Workforce

Bernie Sanders puts his support behind a paid-leave bill

The measure is co-sponsored by 40 other senators and 80 representatives in total—still not enough to pass. But it has the support of a number of influential lawmakers.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) / Photo: Shutterstock

A bill introduced Wednesday in the U.S. Congress would require restaurateurs and other employers of at least 15 workers to provide at least seven days of paid leave for dealing with health-related situations.

Employers that fall short of the 15-employee threshold would also be obliged to provide the time but not the wages that would have been earned.

The time could be used to deal with an illness of the worker or a member of their family. The allowed time would accrue at the rate of one hour per 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of 56 hours per year unless the company opts to provide more time.

The bill, the Healthy Families Act of 2023, has been backed by 40 senators and 80 members of the House of Representatives—not enough to win a simple majority vote in either chamber. But its endorsers include a number of big-name lawmakers, including Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who heads the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

In the House, the bill’s authors include Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) 

Not a single Republican is listed as a sponsor.

Proponents of a federal leave policy have been trying for at least a decade to put a mandate for paid time on the books. The benefit was adopted on a temporary basis during the pandemic, and a number of states have passed a leave bill. But the lack of bipartisan support has kept any permanent national measure from being pushed through.

“It is time to end this absurdity,” Sanders said in a statement. “It is time for the United States to join nearly every other major country in the world and finally guarantee paid sick leave. In the richest country in the history of the world, it is a total disgrace that millions of workers are having to choose between their job and caring for their family, their newborn child, or themselves when they are sick and in need of care. It is time Congress passed this legislation.” 

Because Sanders is chairman of the HELP Committee, where Democrats are in the majority, the bill has a strong chance of being approved by that body.

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