During hearings Wednesday on raising the minimum wage and implementing paid leave policies, many low-wage workers outlined an impossible choice they make when they get sick.
Do they take time off to deal with their own or their child’s illness, which means foregoing a day or two of wages at $8.25 an hour, Nevada’s current minimum wage? Or knowing they need every dollar in order to make rent or put food on the table, do they ignore whatever ails them and their family in order to work?
Jose Macias said that choice cost his mother her life because she couldn’t take a day off from her minimum wage job to check on her health. “Taking a day off was never an option for her, even when she started to feel sick,” he said. She suffered a stroke and died a month later.
Deneishia Jacobpito, who couldn’t take time off because she needed every paycheck to survive, said it cost her the ability to have children.
“(Not having paid sick leave) took my uterus,” she said. “I had a job that offered insurance, but no paid time off, so I ignored the pain I was feeling. Doctors offices don’t see patients on weekends and emergency room visits come with high costs.”
When she received a job that offered paid sick leave and was able to go to a doctor, she found the two-year pain was diagnosed as endometriosis and large ovarian cysts.
While low-wage workers and economic justice organizers have Democratic lawmakers’ ears during the 2019 session, they are trying to make the case that low wages and the lack of paid leave hinder their ability to succeed in the economy.
Lawmakers are looking to increase the minimum wage to $12 by 2024, Assembly Bill 456, and to require some companies to offer paid leave, Senate Bill 312. Both pieces of legislation were discussed in the Assembly Committee of Commerce and Labor on Wednesday.
Legislators argued the bills balance both the interests of businesses and workers and are overall “palatable” proposals. Though low-wage workers and organizers support the options at hand, many are still countered that both bills leave many Nevadans behind and could be stronger.
AB 456 passed out of the Assembly committee on a party-line vote. If signed into law, the first increase to the wage will take place in 2020 and increase 75 cents every year until it reaches $12 in 2024, or $11 if an employer offers health insurance.
In an Assembly committee hearing in April, Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson requested an amendment to the bill that would raise the wage by $1 a year and hit $12 by 2023, but that amendment has not been adopted.
The committee is expected to hear a last-minute proposal Thursday that would begin the process of ridding the two-tiered wage from the state constitution, with the intent that the higher wage would apply to all minimum wage workers.
Even though lawmakers decided on $12, national campaigns, and even Democratic presidential candidates, have called for $15 to be the starting point.
Republican Assemblywoman Melissa Hardy, opposed the bill saying that as a small business owner she was worried the legislation would negatively impact the economy and hurt businesses struggling to stay afloat.
Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton, who runs a small nonprofit with six employees who make $20 per hour, argued that it is possible for small organizations to pay higher wages and still survive.
With the session ending in less than two weeks, the committee took no action on SB 312, the paid leave bill. It already passed the Senate unanimously May 15.
The legislation would require businesses with 50 or more employees to allow employees to accrue .019230 hours of paid time off per hour of work performed — 40 hours a year for full-time workers. Employers couldn’t deny requests from workers to use paid time off nor could they retaliate for using it.
Natalie Hernandez, the campaign manager with Time to Care Nevada, said requiring businesses with 50 employees or more would exclude 192,000 Nevadans from the policy. “Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto has cosponsored the Healthy Families Act on a federal level to give families the time they need, which would apply to all businesses with at least 15 employees,” she said.
The bill’s original employee threshold was 25 employees. Raising it to 50 employees convinced business groups to drop opposition to the bill.
SB 312 also opens up an avenue for the Nevada Labor Commission to enforce and penalize companies who either don’t offer paid leave or punish workers when they use it. However, if an employer already offers some sort of paid leave, they would be exempt from those provisions.
Republican Assemblyman Chris Edwards said wage and paid leave bills would work in tandem to harm businesses.
He argued passing the minimum wage would wipe out a business’s profit margin, and adding on paid sick leave would “sink the business.”
“I don’t think we’ve looked at the cumulative impact,” he said.
However, Democratic Sen. Joyce Woodhouse, who sponsored the legislation, said the 11 other states that have enacted paid leave policies haven’t had these results.
“Paid time off isn’t a job killer,” she said. “Supporting it doesn’t result in the doom and gloom scenarios we’re hearing.”