Arizona Blocked Cities’ Right To Give Workers Earned Sick Days. Now AZ Cities Are Fighting Back

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Arizona Blocked Cities’ Right To Give Workers Earned Sick Days. Now AZ Cities Are Fighting Back

Tempe, AZ – By Lauren Kuby, Councilmember, City of Tempe

Last month, the Arizona Legislature passed, and Governor Ducey signed, HB2579, prohibiting cities from enacting an earned sick day policy for workers in their communities. This preemptive law was a shot across the bow of Tempe and Tucson, which had been striving to craft compromise ordinances that would have guaranteed baseline worker protections.

Last week, five councilmembers from Tempe, Flagstaff and Tucson, as well as 22 state representatives and 10 state senators from across Arizona, filed suit in Maricopa Superior Court challenging the constitutionality of HB2579. Why have we councilmembers signed on as plaintiffs against the State of Arizona? We are driven to action simply because two long-held values — the Home Rule Provision and the Voter Protection Act are under attack.

HOME RULE PROVISION

Our state Constitution grants our 19 chartered cities certain rights and privileges to legislate free of state interference and prohibits the Legislature from dictating matters of local concern. Creating protections for workers and families falls squarely within our duties as elected officials to promote the health, safety and general welfare of our residents.

HB2579 represents legislative overreach into local decision making, as Prop 202, passed by voters in 2006, established that regulating wages and benefits is a local issue. Ironically, many of the politicians trying to subvert local democracy are the same who uphold the value of local control when it suits them. Arizona has long been fodder for late-night comedy, but this latest legislative hypocrisy is no laughing matter to working families.

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, over 934,000 Arizonans, or 45% of the workforce, cannot earn a single paid sick day to recover from illness or seek medical care. Those lacking access to sick days are disproportionately women and primarily low-wage workers in the service and restaurant industries.

Exploring this issue, we continually asked ourselves, do we really want someone preparing or serving food to decide between going to work sick or staying home unpaid? Shouldn’t we unite as a community and do the right thing for our workers, our businesses, and our public health?

As Arizonans, we are entrusted to make thoughtful policy choices that best represent the values and ideals of our residents. It is why we, as public servants, cannot abide this threat to local decision making and have taken our concerns to the courts.

VOTER PROTECTION PROVISION

In 2006, voters overwhelmingly passed Prop 202, a ballot initiative granting authority over wages and benefits to cities. But, in a larger sense, Prop 202 made clear the will of the voters: how you treat workers is a matter of local concern and should reflect local values.
Unlike many other states, we are equipped a handy tool to protect local democracy. Arizona’s Voter Protection Act safeguards voter-approved laws from legislative interference, unless the changed law advances the intent of the old law and gains the vote of three-quarters of the Legislature.

HB2579 was passed without this supermajority and negates the intent of Prop 202, violating the bulwark of voter protection enshrined in our state constitution. One year ago, faced with the same legal arguments, the Maricopa Superior Court ruled that Arizona cities have the right to raise their own minimum wages. We expect that the Court will affirm the right of cities to set minimum standards for nonwage benefits as well.

Ultimately, we believe that workers should not have to choose between a paycheck and their health or their family’s health. Mothers should feel secure staying home and caring for a sick child or parent without worrying about losing their job. And cities should aim to do all they can to protect the public health and build economic security and resilience for our communities, our cities and, ultimately, our state.

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