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Let’s pass the earned sick days bill

Vermont’s state motto is “Freedom and Unity” for a reason. While we revere our independence, we’re still a very community-oriented state and need to rely on each other. Vermont small businesses are no different. There is often a close relationship between business owners and employees. In the event of a personal emergency, such as an illness of an employee or their loved one, most small business owners accommodate and support their employees because they care and because it makes good business sense. That’s the Vermont way.

When employees can work with dignity — knowing that their employer respects their right to good health and wellbeing — employees’ loyalty and dedication to their job and their employer increases. The value of loyalty is worth more than the time an employee may miss due to illness. When an employer earns a reputation based on fairness and respect for workers, it becomes more attractive to job seekers. Employers who provide workers with livable wages, adequate time off, and who promote healthy lifestyles — through flexible schedules, on-site child care, benefits that include comprehensive insurance and earned sick time — are rewarded with dedicated and steadfast employees who will go above and beyond to get the job done.

Employers and employees are human beings and therefore susceptible to illness and other emergencies that demand our time and attention away from work. Everyone gets sick. It may be a child with a severe cold, an employee with a stomach bug, an ailing parent, or a victim of abuse struggling to survive and free themselves from the cycle of violence. We all need time off to get healthy, or to assist a family member to get healthy, and it doesn’t always fall neatly outside of regular work hours.

Vermonters are known for their resourcefulness and tenacity. I believe we can harness those qualities and apply them to paid sick days legislation. It is our resourcefulness that both allows and demands our flexibility to adapt to Vermont’s new economy of two-parent working households, working single parents, and adults caring for children and aging parents. The legislation is drafted so an employee earns sick leave based on an accrual system as they work at a job, much like those of us with sick leave now earn sick days. We, as Vermonters, owe it to ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities to equalize access to this basic right to health and dignity by passing this legislation to support all working Vermonters.

I disagree with those who believe we need to prioritize corporations’ and the business communities’ needs over the needs of working Vermonters. I believe we can find a balance between the two and this legislation is it. Yes, we need healthy businesses, but we also need healthy Vermonters. You can’t have a healthy business without a healthy workforce. Healthy employees are a benefit to employers and to our communities. Let’s pass the earned sick days bill in Vermont and support working Vermonters by giving them access to sick leave. It’s the right choice for Vermont.

This commentary is by Corey Decker, a member of the State Coordinating Committee of the Progressive Party. She lives in Fletcher. It first appeared on VTDigger on 2/24/14

Minutes - February 2014 State Committee Meeting

February 8, 2014; 1:00 pm, 
North End Studios, Burlington
In attendance: Approximately 60 people attended, with another several guest speakers.

Welcome: Emma Mulvaney-Stanak
Emma opened the meeting and thanked everyone for attending. She offered up an instant poll for State Committee members to answer a survey question on paper or electronic meeting materials. Those State Committee members without smartphones participated by a raising of hands. Most people indicated a preference to receive materials only electronically. Party leaders will take this into consideration when planning future meetings. Emma also asked people to support the party by becoming a monthly or one-time donor.

Panel: Burlington City Council Update and City Committee Leaders
All four incumbent Progressive City Councilors shared highlights on issues they are working on ranging from climate change initiatives to public safety to transportation (bike/ped issues) to updates on Burlington Telecom. Councilors Max Tracy and Rachel Siegel are up for reelection this March. Max needs help with his council race – volunteer support and financial support – because he is running against a well organized Democrat. Rachel has an opponent, but does not expect a tough race. Councilors Vince Brennan and Jane Knodell are up for reelection in 2015. There is an open seat for City Council in Ward 1 and State Party Vice Chair Selene Colburn is running unopposed for that seat. We expect to have 5 city councilors out of 14 after Town Meeting Day. Democrats currently have 7 seats with a possibility of gaining one more seat. The other two seats are held by Independents. Burlington City Chair Kyle Sillman-Smith and Vice Chair Ali Zipparo shared ways they have reenergized their city committee including regular informal “breakfast club” gatherings, leader recruitment to get more people involved by creating a database of potential leaders to draw from when commissions and boards have openings in the city, and a regular city committee meeting schedule.

