Gonzalez cast Assembly Bill 1522 both as a financial security net for workers and as a public health measure. She noted that many workers who do not receive paid sick days work in the food industry, where sick workers risk infecting consumers, or with more vulnerable populations such as young children and the elderly.
"If you're an hourly worker and you're sick you have to choose if you're going to pay the bills or take a day off," Gonzalez said, noting that single mothers face a challenge caring for sick children if they cannot take a day off.
The measure would require California employers to give paid sick leave to employees who have worked at the job for at least 90 days. Employers could cap each worker's total sick days at three per year.
Gonzalez said guaranteeing sick days would also diminish health care costs, both by preventing diseases from spreading for lack of treatment and by not requiring workers to resort to emergency care, Gonzalez argued.
"We know that it's about four times more expensive when a mother takes her child to the emergency room after hours rather than being able to take time to take them to a doctor to prevent further sickness or address sickness," Gonzales said.
While the California Chamber of Commerce has not yet taken a position on the bill, they and other business interests have opposed similar efforts in the past. A series of paid sick day bills by former Assemblywoman Fiona Ma could not attract enough votes to overcome pro-business arguments.
PHOTO: Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, receives applause from lawmakers as she walks down the center isle of the Assembly to take the oath of office at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, May 28, 2013. The Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli.