UPDATE: San Jose extends paid sick leave as COVID-19 spreads
Essential workers would get additional paid sick leave under a San Jose proposal. File photo.

    Fearing the federal government won’t help residents, San Jose leaders voted unanimously to extend local paid sick leave protections through an emergency measure.

    Councilmembers Magdalena Carrasco, Sylvia Arenas and Maya Esparza spearheaded the measure because they worried the federal government wouldn’t extend its Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), which has provided paid sick leave to workers nationwide since March. Those protections expire Dec. 31.

    San Jose’s paid sick leave ordinance was enacted April 7 to supplement the federal action and has allowed essential workers who have fallen ill to take paid time off to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

    The city’s new emergency ordinance will take effect Jan. 1 as either a standalone ordinance or a supplement to the FFCRA if the federal government extends it. If FFCRA is not extended, San Jose’s ordinance will expire June 30, 2021.

    “Unfortunately, due to the Republican stonewalling of further federal action, we do not know if Congress will act to extend these protections before their holiday recess,” Carrasco, Arenas and Esparza wrote in a memo. “In the event that the federal government is able to extend these desperately needed actions, we believe the clear course of action is to extend our current supplemental protections to align with the new federal extension.”

    Under FFCRA, full-time employees could get 80 hours of paid sick leave per year and part-time employees can receive leave for the hours they work in a two-week period. The leave can be used regardless of how long an employee has worked for an employer. San Jose’s ordinance also allows for 80 hours of paid sick leave.

    The federal law exempts businesses with more than 500 employees or those with fewer than 50 employees from additional paid time off. San Jose’s ordinance covers those essential employees — with no exemptions.  However, if employees use sick time to care for another person they will be paid two-thirds of their regular pay rate up to $2,000.

    Under California law, full-time employees can earn a minimum of 24 hours — three days — of paid sick leave per year or they can earn a minimum of one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked. Employees can use paid sick leave once they’ve been employed for 90 days.

    Carrasco, Arenas and Esparza said that’s simply not enough to help people get through the pandemic.

    “People are dying— our people are dying— and I don’t want other people to die,” Esparza said. “As a city we have been consistently messaging folks to ‘please stay home’ and ‘please don’t gather.’ That should also include, ‘please don’t work when you’re sick.’”

    A coalition of nonprofit leaders wrote a letter to the council urging city leaders to extend paid sick leave for workers.

    “When workers don’t have sufficient paid sick leave, fear of income loss leads many to report to work even when they’re ill. This means that sick individuals suffer needlessly. It also increases the spread of infectious diseases to co-workers and customers,” wrote the coalition, which includes California Work and Family Coalition, Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative, South Bay Labor Council and East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy.

    The nonprofit leaders said COVID-19 disproportionately affects low-income workers of color. Low-income Latino communities in ZIP codes 95122, 95116, 95111 and 95127 get sick and die of COVID-19 at the highest rates. These individuals also make up the highest percentage of essential workers in the city, according to Carrasco, Arenas and Esparza.

    More than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases have been diagnosed in the past 7 days, three people have died and 103 have been hospitalized, according to Santa Clara County Public Health data. Since the start of the pandemic, 529 people have died of COVID-19 in the county.

    “No one should have to decide between losing their paycheck or going to work sick during the pandemic, said Dianna Zamora-Marroquin of the South Bay Labor Council. “That could become a reality should workers not have access to paid sick leave. We cannot allow federal dysfunction to drag down our local efforts.”

    Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected]sanjosespotlight.com or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.


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