Winning Sick Leave at the Citywide Level

Young Workers United

Young Workers United, a multi-racial San Francisco organization of young and immigrant workers, won an historic November victory when they achieved citywide paid sick day legislation. . . .

Young Workers United (YWU), a multi-racial San Francisco organization of young and immigrant workers, won an historic November victory when they achieved citywide paid sick day legislation.

Voters approved Prop F for Paid Sick Days by 61 percent on November 7, 2007, making San Francisco the first and only place in the nation where workers are guaranteed the right to a paid sick day for themselves and their families.

The paid sick days ordinance represents another step towards raising standards in the low-wage, non-union service sector in San Francisco.

Young Workers United works with young people in restaurants and on campuses to improve their working conditions. Matt Garron, a YWU member and bartender said, “There have been times when I’ve been sick and dragged myself to work anyway. It was a choice between my health and my rent. Nobody should have to make that choice.”

According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, barely half of all workers (51 percent) in the U.S. have paid sick days, and only one in three (30 percent) have sick days to care for sick children.


Young Workers United members made paid sick days a priority for 2006 and formed a coalition of community groups, unions, and other organizations that represent low-income parents, workers, immigrants, and youth.

The Coalition for Paid Sick Days, led by YWU, is composed of the Chinese Progressive Association, Committee of Interns and Residents (CIR), St. Peters Housing Committee, Rise Up! Grocery Workers, Parent Voices, and UNITE HERE Local 2.

YWU chose those groups because they represent many of the people who lack paid sick days. The coalition wanted to make sure the law covered everybody working in San Francisco, with no minimum hour requirement.

When opponents complained that the law covered even part-time, temporary, and domestic workers, the coalition pointed to its slogan: “Everyone Deserves Paid Sick Days.”

The initiative had a tiered structure to protect small businesses. Under the law, workers at businesses that employ less than 10 people in total, including those employed through franchises or chains, can accrue up to 40 hours, or five sick days.

All others accrue up to 72 hours, or nine days. A worker can use the hours to care for themselves, children, parents, or relatives.



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Also, an unmarried worker can designate one other person that they may care for. The coalition wanted to guarantee that those with changing and diverse “families” are still treated with the same respect and have the same rights as traditional, nuclear families and those with the legal right to marry.


The coalition made a strategic decision to place the measure on the ballot rather than lobbying the city’s Board of Supervisors to adopt the law.

YWU knew it would face fierce resistance from the business community, which would use all of its political influence and money to fight the law at the board. Their power came from the people of San Francisco, who overwhelmingly supported paid sick days in polls.

“This was definitely a grassroots campaign,” said Dante Grant of YWU. “We sat together in a room covered with butcher paper, mapping out districts, creating a media plan, training ourselves to gain endorsements and speak on the issue.”

The campaign strategy focused on educating and mobilizing our constituencies —workers, parents, immigrants, and union members—to get the message out. The coalition ran a $15,000 campaign, spending the majority of the funds on producing 100,000 pieces of literature.

The tri-lingual English, Cantonese, and Spanish literature featured members of the coalitions’ organizations, including a taqueria worker, a hairdresser, a grocery worker, and parents.

Each group focused on outreach strategies that fit their constituencies, as well as participating in joint events. RISE Up! reached out to grocery worker activists to get the message across to other union members and YWU concentrated on outreach to community college students.

The Chinese Progressive Association and St. Peter’s focused on Chinatown and the Mission District. CIR worked through residents at San Francisco’s public general hospital to mobilize health care professionals.


The coalition made sure to have a positive, pro-worker message. “We didn’t want to demonize workers and appeal to consumer fears about illness,” said YWU member Naomi Nakamura. “Instead, we wanted to show how sick days are a human right and necessary in a caring, compassionate community.”

Since the passage of the bill, the coalition has continued community outreach in order to enforce the new law.

For more information, please contact Young Workers United at 415/621-4155 or workingyouth AT