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How State Champions of Paid Sick Days Bucked the National Trend on Election Day

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(Cross-posted from ProgressiveStates.org)

Earlier this year, national polls showed extremely strong support for legislation to provide workers with paid sick leave. 75% of people surveyed said they believe there should be a law establishing paid sick days as a new basic labor standard for all workers, with majorities of people from every party, political persuasion, region, and demographic favoring the policy. The poll also showed that people would tend to favor candidates that support paid sick days by a large margin -- so much so that it could swing a competitive race.

In this election year, where incumbents fared badly and Democratic majorities were overthrown in a record number of state and federal legislative chambers, this apparent appeal of a progressive, populist issue was understandably viewed by some with skepticism. But as the dust settles after Election Day, this skepticism has proved to be almost entirely unfounded. Across the nation, state legislators promoting paid sick days defied the national trend. Of the forty-one state legislators who introduced bills in 2009-10 to establish major family-friendly labor standards (including paid sick days and paid family leave), only one lost his bid for re-election.

Meanwhile, in Connecticut, Governor-elect Dan Malloy won his race while professing strong support for paid sick days during both the primary and general election campaigns. Malloy used his position on the issue to draw contrasts with both his Democratic primary and Republican general election opponents, both of whom opposed comprehensive paid sick days legislation. Speaking at his last major rally before the general election, Bill Clinton even cited Malloy's support for paid sick days as one of the top three reasons that voters should support him. In a race decided by less than one percentage point, supporters of paid sick days, including those who voted for Malloy on the Working Families ballot line, played a critical role in electing the first candidate from his party to the governor's seat in Connecticut in a quarter-century.

As new state legislative sessions begin in January, and the health and economic security of families across the nation continues to hang in the balance, the evidence is clear that support of family-friendly labor standards like paid sick days and paid family leave did not endanger candidates politically. Polling data has shown that the public prefers strong, principled legislative proposals on paid sick leave -- and that support for candidates declines as their proposals get weaker. And that is a good indication of the real imperatives in this political climate, not just for paid sick days advocates, but for progressives on the whole.