Paid Sick Days Gains (Some) Traction In Statehouse

Mar 14, 2014

An effort to mandate paid sick days for all Vermont workers appears destined to wither on the vine this year. But at least one class of employees could soon be enjoying the new benefit.

The union that represents state workers and the Shumlin Administration have struck a tentative deal on issues surrounding the use of temporary employees. And the agreement would provide up to five days of paid sick leave per year for all temps working in state government.

The bill would provide temps with one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours of work, with a cap of five days a year.

Steve Howard, legislative director for the Vermont State Employees Association, says paid sick days will ensure dignity for temporary employees and a healthier workforce in state government.

“They are able to stay home and not come to work and make the rest of the workforce in state government sick and able to actually get their health together, take care of their family, and then come back and focus on the work that they’re doing,” Howard says. “So it’s a basic human right story.”

Gov. Peter Shumlin has ducked questions this year about whether he would support legislation that aims to require Vermont employers to provide paid sick leave to their full- and part-time employees. Proponents of the bill say about 60,000 Vermont workers currently go without the benefit. Powerful business interests have lined up in opposition to the legislation.

The bill apparently doesn’t have enough support to get a vote on the House floor this year. But Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding says Shumlin wants to lead by example for other businesses in Vermont. Spaulding says the state has long given paid sick time to its fulltime and part-time employees.

"To the extent there are temporary employees that are working for the state of Vermont for longer periods of time, we thought it would be appropriate for them to be able to earn paid sick time as well." - Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding

The paid sick days provision is part of a larger bill that also would also create a special review process for state employees working more than 30 hours a week. The union hopes the review would result in more temps being brought on as fulltime government workers.

The temp bill could create some intrigue later this session, as it opens the door for some political maneuvering by proponents of the more comprehensive paid sick days legislation.

House Speaker Shap Smith told Seven Days this week that he won’t allow the broader paid sick time bill to reach the floor unless it has the votes to pass – something supporters have been unable to demonstrate thus far.

But the language in the temp-worker bill could make it a vehicle for other paid-sick-time amendments. And if supporters of the broader sick-time movement fail to get their underlying bill through the committee process, they may decide to force the issue by presenting it as a floor amendment to the temp legislation.

As many as 1,050 temporary employees work for the state of Vermont at any given time – the numbers spike in the summer, when seasonal employees staff state parks. Spaulding says providing those employees paid sick time will add about $200,000 to state labor costs next year.