Paid Sick Days (PSD) Panel
We were joined by Rep. Cindy Weed, Lindsay DesLauriers from Voices for Vermont’s Children, Cary Brown from the VT Commission on Women, Cecile Reuge from the VT Workers’ Center, and Dan Barlow from VT Businesses for Social Responsibility. Rep. Weed gave an overview of the Paid Sick Days bill in the House and explained it is due for a vote in her committee (House General) next week and could be voted on by the full House as early as mid February. The fight will be whether or not carve outs get added to the bill before it leaves committee. Also the Senate is not as supportive of the bill and the Governor is not a guaranteed supporter either. Lindsay explained the PSD issue from the angle of families/children and gave an overview of PSD history in VT. Cary explained PSD as an issue that relates disproportionately to women because they tend to hold more low-wage, service/retail jobs in VT that tend to not include paid sick leave. She also raised the issue of victims of domestic violence and the challenge of taking leave to heal from acts of violence. Dan explained the business angle and impact on the economy and noted several businesses are supportive of this bill, but several are speaking out and starting to pressure Representatives not to support this bill because it is an added “burden” on businesses. Cecile explained the VWC’s organizing effort to get PSD passed this session and ways people could help.

Emma then asked SC members to take action at the meeting and contact their state representative, senator and the Governor’s office to ask them to support the PSD bill. Legislator contact information was shared and people took time to place calls. We reviewed a list of key legislators who would benefit from being contacted. VPP will send an email action alert to share that list and ask all VPP members to take action on this bill early next week.

Break/Raffle Drawing

Regional Breakouts
The SC membership broke into regional groups to discuss local issues and potential house and senate districts for the VPP to target in the 2014 election cycle. Based on limited numbers from certain parts of the state, we had groups meet together from the Northwest region (Franklin, Grand Isle, Lamoille Counties), Chittenden/A-R (Chittenden, Addison and Rutland Counties), NEK/Central Vermont, and Southern Vermont.  CoCo members from each region facilitated the conversation. SC members said this was a useful way to break up the meeting. Party leaders will try to find ways to keep conversations going on topics raised in between SC meetings.

Platform Review Committee Update
Ben Eastwood (Montpelier) reported as Chair of the new Platform Review Committee. There is no written procedure on how to set up the process for reviewing the platform beyond formal ways to adopt changes to the platform (state law and VPP bylaws). The CoCo endorsed a process for this round in January. The committee will be appointed by the State Party Chair and limited to 5 members to keep it workable. An attempt will be made to achieve geographic diversity and a mix of new and experienced voices. The committee will also be charged with offering a written recommendation on a procedure to adopt for future platform review work so the Party has a known process going forward. The Chair appointed: Ben Eastwood (Montpelier, Chair of Montpelier Town Committee and Washington County) as Chair, Leslie Matthews (Northfield, former Coco member, SC member), Tim Kipp (Bratteboro, SC member), Cindy Weed (Enosburg Falls, former chair of platform committee last time, State Rep), and Becky Raymond (Middlesex, new Party member). Becky recently resigned from committee, so the Chair will work to fill the vacancy. The committee also has a recent UVM grad working as an intern for the committee.

The process is still being created, but it will include several ways to engage SC members and other Party members in reviewing and offering feedback on the platform. It will also include a very clear set of procedures, including any amendments and the process for voting/debate ahead of the September SC meeting where the SC and town and county chairs will be asked to adopt/reject any changes. The May 31st SC meeting will include a large portion of time on the agenda for platform discussion and input. The committee hopes to have any proposed amendments ready for the CoCo to review in mid July. Questions and feedback can be sent to Ben.

