure in the next few weeks and send it to Newsom for his signature.
The measure is retroactive, meaning that workers can claim the benefit for illnesses back to Jan. 1, 2022. The benefit applies to employees of companies that have 25 or more workers. Part-time workers also qualify for the benefit at a reduced level. The benefit does not require proof of immigration status, though some employers have tried to tell workers that it does.
“We thank Governor Newsom and our legislative leaders for reaching this agreement on supplemental paid sick leave,” said Jeff Freitas, president of the California Federation of Teachers and Vice President of the California Federation of Labor. “Restoring supplemental paid sick leave is critical to our teachers and school workers, many of whom right now are being forced to choose between their jobs and the health and safety of their families, and the students they serve. We urge the California Legislature to move as fast as possible to make this agreement law.”