Group pushes for paid leave for illness, sexual assault, domestic violence

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A grassroots organization of social justice advocates hopes to ask Michigan voters for a  guarantee that all workers have access to earned sick leave.

The Earned Sick Time Act would also allow victims of domestic and sexual assault to earn paid time if they miss work because of medical care, counseling appointments or court time.

MI Time to Care is the group leading the drive to get it on the statewide ballot. Backing the effort are Mothering Justice, an advocacy group of Michigan mothers, and two progressive groups based in Washington D.C. – Sixteen Minutes and The Fairness Project.

The proposal would require employers to offer one hour of paid leave to workers for every 30 hours they work. The group tried to get the measure on the ballot in 2016, but didn’t collect enough signatures.

Now they hope to get the measure before voters this August or November.

Danielle Atkinson, co-founder of Mothering Justice and the founding director for MI Time To Care, said the initiative would help more than 2 million people earn paid sick leave. Only seven states and Washington D.C require paid sick leave now, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The measure goes beyond providing assistance to people who get sick.

“Sexual and domestic violence became a part of the ballot initiative as other grassroots groups began to work with MI Time to Care,” Atkinson said.

Michigan allows victims time off to testify in court in response to a subpoena or request from the prosecuting attorney. Other protections keep employers from punishing employees for being in court if they are a crime victim.     

“The only way to make sure victims get what they need is the legal system and by passing a law,” said Christina DeJong, an associate professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University.

Victims of sexual assault are frequently not taken seriously, DeJong said. More protections would be better than none as victims of sexual assault are going to lose their jobs if none are enacted, she said.

The proposal has critics. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce opposes it for pushing a one-size-fits-all paid leave mandate.

Wendy Block, director of health policy and human resources for the chamber, said the proposal could harm the Michigan economy. The proposal could have negative repercussions on voluntary benefits, health insurance and other fringe benefits the workers want and need. Many employees consider time off as a benefit package, and employers today cannot afford to give workers sick leave.

“Employers are easy to paint as rigid, but most work to meet their employees needs,” Block said.

Atkinson says leaving it up to employers is insufficient.

“Legislation hasn’t moved on this, and the majority believes in taking it to the ballot where people can go and vote on it,” Atkinson said

The group must gather 252,523 signatures before the May 30 deadline to be considered to be on the 2018 ballots. They declined to release the number of signatures gathered so far.