Enactment of the Ohio Healthy Families Act
by Josh Moorhead
The Ohio Healthy Families Act was a ballot measure neither enacted nor voted on in Ohio during the November 2008 election cycle. The measure would have impacted sick leave for employees. Contended with some controversy the act was argued to be a burden to employers and new businesses but a benefit to employees.
The Ohio Healthy Families Act would have mandated employers with 25 or more full-time employees grant those employees seven days paid sick leave a year for health issues affecting them or their families. The measure also made it so unused sick days would carry over into the following year, that less than one whole sick day could be used at a time, that employers could not deny sick leave, that sick leave would only have to have doctor's notice if it lasted more than three days and that employers could not discriminate based on the amount sick days taken or not taken. The measure would have only affected employers who did not already have policies meeting this standard.
The act was initially proposed by the Service Employee's International District 1199. Of the 120,683 signatures required to propose a ballot measure the act received 241,739 signees according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. After getting sufficient support for the measure and submitting it to Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner in time to make the 2008 ballot the SEIU then requested a withdrawal before Brunner was able to approve the measure for the November ballot.
Besides Ohio labor unions the measure was also supported by politicians Sherrod Brown, the Democratic Senator of Ohio, and 2008 Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama. The measure also garnered support from other liberal and progressive organizations including the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center. Among Ohioans the act received 70 percent support, based on polling by Ohio newspapers such as the Columbus Dispatch.
Among those opposing the measure were Ohio businesses and their representatives. Commerce organizations and other groups such as the Ohio Roundtable, the East Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and the Ohioans to Protect Fair Jobs and Benefits, united in their effort against the act's passage in fear that it would hurt job creation and adversely effect jobs already existing in the state, causing employers to cut pay and other benefits.
Gay rights groups also opposed the measure because it did not extend it's benefits to families with gay parents.
Ohio's Democratic Governor Ted Strickland also opposed the act hoping for a seperate agreement to be made between the Ohio labor unions and employers that would satisfy both.
Those that initially created and supported the act, chief amongst them the SEIU, requested withdrawal of the initiative from the 2008 ballot with agreement from Senator Sherrod Brown, Governor Strickland and others. The withdrawal came after assertions that the act would damage Ohio's already then lagging job market and create unnecessary stress in record keeping and other bureaucracy. In the Dayton Business Journal SEIU President Becky Williams said the proposition "didn't make sense for Ohio workers."
Ultimately the SEIU and other supporters withdrew the act in hopes that a federal mandate for sick leave benefits would be enacted by then candidate Barack Obama should he win the election.
While the act would have made Ohio the only state in America with mandated sick leave the measure was pulled in lieu of more uniform standards. As of yet no such standards are in place and no similar measure has passed in Ohio.