Against the backdrop of the H1N1 flu pandemic, congressional Democrats are pushing for emergency sick-leave legislation and using the crisis to garner support for a wider-ranging bill -- both of which, they say, would help prevent a more rapid spread of the virus by mandating that employers provide workers with paid time off.
Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), chairing a health subcommittee hearing Tuesday, said that requiring businesses with 15 or more employees to offer seven paid days off a year would end a dangerous choice “between staying healthy and making ends meet.”
But some conservatives argue that Democrats are using a public health crisis as momentum for faulty legislation that would harm businesses by inviting abuse by workers.
“It’s pretty obvious that they’re trying to use the swine flu as a PR boost for something they wanted to do anyway and that was not moving forward because of its already existing flaws,” said James Sherk, a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
In addition to championing the Healthy Families Act, which had been pushed unsuccessfully in Congress, Dodd announced that he soon would introduce emergency sick-leave legislation focused more specifically on the H1N1 outbreak. A similar bill was put forward last week in the House by Rep. George Miller (D-Martinez).
Dodd’s legislation would provide up to seven paid sick days for workers who contract H1N1 flu.
There currently is no requirement for businesses of any size to provide paid sick leave. The Healthy Families Act would create a broad definition of sick leave and force businesses to pay for an hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked.
In the hearing Tuesday, Dodd introduced Desiree Rosado, a Connecticut mother and special education assistant, to bolster his case for the bill. Rosado testified that all three of her young children recently caught the H1N1 flu and she was forced to miss two weeks of work.
“I get no sick pay, so my paycheck for that period was almost nothing,” Rosado said.
A Republican senatorial aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment, said it was odd to see the Bureau of Labor and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the same hearing room.
“You don’t usually see labor issues being mixed in with emerging health problems,” he said. “This is taking a public health crisis to help grease the skids.”