Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Why are 80% of DC workers ineligible for Paid Sick Days?

By Adam Croot

By Adam Croot

A majority of D.C. workers rely on tips for their wages, meaning they don’t qualify for D.C.’s Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act (ASSLA)- the local paid sick days law passed in 2008. Nearly 80 percent of D.C.’s restaurant workers don’t have access to paid sick days.

But this could soon change if the Council passes a new bill that would expand paid sick days coverage. The new bill would expand the 2008 ASSLA to include tipped workers. The law would also improve some provisions of the original bill, including shortened paid sick days wait period for employees down from one-year to 90 days and require a $10 an hour minimum wage for employees earning wages and tips.

The Paid Sick Days for All Coalition, who has been working on educating the about the issue for over 2 years, has focused their education campaigns on not only public health but also on the financial impact paid sick days has for most low-wage workers. When employees live paycheck to paycheck, it’s nearly impossible to choose to stay home sick and forfeit a day’s pay.

With nearly 60% of D.C. workers reporting that they’ve come to work sick, the public health argument for paid sick days resonates. Woong Chang, a D.C. bartender, couldn’t afford to miss work and later found out he went to work with swine flu. “I came to realize…there’s a public health issue obviously. This is not only a matter of personal welfare, but of public welfare.”

It hasn’t always been like this. The decoupling of tipped workers from the general minimum wage happened in 1996 under the committed lobbying of former Republican presidential candidate, Hermain Cain. At the time, Cain lead the National Restaurant Association. Thanks in large part to the NRA’s work, we haven’t seen a raise of the $2.113 minimum wage for tipped workers in almost 20 years. In D.C. tipped workers rely on a base wage of $2.77 an hour in one of the most expensive cities in the United States.

The new paid sick days bill is supported by 10 out of 13 D.C. city council members and is currently sitting in the Workforce and Community Affairs Committee. Public support for the bill continues to grow with the bill’s opponents finding it difficult to make credible arguments about the law’s mythic negative impacts. In fact, a recent audit has show that the D.C. paid sick days law hasn’t forced any businesses to move. Stated council member Muriel Bowser, “We are always looking for ways to strike a balance between worker protections and the needs of our business community. The negative impacts that some thought would happen didn’t happen….It’s time to have a more comprehensive policy.”

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