Obama’s Latest Executive Order Requires Sick Leave for Contractors

Andrew Harnik/AP

In another in his stream of executive moves that don’t require congressional approval, President Obama used Labor Day and the ongoing presidential campaign to highlight his signing of an executive order requiring federal contractors to provide up to seven days sick leave for employees.

“We’ve seen that many companies, including small businesses, support these policies, because they understand it’s helpful with recruitment and retention,” Obama told a union crowd in Boston on Monday. Back in January’s State of the Union address, he had stated that, “We are the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers. And that forces too many parents to make the gut-wrenching choice between a paycheck and a sick kid at home.”

The order, which would affect some 300,000 workers full- and part-time, would credit one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to seven days annually. The time could be used to care for one’s self, a family member or domestic partner, including victims of domestic violence.

Because the order must still go through public comment, it won’t take effect until 2017 under new contracts, according to a White House factsheet. “A body of research shows that offering paid sick days and paid family leave can benefit employers by reducing turnover and increasing productivity,” it said. “Paid sick days would help reduce lost productivity due to the spread of illness in the workplace. These policies can benefit our economy by fostering a more productive workforce.

The White House also argued that paid sick leave will improve contractor performance.

In January, Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum directing the government to advance up to six weeks of paid sick leave in connection with the birth or adoption of a child, or for other sick leave eligible uses, and called on Congress to pass legislation giving federal employees six additional weeks of paid parental leave.

On Monday, Obama also announced new final Labor Department rules giving federal contract workers new tools to demand equal pay and curb discrimination against workers who discuss compensation.

In a Labor Day blog, White House Budget Director Shaun Donovan reviewed the Obama administration’s moves in equal pay, retirement and health care in both the public and private sectors. The White House also used the opportunity to blast the GOP-controlled Congress’s budget proposals affecting the workplace.

“The Republican appropriations bills are stacked with ideological provisions known as 'riders' that are unrelated to spending levels and weaken basic protections for workers, the backbone of our economy,” Donovan wrote. “These riders undermine worker safety, the ability of workers to save for retirement, and workers’ ability to have a meaningful, unionized voice in their workplaces.”

Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker, a presidential candidate, rebutted Obama’s pro-labor criticisms of Republicans by calling the president “a tool of entrenched interests,” The New York Times reported.

The executive order on sick leave was criticized earlier this summer by the Professional Services Council, which in August joined with other contractor groups in a letter asking Obama to cease and desist with the executive orders.

"Among other things, we are concerned that the executive order might run directly counter to the ways in which some of the most progressive companies in the country are today addressing leave and benefits overall," said Stan Soloway, president and CEO of PSC, in a statement Tuesday. "But once again, despite our strong admonition that this never-ending spate of EOs is adding substantial costs to the government and contractors alike, often with little or no actual benefit, the White House has gone forward with yet another contractor-unique executive order that is really a proxy for its broader policy objectives. The EO process has become a far too convenient and frequent, but often counter-productive and ineffective, tool to achieve those broader objectives."

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