Party Committee Reports
Corey Decker (Enosburg) reported as Chair of the elections committee. Emma reported for Chairs who were absent from the meeting, including Chris Brimmer (organizational development committee), Martha Abbott (fundraising committee), and the communications committee (who are in need of a new Chair). All committees are looking for volunteers. Here is a description of each committee’s charge:

Fundraising Committee
Committee will develop an annual fundraising plan for the Party, oversee fundraising appeals to Party members (initial ask, follow up ask, etc.), revamp fundraising strategies used by the Party in the past, assist staff with development of appeals (letters, online, etc.), assist staff with organizing fundraising events (small), train Coco members and other Party leaders on how to effectively fundraise, and plan an annual major fundraising event for the Party.

Elections Committee
Committee will develop and conduct campaign trainings for candidates, campaign managers, and campaign volunteers during the 2014 election cycle (build capacity of party to run strong campaigns). The committee will also assist Party leaders and staff in recruiting candidates to run in the 2014 election cycle and assist the CoCo and State Committee in any Party endorsement process for the 2014 election. The committee will also support Burlington City Council campaigns as necessary (Jan-March 2014).

Communications Committee
Committee will develop a communications strategy for the Party, assist staff with press releases for the Party, assist staff with social media and blog postings, review the website for relevant content, and help advance the 2014 special project - corporate campaign donations petition. The committee will also help staff and the CoCo work on branding and promoting the party on a statewide level (messaging).

Organizational Development Committee
Committee will assist CoCo in doing quarterly outreach (to increase attendance) to the state committee members for quarterly meetings, develop "on-ramp" events for new Party members to get involved in Party outside state committee meetings, and examine more ways for the Party to involve new members (on the ground engagement and promotion of Party). The committee will also work with Chair ahead of state committee meetings to develop state committee agenda items that will spark engagement by members (and ideally attendance!).

Legislative Update
Rep. Chris Pearson and Rep. Cindy Weed gave a brief update from the Legislature. The conversation focused mainly on the health care policy debate and the road to single payer (or not) based on the roll out of the state exchange and new rules facing Vermonters without health insurance and employers who do not currently offer insurance.

Submitted by Chris Brimmer, Secretary 2/20/14

Paid Sick Days are a Vermont Value

We, in each of our towns, and throughout The Valley are, together, a community.  As Town Meeting approaches, I trust that all of us, regardless of our particular political persuasions, agree.  And as a community we do right to concur that one does well, when one’s neighbor does well.  This commitment to our friends, family, and fellow residents is an old one. When the Green Mountain Boys evicted New York land surveyors, tax collectors, and sheriffs, I do not doubt that they too were motivated by this notion of self-preservation as inalienably linked to community; Freedom and Unity. More recently, we saw this belief manifest during the crisis following Irene. Two and one half years ago I was honored to see many of you from Waitsfield, Warren, Duxbury, Fayston, and beyond coming to lend a hand in Moretown during our hour of need.  Such acts of human camaraderie will never be forgotten.  In essence Vermont has a long and proud history of people reaching out in solidarity when their neighbors could use a hand.  We are, in a word, a people who embrace and honor the core value associated with the very notion of community as the foundation upon which rests the prosperity of the individual.

Today, we can and do express our sense of community, not only in time of crisis, but also through a maturing social compact which gives form to the worth and well-being of our fellow citizens.  Maintaining and improving an equitable education system that gives support to children and families is one such expression.  Creating a Vermont controlled healthcare system that provides insurance and quality medical care regardless of job or lot in life is also such an expression. Guaranteeing that all working Vermonters are afforded the right to accrue paid sick days is yet another.

It is for these reasons that I support H208, a bill currently in the Vermont House of Representatives that would guarantee all Vermonters the right to earn up to 7 sick days in a given year. As your neighbor, I encourage you to support this noble effort too.

The fact is, all people get sick some time or other; most of us a few times a year.  When this happens, when one has a fever, one should be able to stay home for a day and get better.  And if your kid is home sick, and if both parents have to work, one parent should be afforded the economic ability to care for the child during that time of need. How could one begin to construct a moral argument against this statement?  Either we are a community, and therefore embody the core truth inherent in the principle which is Vermont, or we are not. I assert that we are Vermonters.

