Why Do Paid Sick Leave Laws Shortchange Union Employees?

Help me understand why some paid sick leave laws do not guarantee union-represented employees the same paid sick leave benefit guaranteed non-union employees. PSL proponents recite the mantra that an employee should not have to choose between his or her health, or a family member’s health, and a paycheck. Yet, many PSL laws guarantee that non-union employees will not need to make that choice, but do not make that same guarantee to union members. This is especially vexing given that labor leaders advocate strongly for PSL laws.

Take Philadelphia. Its PSL law does not even apply to employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement. PSL laws in Arizona, Maryland, Cook County, Chicago and Seattle allow unions and employers to waive employees’ PSL rights in their labor agreement.

Other jurisdictions allow PSL waivers as well:

  • In the District of Columbia, the labor contract can reduce the number of sick days bargaining unit employees receive to no less the three. The law allows employees of employers with at least 100 employees to accrue up to seven days, and employees of employers with 25 to 99 employees up to five.
  • In New York City, the labor contract can eliminate the PSL benefits for bargaining unit employees if it requires premium rates for Sunday work or has some other benefit “comparable” to paid leave. There is no requirement that an employee ever have the opportunity to work on Sunday.
  • The California law allows a labor contract to waive employees’ PSL rights if it has a provision for paid sick days, final and binding arbitration of disputes relating to those sick pay provisions, has premium wage rates for all overtime hours worked, and has regular hourly rates of pay at least 30% higher than the state minimum rate.
  • In Austin, the most recent PSL law, unions and employers can agree to a reduced cap of earned sick time. The law allows employers to have an annual cap of 48 or 64 hours, depending on the employer’s size.


Some may surmise that a union would not agree to a PSL benefit less than that in the law. If that were so, the waiver language would be superfluous and there would be no need for labor to advocate for it. Also, anyone who has even negotiated a labor contract—and I have negotiated many—knows that collective bargaining is sausage-making at its finest. It makes legislative sausage-making look like the minor leagues.

Help me understand. I have posted that entreaty about PSL waivers before (see here, here and here).