Sick Leave Showdown

Ohio is voting on a ballot initiative this fall that would make it the first state to require employers (with 25 or more employees) to provide ...
by | August 25, 2008

Ohio is voting on a ballot initiative this fall that would make it the first state to require employers (with 25 or more employees) to provide paid sick leave. This is an interesting initiative for a whole bunch of reasons:

1) It sounds like something that could become a national trend. For now, the proposal is doing well in the polls.

2) It reflects a newfound interest in the initiative process from the left side of the political spectrum. Conservatives have been more active in this area for quite some time, putting forward measures to limit taxes and spending, ban gay marriage and restrict abortion. Democrats and their allies pushed back with minimum wage increases and stem cell research measures in 2006. That pushback is continuing.

3) It could influence the presidential race in the most important state in the country. NBC's First Read offered this perspective a few weeks ago:

But of all the ballot initiatives, Dann adds, here's one that might be the most interesting as far as potential resonance with real live voters in a crucial swing state: The Ohio Healthy Families Initiative, expected to be approved for the November ballot, would mandate that all companies with more than 25 workers provide seven paid days of sick leave to employees. A recent Quinnipiac poll found that 71% of Ohioans support the sick leave requirement, which is almost identical to one in Obama's proposed economic plan. Sen. John McCain opposes the measure.

If Obama was planning to use this measure against McCain, however, he'll have to deal with a huge complicating factor. Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, a Democrat of course, announced late last week that he is opposing the initiative. The Toledo Blade  explains just how surprising a move this is:

COLUMBUS - Gov. Ted Strickland said yesterday he will oppose his own party and political base to fight a ballot issue to make Ohio the first state in the nation to mandate paid sick leave for most workers.

The move places the governor at odds with a coalition that includes the Ohio Democratic Party and powerful unions like the Service Employees International Union that is on course to put the question before voters on the Nov. 14 ballot. It also allies him with the business community and the Republican-controlled General Assembly, which have characterized the proposal as a job-killer.

The governor and Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher took their stance after months of straddling the fence, trying to fashion a compromise between the coalition and the business community that could have made the ballot issue unnecessary.

Strickland's frustration with ballot initiative process mirrors that of Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, another first-term moderate Democrat in a purple state. Both tried to diffuse disputes between business and labor to avoid fights at the ballot box. Neither succeeded.

Of course, failing to diffuse a dispute between business and labor is no reason for shame. It would probably be easier to negotiate amicable relations between oil and water.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer

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