In a flurry of budget amendment votes in the U.S. Senate last week – unofficially referred to as “vote-a-rama” – those of us who advocate for paid sick days and other family friendly workplace policies witnessed an encouraging and unprecedented sign of progress.
On Thursday, Healthy Families Act champion Senator Patty Murray introduced Amendment 798, a nonbinding amendment in support of paid sick days. And it passed. Sixty-one senators voted in favor of it – 44 Democrats, 15 Republicans and two independents.
The amendment is symbolic, to be sure, and the reason some senators voted “yes” is the subject of much speculation. But its passage suggests that paid sick days have acquired new status on Capitol Hill. Here are five reasons the vote was a significant step in the right direction:
- Budget amendment votes can forecast lawmakers’ priorities. These votes are symbolic, but they can signal the agendas of some members of Congress. We already know that Senator Murray and Representative Rosa DeLauro are committed to advancing the Healthy Families Act this year – hopefully with a floor vote in the Senate – and the introduction and bipartisan passage of this amendment is a good start.
- Budget amendment votes put members of Congress “on record.” Without recorded votes, it can be difficult to determine lawmakers’ positions on the issues we care about. Budget actions like this one create an official record, and that can make it easier to hold lawmakers accountable. Thanks to this vote, we have a better sense than ever before of where senators stand on paid sick days – and a basis for asking them to make their support more meaningful by supporting the Healthy Families Act.
- The vote reflects coast-to-coast paid sick days momentum and the success of existing laws. Workers in 21 jurisdictions* across the country now have or will soon have access to paid sick days laws through state or local laws. And all the evidence from longstanding laws and employer policies makes clear that paid sick days are good for workers and families, businesses and the economy. This vote suggests lawmakers are taking note.
- The vote is a clear sign that lawmakers are hearing from – and listening to – their constituents. We know from public opinion polling and ballot measures that voters support paid sick days policies, and they want elected officials to do so too. Eighty-one percent of voters say it’s important for lawmakers to consider new laws like paid sick days and paid family and medical leave; 64 percent say they are more likely to vote for lawmakers who support policies that promote families’ economic security, including paid sick days. And in 2014, voters in Massachusetts and three cities approved paid sick days laws (meaning paid sick days measures passed everywhere they were on a ballot).
- The vote shows that lawmakers are recognizing paid sick days as both good policy and good politics. The fact that lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle understand that it’s to their benefit to be on the right side of this issue is a reflection of increasingly strong evidence, demand and advocacy in support of paid sick days. It’s becoming clear that it’s an issue lawmakers cannot ignore.
In short, last week’s budget amendment vote was promising. But there is more work to do. Many senators who voted “yes” are not yet co-sponsors of the Healthy Families Act. It’s time for all members of Congress who claim to support this bill to demonstrate in real terms where they stand on paid sick days by co-sponsoring and ultimately passing the Healthy Families Act. America’s workers and families – all of us – are counting on it.
* Paid sick days laws are or will soon be in place in 21 jurisdictions across the country. Three states: Connecticut (enacted 2011, effective 2012), California (enacted 2014, effective 2015) and Massachusetts (enacted 2014, effective 2015). And 18 cities: San Francisco (enacted 2006, effective 2007) and Oakland (enacted 2014, effective 2015), Calif.; Washington, D.C. (enacted and effective 2008 and expanded 2014); Seattle (enacted 2011, effective 2012) and Tacoma (enacted 2015, effective 2016), Wash.; Portland (enacted 2013, effective 2014) and Eugene (enacted 2014, effective 2015), Ore.; New York City (enacted 2013, expanded and effective 2014); Bloomfield (enacted and effective 2015), East Orange, Irvington, Jersey City, Montclair, Newark, Paterson, Passaic and Trenton, N.J. (all enacted in 2013 and 2014, effective in 2014 or 2015); and Philadelphia, Pa. (enacted and effective 2015).