The Freedom Foundation’s Cruel and Dangerous Opposition to Paid Sick Leave

Our nation is grappling with an unprecedented crisis. Nowhere in America has the stress and strain of coronavirus been felt more acutely than in the Pacific Northwest, where Washington state maintains the unfortunate distinction of the outbreak’s epicenter. As our communities take precautions to stop the spread of the virus, it is critical that the protocols and advice of experts are heeded.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that employers “actively encourage sick employees to stay home.” For workers without access to paid sick leave, however, following this advice can have devastating financial consequences. A report by the Economic Policy Institute estimates that the average worker without access to paid sick leave who needs to stay home for three days lost wages that amounted to a household’s entire monthly grocery budget. It’s more critical now than ever that workers can stay home when they’re sick without losing the ability to put food on the table, and in this time of crisis, the sheer cruelty of the billionaire-funded opposition to this life-saving policy by groups like the Freedom Foundation is all the more disturbing.

The Freedom Foundation has long argued against paid sick leave policies for working people, writing them off as ineffective and burdensome. Their Director of Labor Policy Maxford Nelson went as far as to declare that life-saving paid sick leave policies are a cure “worse than the disease.” Nelson went on to argue that “the evidence indicates that these ineffective measures do little more than soothe the consciences of labor activists.” This is patently false and yet another Freedom Foundation lie. A study by the American Public Health Association found that granting workers paid sick days helps reduce the spread of illnesses like the flu, concluding that one or two sick days reduced workplace infections by over 25% and 39%, respectively.

The Freedom Foundation, no stranger to spreading misinformation, made the bewildering claim that “workplace illness does not appear to be a widespread problem” in a 2014 report authored by Nelsen. In the face of coronavirus, the absurdity of this statement needs no elaboration. It’s even more insidious that the Freedom Foundation made this claim just years after the CDC estimated that an additional five million people contracted the 2009 H1N1 virus due to the lack of workplace policies such as paid sick leave.

One may wonder why the Freedom Foundation would choose to back a position that so clearly flies in the face of reason and human decency, but their motivations are simple: the Freedom Foundation’s sole purpose is to make it easier for their billionaire funders to pad their bottom lines. Providing workers paid sick leave so they can care for themselves, their families, and help to prevent the spread of a deadly virus doesn’t fit into their vision of a world where employers seek to turn a profit at any cost and workers are powerless to fight back.

Fortunately for working people on the West Coast, the Freedom Foundation has failed miserably at advancing their anti-worker agenda. Since the Freedom Foundation’s launch of their anti-union campaign nearly six years ago, Oregon, California, and Washington have all passed mandatory paid sick leave laws. While these workers will have the opportunity to take the steps needed to care for themselves and others during this daunting time, it’s vital that we remain vigilant and prepared to fight back as the Freedom Foundation attempts to push their cruel and dangerous anti-worker agenda in other states.

More resources on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak: CDC, California Department of Health, Oregon Health Authority, Washington State Department of Health, World Health Organization