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May 7, 2024

First expansion of CT paid sick days law wins passage

MARK PAZNIOKAS / CTMIRROR.ORG Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, left, and Senate Minority Leader Stephen Harding consult on bills other than paid sicks days where there might be agreement.

The Senate voted Monday night for final passage of Democratic legislation that will expand Connecticut’s groundbreaking, if limited, paid sick days mandate into a nearly universal benefit by Jan. 1, 2027.

Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat whose centrist politics often place him between business and labor, pledged to the sign the bill as a reasonable standard for ensuring that workers need not choose between lost wages or working while ill.

House Bill 5005, the measure on its way to Lamont, does not require additional time off at workplaces that already offer 40 hours of any paid time off, regardless of whether it is classified as vacation, personal days or sick time.

The bill passed on a 23-12 party line vote, with every Republican opposed and one Democrat, Sen. Joan Hartley of Waterbury, not voting.

“This is a landmark bill for the 2024 session, one that a number of us have worked on for a long time,” said Senate President Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven.

Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, who lobbied for the original law as a UAW regional executive and ran for the Senate in 2018 on a promise to expand the coverage, called passage timely, if not overdue.

By her estimation, the original law passed in 2011 covered only 12% of workers. It applied to certain employers with 50 or more workers, limited to a list of specific retail and service occupations. Seasonal workers were exempt.

The bill expands coverage in three phases by lowering the threshold for coverage from companies with 50 or more employees to those with 25 or more on Jan. 1, 2025; to 11 in 2026; and to one in 2027.

“We now will be expanding paid sick days to every worker in Connecticut,” said Kushner, the co-chair of the Labor and Public Employees Committee. Seasonal workers will largely remain exempt.

The original law made Connecticut the first state to require any private employers to offer paid sick time, and it marked the shift in power that came with the election of Dannel P. Malloy, the state’s first Democratic governor in two decades.

Malloy won, if barely, with a cross-endorsement by the labor-funded Working Families Party. He delivered on two promises to labor: winning passage of a paid sick days law and a higher minimum wage.

Similarly, Lamont has supported paid sick days and a higher minimum wage, even  while angering labor and the political left by defending spending caps he credits for stabilizing the state’s finances.

Republicans won half the Senate seats in 2016 and came within five votes of a majority in the House, but Lamont was elected in 2018 and reelected in 2022 with huge Democratic majorities.

Democrats now control the Senate, 24-12, and the House, 98-53.

Sen. John Kissel of Enfield, the only Republican to vote for the original law, argued against the expansion, quoting Alexis de Tocqueville’s admonition against a “tyranny of the majority” in cautioning Democrats to hear the GOP minority.

“Just ’cause you have the numbers doesn’t mean you should do it. Just because you have the votes doesn’t make it right,” Kissel said. “I just feel that moderation is so much better. And working across party lines is so much better.”

He was one of the Republicans who lined up against the bill over more than seven hours, each warning against the impact on small businesses of giving even five days of paid time off.

“My friends, we’ve see this movie before. It doesn’t end well,” said Sen. Ryan Fazio, R- Greenwich. “It results in lower job creation, lower wages, less prosperity for the working class and middle class, less opportunity for people who need it, and less success for small businesses and Connecticut’s economy.”

Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, a former business owner, said the legislation was well intended but poorly executed and certain to harm the state’s reputation as a place to do business.

“Connecticut is not an easy place to do business,” Somers said. “It’s very expensive. There’s a lot of regulations. And as you heard Senator Fazio speak just a few moments ago, we’re still ranked in the bottom of the business-friendly community and state.”

Sen. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, offered a series of amendments to limit the bill. All failed on party-line votes.

“This is going to have a negative impact on businesses across the state of all sizes,” Sampson said.

Under the bill, employees would accrue one hour of paid time off for every 30 hours worked up to a maximum mandated benefit of 40 hours of paid time off in a year. The benefit would become available after the 120th calendar day of employment, and unused time could be carried over to the next year. There is no requirement that the time be used for sickness.

Looney, a Democrat who was elected to the House in 1980 and moved to the Senate a dozen years later, said the Republicans’ concerns about the bill being overly burdensome to business were not new.

“This is the same argument that has been made about every progressive labor reform for the past 100 years,” Looney said. “There were those who argued that child labor shouldn’t be interfered with because it interfered with the freedom of contract between a little kid and a major corporation. And as we all know, that was bogus.”

The same is true, he said, of complaints that federal safety regulations and the 40-hour work week were radical and ruinous. The history of labor is one of struggle, often of violence, he said.

“That’s one of the reasons why I fought a number of years ago to have a labor history curriculum for our school system,” Looney said. “This is something that too many of our young people now take for granted.”

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