Executive Order on Paid Sick Days? Yes, Please!

43 million American workers can’t take a day off work when they get sick without losing pay—and President Obama can’t change that. Although the president has urged Congress to pass paid sick days legislation, and encouraged states and cities to act in the absence of federal progress, he cannot enact these laws himself. Just yesterday he was powerless to intervene as Senate Republicans blocked Senator Patty Murray’s effort to bring the Healthy Families Act, guaranteeing workers seven sick days a year, to a vote.

When it comes to the segment of the American workforce employed by federal contractors, however, the president has greater authority. As my colleague Jenn Borchetta has explained the President has the power under the Procurement Act of 1949 to prescribe policies and directives that are in his judgment necessary to an economical and efficient system for obtaining property and services. According to a confidential draft leaked to the New York Times, the president is poised to sign an executive order requiring thousands of federal contractors and subcontractors to provide their workforce with paid sick leave.

Executive action on paid sick days for employees of federal contractors would be in keeping with Obama’s steps to raise workplace standards for contract employees as he would like to see them raised for all American workers. This strategy uses the federal government’s over 1.3 trillion dollars in federal purchasing to place tens of millions Americans on a pathway to the middle class.

And so, over the last two years, President Obama has used his executive authority to raise wages for federal contract workers; ban contractors from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity; ensure that contract employees who discuss their compensation are not retaliated against; and strengthen the screening process to ensure that companies that chronically violate federal workplace laws are no longer rewarded with federal contracts.

Demos is on record calling for a broad Good Jobs Executive Order, which would include raising pay and strengthening legal compliance for contractors, as the president has done, and requiring contractors to offer their employees paid sick days as he now seems poised to do. Another key element? Requiring that contractors respect employees’ right to organize and bargain collectively. It would be an ideal next step.

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