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In Boston speech, Obama unveils executive order for more paid sick leave

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BOSTON — President Obama rallied union workers here Monday, announcing a new executive order that will require federal contractors to offer employees up to seven paid sick days a year, a move that the White House said could benefit more than 300,000 workers.

Obama unveiled the new directive during a Labor Day speech in Boston, as he continues a year-long effort to pressure Congress to approve legislation that would provide similar benefits for millions of private sector workers. The president highlighted a Massachusetts law, approved by voters in November, that provides employees with up to 40 hours of sick leave per year. That law went into effect in July.

“Right now you have parents who have to chose between losing income or staying home with a sick child,” Obama told a crowd of 765 supporters, including many labor union officials during the annual Greater Boston Labor Council breakfast sponsored by the AFL-CIO.

Under the president’s new executive order, workers on federal contracts would be eligible for paid leave if they are sick or caring for a sick relative, the White House said. They will earn one hour of leave for every 30 hours worked, with a maximum of seven days a year, officials said.

The president sought to draw a contrast between his administration’s policies and those of Republican candidates for the White House. The GOP believes the best way to stimulate the economy is to cut taxes and loosen regulation, Obama said. Republicans think “just wait, look up in sky, and see prosperity come raining down on us on top of whatever high-rise is in New York City,” he said. “That’s not how the economy works.”

Obama’s appearance here was intended to serve as a rallying point with organized labor heading into a presidential election year. The White House and congressional Democrats have championed parental leave and sick leave laws, as popular support has grown for such measures in many parts of the country.

An estimated 44 million private sector workers — about 40 percent of the workforce — do not have access to paid sick leave, according to the White House.

Obama signed a presidential memorandum in January directing agencies to allow federal workers to take six weeks of advanced paid sick leave to care for a new child or ill family members.

Despite a heavy push by the Obama administration, however, proposals for paid sick leave have languished in the GOP-controlled Congress, much like efforts to increase the minimum wage. Legislation to establish sick leave for private sector workers was approved by the Senate this past spring with bipartisan support, but despite momentum for such laws, several Republican candidates running for president opposed the measure.

Labor Secretary Thomas Perez and White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett traveled to several states this spring to promote paid-leave policies.

The United States is one of just a handful of countries that does not offer paid leave; congressional Republicans have introduced measures offering workplace flexibility and tax credits in some instances, but they have opposed mandating paid leave.

The push for paid leave has gained momentum across the country, although it tends to be in Democratic-leaning states and cities. Last year, according to Emily’s List spokeswoman Marcy Stech, paid-sick-leave initiatives passed in Massachusetts; Oakland, Calif.; and the New Jersey cities of Montclair and Trenton. The District adopted a paid-sick-leave standard in 2008 that includes “safe” days for victims of domestic violence, and Chicago passed a nonbinding referendum measure in support of paid leave that includes family leave.

Massachusetts Sens. Edward J. Markey and Elizabeth Warren, both Democrats, are expected to attend the breakfast Monday, and Gov. Charles Baker Jr. (R) has said he will meet Obama at the airport.

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