A pair of Buncombe County-based Democratic legislators are working to mandate, and raise awareness for, paid leave for hourly workers. Representative Susan Fisher and state Senator Terry Van Duyn voiced concerns about the issue during a rally at Pritchard Park on Tuesday, Sept. 6. About 40 people listened as various speakers advocated for statewide legislation to mandate paid sick days.
The North Carolina Justice Center, a low-wage advocacy organization, claims more than one million North Carolina workers do not have access to paid sick leave, stating that those workers comprise
39 percent of the private-sector workforce.
According to North Carolina labor law, “An employer is not required by law to give mandatory wage benefits such as vacation pay, sick leave, jury duty pay and holiday pay to its employees regardless of how many hours a week they work.”
Before the rally, Fisher told Xpress she plans to introduce a bill that would mandate upward of seven days of paid leave days for employees, based on the size of their employer. “We’ve had Family Medical Leave Act for 20 plus years, and still workers have not seen a move toward paid leave at all,” she said. The Family Medical Leave Act is federal legislation that gives workers the right for unpaid time away from their job due to various medical reasons.
Fisher said many people face pressure to work while under the weather, creating unfair choices. “In many professions, especially the service industry, if you don’t show up you don’t get paid. If you’re sick, and legitimately unable to work, you’re choosing between taking care of yourself, or a sick family member, or losing a day of pay,” she said.
Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, executive director of Campaign for Southern Equality and presumptive winner of District 1 of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, says other states have had success with addressing paid leave for hourly workers. “We’ve seen states like New York roll out some comprehensive paid leave policies. And that sets the tone for what is possible across the state, especially when you’re in a state where local powers are restricted,” she said.
“This is also something that local municipalities can do. Greensboro has done it recently by adopting more extensive paid leave policy. And certainly individual employers can,” Beach-Ferrara noted.
Vicki Meath, executive director of Just Economics of Western North Carolina, said North Carolina is “behind on a lot of worker-friendly legislation and policies.” She, too, believes other states have had success with mandating paid time off for hourly workers, but said she’s hopeful that legislators and “responsible” business owners will help build momentum for the issue.
Meantime, Van Duyn said the economy is largely fueled by hourly-employees. “Our economy is based on the spending ability of workers. We will not sustain this recovery if we don’t start paying people what they deserve. If you work for a living you should be able to raise your family without worrying if you get sick,” she said.
Fisher also believes providing paid time off will bolster spending and morale. “What we’ve found is it does not hurt the economy, it helps the economy. It keeps children well, keeps day cares open, spreads less infection and makes for a more productive workforce,” she said.