Obama Orders Paid Sick Leave for Federal Contractor Employees

Wall Street Journal – by Colleen  McCain Nelson

President Barack Obama signed an executive order Monday requiring federal contractors to offer paid sick days to their employees and pressed Congress to pass legislation that would provide family and medical leave to private-sector workers.

The president’s executive action was the latest in a series of administration moves imposing new requirements on companies that contract with the U.S. government. It will give about 300,000 employees of federal contractors the chance to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave each year. Some workers who already have sick-leave benefits will have access to additional sick days.  

At a Labor Day event in Boston, Mr. Obama said that offering such benefits is good for business.

“We’ve seen that many companies, including small businesses, support these policies, because they understand it’s helpful with recruitment and retention,” the president said. “It helps you keep good employees.”

Administration officials said any costs to companies associated with the new policy would be offset by reduced attrition and improved employee loyalty and efficiency—an assertion that has been disputed by Republicans and businesses.

Jack Mozloom, media director of the National Federation of Independent Business, acknowledged that the president had the authority to place conditions on contractors, but he said that not every business could afford to offer this benefit.

“Mandatory paid leave is a great benefit for workers whose employers offer it,” Mr. Mozloom said in a statement. “For workers whose employers can’t absorb the cost, it’s an arbitrary expense that will ultimately result in shorter hours, lower pay or disappearing jobs.”

Mr. Obama has used his executive authority to issue a series of new benefits for workers. Earlier this summer, the Labor Department announced a new rule that will make millions more Americans eligible for overtime pay. The president also has repeatedly exercised his authority over federal contractors, using executive actions to raise the minimum wage for employees under federal contracts, making it tougher for federal contractors who have violated labor laws to do business with the government and protecting gay and transgender employees from discrimination.

Mr. Obama on Monday urged Congress to pass legislation creating family and medical leave programs. Many Republicans argue that offering such benefits increases the cost of doing business.

The White House estimates that 40% of the private-sector workforce doesn’t have access to paid sick leave.

“Unfortunately, only Congress has the power to give this security to all Americans,” the president said. “But where I can act, I will. And by the way, I just did.”

Mr. Obama signed the executive order during his flight to Boston. The White House chose Massachusetts as the backdrop for Monday’s announcement because voters in the state approved a paid sick-leave law in November.

The president also used his Labor Day speech to lambaste Republican lawmakers and GOP presidential candidates, casting them as an enemy of organized labor. He told the crowd that if he were looking for a good job that provides security for his family, he would join a union. And he mocked Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s claim that busting unions had prepared him to fight Islamic State.

“I didn’t make that up–that is what he said,” Mr. Obama said of the Republican presidential candidate.

While speaking about ISIS earlier this year, Mr. Walker had cited the opposition he faced in Wisconsin to his push to scale back union powers. “If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the globe,’’ he said. A Walker spokeswoman said at the time that the governor was saying that “when faced with adversity, he chooses strength and leadership. Those are the qualities we need to fix the leadership void this White House has created.”

Write to Colleen McCain Nelson at colleen.nelson@wsj.com


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