In 2008, D.C. passed a landmark law requiring employers in our city to give their employees a small amount of paid sick leave every year. Due to restaurant industry lobbying, however, tipped restaurant workers were excluded from the law’s coverage. This exemption was both unfair and unsafe. Tipped workers are among the lowest paid workers in society and often cannot afford to take an unpaid sick day. This forces them to go to work despite being sick, where they interact with a large number of people and may unintentionally spread their illness. Additionally, the law had weak enforcement mechanisms, and only applied to workers who had been at a business for more than a year.
JUFJ Gets Involved:
In January, 2011, at our semi-annual community meeting, about a hundred JUFJers decided that they wanted to strengthen DC’s paid sick days law.That fall, JUFJ, the Restaurant Opportunity Center, the Employment Justice Center, DC Jobs Council, CLASP, DC Jobs with Justice, DC Fiscal Policy Institute, and the National Partnership for Women and Families launched the “Paid Sick Days For All” campaign. The campaign called for ending the exclusion of tipped restaurant workers, improving the enforcement of the law, and reducing the waiting period for paid sick leave for new employees to ninety days.
JUFJ played a crucial role over the course of the campaign. Our volunteers made countless phone calls to elected officials, patronized businesses that were voluntarily offering paid sick days, and raised public awareness through “zombie waiter” canvassing.
Nearly three years after the campaign began, we succeeded. On December 17, 2013, The City Council voted unanimously to amend the original paid sick leave law to include these provisions. Two weeks later, Mayor Gray signed the bill into law and, pending budget agreement, it will go into effect in October.
In the final months of the campaign, we decided to join forces with a skyrocketing movement to raise the minimum wage in D.C., which came out of the failed attempt earlier in 2013 to pass a bill that would have required large retailers like Walmart to pay a living wage. We helped pass one of the highest minimum wages in the country, which will reach $11.50 by 2016 and be indexed to inflation thereafter.