However, the reality is that thousands of low income people in these Green Hills do not have any paid sick days. When they get sick, they often must make a hard decision: work while their body and mind are turned against them, or stay home and miss one fifth of their weekly pay. For the many, this one few-and-far-between unpaid sick day means the phone will be shut off; the rent will be late; the kids will miss a meal. For those that do work when they are ill, not only does their productivity go down, but they typically infect their co-workers which, in turn, makes productivity sink measurably lower.  Therefore, as a community and as Vermonters, it is absurd to maintain a status quo which serves no human, neighborly, or long-term interest. For these and other reasons, H208 (paid sick days) is supported by both Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility and Organized Labor. 

As a resident of Moretown, as part of the broader Valley community, I encourage all of you to take a moment to reflect on this human issue.  I encourage you to express your support for H208.  I also encourage our two State Representatives, Maxine Grad and Adam Greshin to actively support this bill with no exemptions. I also call upon our Governor and Washington County Senate delegation to likewise support this legislation. By doing so, they will all be casting a vote in favor of the Valley’s working families and in line with Vermont’s long tradition of valuing our community over short term and private interests. After all, one does well, when one’s neighbor does well.

David Van Deusen is Chair of the Moretown Progressivt Comittee. He is also the elected 1st Constable of Moretown, is a former Selectboard Member, and currently works for the Vermont State Employees Association as a Union Representative responsible for Central Vermont.

February 2014 State Committee Meeting - Proposed Agenda

Vermont State Committee Meeting
February 8, 2014; 1:00 pm
North End Studios, Burlington

REGISTRATION (12:30 PM)
STATE COMMITTEE (1:00 PM)


Welcome: Emma Mulvaney-Stanak (5 minutes)

Burlington Update: City Councilors & Candidates (25 minutes)

Panel Discussion – Economic Rights & Paid Sick Days (60 minutes)
  *Panel Members: Rep. Cindy Weed, Lindsay DesLauriers (Voices for Vt's Children), Cary Brown (Vt Commission on Women), Dan Barlow (VBSR), & Cecile Reuge (Vt Workers' Center)

Break/Raffle Drawing (15 minutes)

Regional Networking/Discussion (45 Minutes)

Platform Process Update: Emma Mulvaney-Stanak (15 minutes)

Party Committee Reports: Committee Chairs (10 minutes)

Legislative Update: Progressive Legislators (20 minutes)

Closing: Emma Mulvaney-Stanak (5 minutes)

Press Release: Selene Colburn to Seek Progressive Nomination for Ward 1 City Council

BURLINGTON – Selene Colburn will seek the Progressive nomination for the City Council seat being vacated by outgoing Ward 1 Councilor Kevin Worden.  Selene, a librarian at the University of Vermont and a Trustee on the Burlington Library Commission, brings a rich understanding of issues important to Ward 1 residents.

“I was born and raised in Ward 1,” Selene says.  “I come from a long line of Burlingtonians who have made unique contributions as educators and public servants and I’m inspired by their leadership.  My main priorities will be to work with my neighbors to increase the city’s focus on neighborhood issues and to encourage the hiring of more women to positions of power within city government.”

Progressive Party State Chair Emma Mulvaney-Stanak praised Selene’s work ethic, saying, “I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside Selene on a number of projects and can’t think of anyone who will work harder for Ward 1 residents.  All of Burlington will benefit from her insight and objectivity as a Councilor.”

Selene is an Assistant to the Dean of Libraries at UVM.  She is a cofounder and former Board Chair of Vermont Access to Reproductive Freedom.  She has also served on the boards of Vermont Community Access Media, Cradle to Grave Arts, Grace Roots Art and Community Effort, and the Vermont Library Association (VLA).  She is currently chair of the VLA’s Government Relations committee and a parent volunteer at Edmunds Elementary School.

A long-time advocate for economic and social justice, Selene says, “I intend to speak up for neighborhood safety, a strong local response to climate change, and inclusive processes for the city’s development and budgeting initiatives.  I’m looking forward to representing the immense creativity and expertise we have to offer on these issues in Ward 1.

