A wave of so-called “preemption” bills that block paid sick days legislation before it can even be introduced or passed has cropped up across the country. North Carolina could be the next state to pass such a law if Gov. Pat McCroy (R) signs HB74, or the Regulatory Reform Act of 2013, which is sitting on his desk awaiting his signature and takes an incremental step toward barring paid sick days legislation.
Section 5 of the bill blocks the rights of cities and counties to enact paid sick days requirements for government contract workers. While this wouldn’t impact the entire workforce, it could erode standards. As Vicki Meath, executive director of Just Economics, writes, because governments are required to accept the lowest acceptable bid, “Living wage policies help contractors level the playing field so that they can compete for city and county contracts on the basis of the quality of their work instead of a race to the bottom in terms of worker wages and benefits.” If those standards are raised, it can help raise the floor for all workers.
The bill would also block cities and counties from enacting living wage requirements for contractors. If signed, it would undo a recent unanimous vote in the Asheville City Council to require contracts above $30,000 pay a living wage.
North Carolina’s bill is just the latest in the rash of preemption legislation. Such laws have been introduced in at least 14 different state legislatures and enacted in eight: Wisconsin, Kansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arizona, Indiana, and Florida. Florida’s was the most recent, as Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed it into law in June at the behest of big business interests such as Disney World, Darden Restaurants (owner of Olive Garden and Red Lobster), and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
These bills have also been coordinated by the conservative, corporate-backed group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Paid sick days preemption bills consumed a whole session at a conference in 2011, right when these laws began to crop up, and members were given copies of such bills.
While business interests stand in opposition to paid sick days, which are guaranteed in nearly all developed countries except for the United States, research has shown that they have either no impact or a beneficial one. Lost productivity due to sick workers who don’t get paid days off costs the average employer $225 per worker a year, more than the cost of the benefits. An audit of Washington, DC’s law found no negative impact on business. A study of San Francisco’s found little negative effect and strong business support, and the law was even found to have spurred job growth. Connecticut’s law has come at little cost to businesses and has huge potential upside.