Hugh McQuaid Photo
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

Describing Connecticut as a leader in progressive workplace ideals, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro called Tuesday for the state’s first-in-the-nation paid sick leave law to be adopted at the federal level.

The legislature passed a statewide policy in 2011, mandating that some employers offer paid time off for sick days. The business community lobbied heavily against the legislation and in order to win passage, the bill was narrowly written to apply only to businesses with more than 50 workers and excluding manufacturers and YMCAs.

Although the cities of San Francisco and Washington, D.C. have similar policies, more than two years after its passage, Connecticut is still the only state to have adopted the law.

DeLauro, a Democrat representing the state’s 3rd Congressional District, held a press conference Tuesday in Hamden to outline her agenda aimed at improving the economic status of women and families. Many of the components of her agenda are policies that have been enacted here in Connecticut, including the paid sick leave law.

“We should be justifiably proud of the critical role our state plays in forming and leading the nation on pro-family policies. In our federal system, our states in fact serve as laboratories for sound policy making and the good policies that start at that level trickle upward,” she said, standing with advocates in a noisy shopping center parking lot.

DeLauro said Connecticut led the way in 1987, when it passed the first Family Medical Leave Act, seeking to prevent workers from being fired for taking unpaid emergency leave. The law became the model for the national Family Medical Leave Act, which DeLauro said has been used 100 million times since it was adopted by the federal government.

She said she wants to see that FMLA expanded to cover more workers and to also incorporate a paid sick leave mandate like the one approved on the state level.

“We need to make sure that workers have access to paid leave . . . paid sick days so they can take care of their families,” she said. “Eighty-six percent of Americans support paid sick days.”

However, the concept seems unlikely to be embraced by the majority in Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives. It was a difficult sell for lawmakers here in Connecticut where Democrats control both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office. The bill cleared the state House in a tight 76-65 vote with 16 Democrats joining a Republican minority to oppose it.

The legislation was contested by business advocates who viewed it as a symbol of state’s unfriendliness to businesses and an incentive for employers to keep their payroll numbers down to avoid falling under its mandate.

Since the law took effect in January 2012, some businesses affected by the policy have been reluctant to hire new employees or expand, Eric Gjede, assistant counsel for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association said Tuesday.

“I don’t think it’s panned out very well here in Connecticut,” he said. “. . . Not one other single state has adopted it on their own because I think they recognize this is not something that helps businesses.”

Gjede said he believes the policy has contributed to the state’s slow rebound from the economic downturn and predicts a federal version would stymie growth on the national level.

DeLauro dismisses the concerns and points to other, now commonly accepted workplace mandates.

“You can go back to minimum wage, you can go back to Social Security, you can go back to Medicare. There’s always a group of people that said this kind of legislation is . . . unwarranted or it’s going collapse our economy,” she said.

Hugh McQuaid Photo
Christine Palm (Hugh McQuaid Photo)

During the press conference, Christine Palm, communications director for the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, spoke of recent personal and family emergency situations which have required her to take time off from work. She said she was lucky to work for the state of Connecticut.

“If it weren’t for our paid sick leave policy, I don’t know, somebody or something would have suffered mightily this summer,” she said.