A new sick leave law aimed at benefiting low-income workers is receiving mixed reactions in City Heights.
“These laws are good steps for workers’ rights, but in the long run they are more harm than good,” said one fast-food employee, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution from his company.
July marked the first month that an estimated 6.5 million workers in California became eligible for up to three days of paid sick leave from their jobs. On July 1, the Healthy Workplace Healthy Family Act went into effect, mandating one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. The new law allows both part-time and full-time employees to begin using the accrued time after 90 days of employment. An employer may limit an employee’s use of paid sick leave to three days per year.
On the morning of June 30, dozens of people gathered in front of the McDonald’s on Fairmount Avenue in City Heights to celebrate the law, carrying signs that read “3 Sick Days”. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who introduced the bill and fought for its passage, was the featured speaker.
“As a single, working mom, I know first-hand the challenge of having to juggle a sick child who needs to see a doctor and your responsibilities at work,” Gonzalez said. “But no parent should have to experience the heartache of having to choose between making the rent and taking care of their child.”
In a statement released by his office, Gov. Jerry Brown praised the law.
“Whether you’re a dishwasher in San Diego or a store clerk in Oakland, this bill frees you of having to choose between your family’s health and your job,” Brown said in the statement.
Some workers, though, are a bit anxious about the law’s impacts. One local Panda Express worker is afraid his employer will lay off his peers to make up for the cost difference of paid sick days.
“My boss said that if we ask for a lot, he’ll have to reduce the workforce,” he said. “They find a way around these laws. If I was single, I wouldn’t feel as much pressure to accept their conditions. But since I have a wife and kids, I have to do whatever it takes to keep my job.”
Lan Ly, a Vietnamese interpreter for Mid-City CAN’s Food Justice Momentum Team, said that the idea behind this legislation is noble, but workers are too afraid of losing their jobs to speak up when employers choose not to follow the implementation of such laws.
“One reason they get away with not following these new laws, making employees scared to ask for their rights, is because it’s so easy to be replaced,” Ly said. “If you want to get paid more they say, ‘OK, you can go. Here’s another person to replace you.’”
While big companies can afford to pay for sick time, many small businesses in City Heights may not be able to cover the costs, Ly said. A lot of mom-and-pop businesses already are struggling to survive.
“When we pass a new law, we have to differentiate based on the size, the profit of the sales, not a one-size-fits all,” Ly said. “It doesn’t fit all.”
Regardless, an estimated additional 279,000 San Diegans now have access to paid sick leave.
“Every single worker will start to realize what it’s like to be able to rely on that just little bit of safety net,” Gonzalez said. “I think we’ll be a better state because of it.”