State Sen. Edith Prague. Credit: File Photo / CTNewsJunkie

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy signed a controversial piece of legislation last week mandating some companies to offer paid sick leave to their employees, securing Connecticut a place in the history of workers’ rights.

The battle was a long one, but Malloy used his political capital to guarantee its passage.

Opponents said the new law sends the wrong message to Connecticut business, but supporters believe it is a move the right direction, potential affecting thousands of workers across the state.

“This a proud moment for Connecticut. The paid sick days bill makes our state smarter, healthier, and more compassionate. We’re proud to have been a part of this historic legislation,” said Jon Green, executive director of Connecticut Working Families, the bill‘s main proponent.

Malloy stated his support of legislation as part of his campaign, and said he would sign the bill following its passage. The bill passed with a narrow 18-17 vote in the Senate and a 76-65 vote in the House after nearly 11 hours of debate.

To garner passage lawmakers diluted the bill to exempt manufacturing industries and YMCA, but the law still includes service workers including waiters and waitresses and retail clerks working for companies with 50 or more employees. The law does not apply to any company that already offers vacation or other time off to its employees.

Proponents have been pushing for similar legislation for four years but were unable to find the political will to pass it.

Then when the bill faced uncertainty in the Senate, Malloy spoke with senators on the fence to push what he said is a “reasonable compromise that represents good public policy.”

“Prior to (Malloy’s) intervention we felt pretty confident we had enough votes to stop it. After that intervention we did not have enough votes. It appears it did sway a couple people. There were some people that voted no consistently on this bill in the past that voted yes this evening,” Joe Brennan, senior vice president of public policy for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association said after the bill passed the Senate.

Those supporting the measure agree with the opposition’s sentiment that Malloy played a substantial role in the passage of the bill.

“We thank Governor Malloy, who demonstrated strong, unwavering support, tireless leaders like State Senator Edith Prague, and the extraordinary work of the Connecticut Working Families Organization, the Everybody Benefits coalition and other allies,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership.

Connecticut became the first state to mandate certain companies provide sick leave. San Francisco and Washington D.C. passed similar legislation at the local level.

“With Connecticut blazing a trail, America is closer to becoming a family friendly nation,” Ness said.

“When Connecticut’s paid sick days law is demonstrated successful for both workers and businesses, like the laws elsewhere, the business lobby’s aggressive, knee-jerk opposition will be discounted as the empty scare tactic it is.”

During the legislative debate lawmakers heard moving testimony about how it would help domestic violence victims such as Paula Broderick.

Broderick has a very personal stake in the bill. Twenty years ago, while she was working as a clerical employee at a Connecticut hospital, Broderick was a victim of domestic violence and rape. When she was able to extract herself from the situation, she went to the Prudence Crandall Safe House in New Britain, she said.

In an April Op-Ed for CTNewsJunkie, she described her condition at the time: “When I escaped, I was in bad shape. I had been raped; I had bruises around my neck, and a ruptured ear drum. The next day, I called out sick to seek medical care and a restraining order.”

Unfortunately, her job did not offer paid time off.

“I needed time to recuperate. But with no paid time off, I lost wages at a time I desperately needed them,” she said.

She soon lost her job as a direct result of taking time off, she said. Broderick has since worked as a shelter advocate and said her situation is not uncommon among women fleeing abusive relationships.

“People don’t understand how important support is and how they desperately need support from their employers,” she said.

The state’s business community vehemently opposes the idea of paid sick leave, but Broderick has a different take.

She said she has managed people over the years and has learned that the relationship between employers and employees is a two-way street. Employees who are treated with respect and dignity are harder workers who are more loyal.

She said the measure is positive and progressive, something the state is known for.

“I feel this bill is about human decency. That has to be good for business,” she said. “Connecticut has a long history of passing innovative measures on many levels.”

With no choice, but to comply with the new law the Connecticut Business and Industry Association will be holding two training programs for employers 8:30 a.m., July 19 in Cromwell and July 20 in Shelton. To sign up for either event click here.