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But the president had signaled the initiative in his State of the Union address in January when he told lawmakers: “Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave. It’s the right thing to do.”
The timing of the order was not clear. The confidential draft was marked “pre-decisional and deliberative.” But emails show that Labor Department lawyers were seeking final approval by 2 p.m. Wednesday, making it clear the agency considered the matter as urgent. Senate Democrats said they understood executive action was in the works.
The order would set a minimum of 56 hours a year of paid sick leave, about seven days, but it is broad in scope. It covers not just an employee’s illness but also caring for a child, parent, spouse, domestic partner “or any other individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.”
It would apply to absences from work resulting from domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, if that time was used to seek medical attention, obtain counseling, seek relocation assistance from victim services organizations or prepare civil or criminal proceedings.
Employers would be ordered to allow unused paid leave to accrue, year after year.
The issue of paid sick leave has been percolating since last year, when Democrats in states like Oregon began pushing legislation in statehouses. This spring, a bipartisan majority voted to include paid sick leave in the Senate’s version of a budget blueprint, but that vote was nonbinding.
“No worker should have to sacrifice a day’s pay, or their job altogether, just to take care of themselves or their sick child,” Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, said in a statement in April after 61 senators voted for her paid-leave amendment. “Today’s vote was an important step forward for families in need of paid sick days, and I’m going to fight to get this done.”
Since then, no legislation has even received a hearing. Last month, in a Labor Department blog post, Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez said 39 percent of the private sector work force — or 44 million people — had no paid sick leave.
“Seventy-eight percent of private sector workers earning under $9.00 an hour cannot earn paid sick days, making illness not merely inconvenient but economically catastrophic,” he wrote. “This is bad news for a rebounding economy and a growing job market.”
Paid sick leave is a benefit that shows the divide in American labor markets. Among the highest 10 percent of earners, 86 percent of earners have it, while among the lowest 10 percent, just 22 percent have it, said Elise Gould, a senior economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute. Thirty-nine percent of service workers have paid sick leave, according to Labor Department data.
Jim Ryan, a labor and employment lawyer at the New York firm Cullen and Dykman, said major federal contractors like Boeing and McDonnell Douglas had better-than-average benefits. Many federal contracts allow companies to rebid terms if federal policy changes, meaning higher benefit costs will be passed on to the taxpayer.
But the effect of the order, if issued, would be broad. More than 300,000 small-business contractors were hit by the president’s increase in the minimum wage, and the Small Business Administration has reported widespread complaints about the financial burden.
Fast-food franchises on military bases requested an exemption from the wage hike, but were rejected.
Randel K. Johnson, the senior vice president for labor, immigration and employee benefits at the U. S. Chamber of Commerce, said he believed that the president could not use his power over contracting policy to set social policy, that he has to show that an executive order on contracting promotes greater efficiency in government procurement.
“At some point, the contracting community is going to cry uncle, and we’re going to go to court,” Mr. Johnson said.
While the order is still in draft, the details show how much deliberation went into it. The draft order states that an employer cannot make paid leave contingent on asking a worker to find a replacement. It also says the implementation of the order would have no effect on longstanding requirements that federal contractors pay the “prevailing wage” of the area where the work is being done.
Detailed regulations would be issued by the Labor secretary by Sept. 30, 2016.
White House officials refused to comment on the document. But email traffic obtained by The Times states that Labor Department and White House lawyers were involved in the executive order’s drafting. That makes clear that the Labor Department — the government’s labor policy advocate — is not operating on its own.
Supporters and opponents of the order suggested the effect could extend beyond contractors.
“You can build an expectation that paid sick leave comes with a job,” Ms. Gould said. “Changes in cultural norms matter.”Continue reading the main story