Occupy K Street

It's time to expand the Occupy Wall Street movement to include K Street, home of the corporate lobbyists.

As the top one percent carry out their heist against working people, lobbyists provide the blueprints and drive the getaway car.

And when the 99 percent band together to fight for policies that would provide some relief, in a swoop the corporate lobbyists to try to squash their efforts.

Witness what just happened in Denver with the paid sick days initiative. A broad and diverse coalition of 160 grassroots organizations, including 50 small business owners, got together to work for a common sense measure that would allow workers to earn paid sick days. Reeling from the insecurity they've experienced in this recession, working people see paid sick days as a small step with significant impact to boost public health, strengthen families, help workers hold on to their jobs, and in the process boost the economy.

A number of cities and one state have already passed paid sick days legislation. Just in the last few months, similar coalitions in Connecticut, Philadelphia and Seattle were successful. A dozen other campaigns are in the works across the county.

Whoosh -- lobbyists for big industry groups began pouring in money and using it to spread misinformation and confusion. The largest donations came from the National Restaurant Association, lobby arm for the $600 billion restaurant industry, and big member chains like KFC and Pizza Hut. It's hard for these big, profitable corporate chains to defend their own failure to provide paid sick days. Instead, they hid behind the mask of Mom and Pop shops.

"Small businesses will be engulfed in red tape and nightmarish costs!" they cried. "Lazy workers will extend their summer vacation since they won't be required to call off work!"

Interestingly, the lobbyists couldn't argue against the concept of workers being able to care for themselves or a sick family member. Instead, they pounced on timing, arguing against implementation now in these tough times.

The coalition countered with research and real life experience:

  • Local business owners pointed to their own experience and that of employers in San Francisco to show that a paid sick days policy can be implemented through many different existing personnel systems and is not a problem to administer.
  • A body of research shows that business do not suffer loss of productivity, profitability or growth from paid sick days. In fact, two thirds of business owners in San Francisco, where the law has been in effect the longest, support the measure. Even the director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association says paid sick days is "the best public policy for the least cost. Do you want your server coughing over your food?"
  • Workers, of course, are expected to call in as soon as they know they're sick. A paid sick days policy just protects them from being fired or disciplined if they don't know in advance that their kid is going to throw up on the way out the door.
  • Tough economic times are the worst time to lose a job for being a good parent or following doctor's orders. Economists point out that paid sick days lower unemployment by helping workers keep their jobs.

At the doors and on the phones, coalition members in Denver were able to penetrate the fog and persuade voters confused by the lobbyists' messages. Unfortunately, funding by the opponents far eclipsed the more modest resources of supporters -- much of it in small denominations from low-wage women.

But one setback can't stop a movement. The paid sick days activists learned valuable lessons in the course of this campaign, including the need early and aggressively to identify the national players behind the opposition and their true agenda -- to stop, block and bury policies like paid sick days, raising the minimum wage, health care reform, even anti-smoking bans that would benefit American workers and their families.

Across the country, activists are working to magnify the voices of the 44 million workers who lack paid sick days. Small business owners in these coalitions are determined to show that the NRA and other big lobbyists don't speak for them. From coast to coast, paid sick days groups are raising awareness that now, when families need this help the most, is exactly the right time to give American workers some relief and control over their own lives.

No one should ever have to choose between taking care of their job or their family.

It won't be long before the 99 percent bring their demands for accountability to the offices of the Restaurant Association and other lobbyists. Together we'll tear off the mask, as the paid sick days movement continues to grow and to win.