It was one of the last big pushes for a piece of legislation that will mandate private employers to allow their employees to earn paid sick time.
The Connecticut Working Families Party, the main proponents of the legislation, was talking to lawmakers outside the House chamber Wednesday evening trying to get their support, but the bill’s first and most difficult hurdle will be in the Senate where the vote count is razor thin.
Sen. Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, was cornered by a group of Working Family Party members Wednesday who were trying to convince him the bill wouldn’t harm Connecticut’s business environment.
“If paid sick days passes, Connecticut will be the only state in the country to pass such a piece of legislation and what kind of message does that send?” McKinney said. “It says Connecticut is not open to business.”
He said there’s nothing the group could have said that would have convinced him to vote for the legislation, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t enjoy the conversation.
McKinney said he can’t support the legislation because something like 86 percent of businesses with 50 or more employees already offer paid sick leave and those that don’t can’t afford to. Mandating companies with 50 or more employees “would make Connecticut much less business friendly,” said McKinney.
Kia Murrell, assistant counsel at the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said there‘s rumors the bill could come up for a vote in the Senate as early as this week, but she thinks there‘s sufficient opposition to the legislation.
“I think the votes we have aren‘t going to change,” Murrell said Wednesday.
Even if there are amendments to change the types of businesses the bill applies to Murrell said she‘s confident Senators opposed will remain opposed. She said any amendment to the legislation is “smoke and mirrors,” because if the bill is limited to certain industries then it comes at an expense to those advocates say need it most.
She said a lot of the businesses with low wage earners can’t afford to offer paid sick leave benefits and even if they were they can’t afford to pass them along to their customers because they’d lose their competitive edge.
Jon Green, executive director of the Working Families Party, acknowledged that his group is looking to amend the legislation and perhaps woo a few more lawmakers by limiting it to service employees such as waitresses, chefs, bus drivers and health care workers who deal directly with the public.
“Unlimited breadsticks but no paid sick days,” Green said. The saying is a reference to the Olive Garden where the group hosted a protest last week.
Green said amending the legislation to include only service workers goes to the heart of the issue, which is making sure disease doesn’t spread. He also said it helps make sure low wage workers that get no other benefits are able to choose to stay home, instead of come to work sick and spread their illness to others because they can’t afford to miss a paycheck.
Since the amended version will only impact the service industry, which is not competing across state lines in many cases, there won’t be any economic impact, Green said.
As he’s traveled the state explaining the legislation Green’s learned there are many misconceptions. At a recent visit to a small manufacturing company Green asked what benefits they currently offer their employees. When the company told him it included paid vacation and paid sick time he explained to them that the legislation wouldn’t apply to them. But he said it wasn’t until the third time he said it that it began to sink in.
He said that’s when he realized instead of having to explain this to hundreds of companies across the state, it may just be simpler to amend the legislation.
But with slimmer margins in the Senate than previous years both Green and Murrell agree the vote is close.
There are anywhere from seven Democratic Senators possibly voting against the measure and with only two Republicans voting in favor of it the vote tally is within one vote of a tie. A tie vote would need to be broken by Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman who is in favor of the legislation.
Click here for our previous coverage of the issue this session.