Del. Elizabeth Guzman hasn’t been able to get her bill mandating paid sick days for Virginia’s workers through the General Assembly. But she’s not going to stop trying.
Virginia Delegate Elizabeth Guzman said she is no stranger to the struggles of low-paying jobs. She immigrated to the United States as a single mother and worked multiple minimum wage jobs just to be able to pay rent and care for her daughter.
Now, as the elected delegate for Virginia’s 31st District, she has a mission to secure better financial benefits for minimum wage workers. But it’s not going as planned.
Guzman plans to introduce a new bill to require Virginia businesses to offer paid sick days to employees during the next legislative session in January 2021. The most recent version of her bill, HB 5116, was just killed in a Senate committee after being passed by the House.
Guzman said she’s frustrated but she’s willing to keep trying.
“Most of the arguments that I heard was because businesses are hurting and it was not the right time,” Guzman said. “We hear a lot about businesses that we don’t hear about the working class, and who’s going to be fighting for them.”
Kim Bobo, the executive director for the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy (VICPP), said she is in favor of Guzman’s bill. Bobo said paid sick days, like getting paid a minimum wage, are basic standards employers should be able to provide for their employees without government assistance.
“We really don’t believe that public funds should be used to subsidize employers providing such a basic core standard as paid sick days,” Bobo said. “We will not include anything like that in a bill going forward.”
Being able to take paid time off can have a larger impact on the community because workers don’t have to choose between their families’ well-being and a paycheck, according to Bobo.
“They will stay home when their children are sick and they won’t send their kids to school sick, which is what happens right now,” Bobo said.
Bobo isn’t the only supporter of Guzman’s bill. Eighty-three percent of Virginians support paid time off mandates, according to a September YouGov poll commissioned in part by the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy. In the Democrat-majority Virginia Congress however, one of the few things the delegates and senators can agree on is that businesses are hurting.
Del. Chris Head, who represents Virginia’s 17th District, voiced his concerns during the legislative special session requested by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.
“This bill is going to cause businesses who might hire people to think twice about it,” Head said. “It’s going to raise their expenses for hiring people and it’s going to end up hurting many of the very people that you’re trying to help with this legislation.”
Guzman said she isn’t deterred. After Gov. Northam and First Lady Pamela Northam announced they tested positive for COVID-19 on Sept. 25, Guzman said she needed to quarantine; Guzman had visited a school with the First Lady just a few days prior. The quarantine is just a reminder of what Guzman is fighting for.
“Listen, there are 1.2 million Virginians out there that, if they were in the same situation that we are today, they would continue to go to work, because they don’t have a dime,” Guzman said firmly. “Please pass the message to the Governor and the First Lady.”
The next regular session of the Virginia General Assembly is scheduled to start on Jan. 13, 2021.
Top Photo: Employees at the Kung Fu Tea on West Grace Street prepare drinks while wearing masks during the coronavirus pandemic. (Zachary Klosko/VCU)