“I’m an evidence-based decision maker and I’ll bring an even-handed, objective approach to my work as a City Councilor.  I love Burlington with all my heart and I’ll hold myself and my fellow Councilors to high standards on its behalf.”

Selene spent much of her childhood in a family home on the corner of College and Willard.  She has lived on Latham Ct with her husband Chris Burns and their two daughters since 2008.  Her grandfather Francis was an artist and humorist who helped found the Art Department at UVM and her grandmother Gladys taught for decades at Burlington High School.  Her mother Lorrie worked at the Fletcher Free Library for over 20 years.

Paid sick leave policies are good for all

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that around 40 percent of people in the United States are forced to work when they or a family member are ill. If they must stay home, they risk losing pay or their jobs because they have no provision for any amount of sick time. (Bottari/Fischer, 2013) Recent studies show that 25 percent of workers will lose or have to leave their jobs directly because of lack of paid sick days. (Hill et al, UChicago) Sixty thousand people living in Vermont have no paid time off whatsoever.

Unless someone has personally experienced hardship due to not having paid sick time, this may not be an issue that many of us have thought much about. But a single mother working without any sick time knows that one day’s wage loss could mean her inability to pay rent. A man taking care of his elderly parent must choose between leaving his ill parent alone while he works, or risk losing pay — or even his job.

Fear of losing a job or the certainty of losing critical income are powerful deterrents to caring for oneself and one’s family members and can lead to contributing – unwillingly – to serious public outbreaks of influenza and other communicable disease. Worse, failure to access timely medical care delays detection of and early care for longer term diseases like diabetes and cancer.

Study findings show that paid sick leave reduces influenza transmission and hence the burden of illness in workplaces. A 2008 study done by the University of Vermont Medical School found that elementary school students in Vermont whose parents only have access to three or fewer paid sick days were five times more likely to be sent to school with an infectious illness.

Many Vermont businesses support paid sick days, and already have these protections in place for their employees.

Women are disproportionately impacted by the absence of a paid sick time standard, which makes this is an issue for women and families. It is also a serious public health issue. And, it is an economic issue. As health care providers, we see patients every day whose medical conditions are much worse than if they had been able to seek help early on. Not only is this personally costly to them, but all of us share the cost of uncompensated care, which the lack of paid sick time significantly increases. As we have been working toward universal health system for all, we know that we need fewer barriers to accessing health care, not more.

There is compelling evidence to show that mandates such as paid sick leave raised the standard of living for many thousands of people in San Francisco without deleterious effects upon businesses. Interestingly, the size of the population in San Francisco that was positively impacted is close to 60,000 – the number of people in Vermont with no paid time off.

Many Vermont businesses support paid sick days, and already have these protections in place for their employees. Seventy-five percent of businesses in the private sector already have paid time policies in place.

To accept that we don’t have a right to stay home from work when we are ill is unthinkable. To outwardly resist fixing this problem is unconscionable. And to put thousands of others at risk of contracting communicable diseases because our neighbors aren’t able to keep their germs at home with them until they heal is just a terrible practice.

We are living in a remarkable period of time when policy, resources and protections have shifted dramatically toward large businesses and away from people, with a continuing and disturbing trend of deteriorating standards for the lowest paid workers while the wealth and opportunities of very few are flourishing. All this while evidence grows that paid sick leave policies work and support both people and business.

Why do policy makers continue to prefer the influence of large businesses, chambers of commerce, and organizations such as ALEC-led National Federation of Independent Business and National Restaurant Association and make short-sighted choices about public health that growing evidence proves is unwise and just plain wrong?

If Vermont is going to lead the way with a sensible single payer, universal health system, it must also ensure that the 60,000 people who currently can’t leave work when ill can access health care through this system. If Vermont is going to continue its long history of landing on the right side of many human rights issues, it must lead in ensuring the right for everyone in our state to maintain their dignity and their right to care for themselves and their families without losing pay or jobs by passing paid sick day legislation.

In addition to being a member of the VPP Coordinating Committee, Mari Cordes is also a registered nurse and the president of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals. This commentary was also published on VTDigger.

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