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Gordon-Booth's bill guaranteeing all Illinois workers paid leave heads to governor's desk

221109 Jehan Gordon-Booth.jpg
Joe Deacon
/
WCBU
State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria.

A bill heading to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk guarantees 40 hours, or five days, of paid leave for every worker in Illinois. The bill’s path to law has been lengthy and contentious since it was first introduced in 2019.

State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, is a part of the process since the beginning. A sponsor of the bill in the House, she said the legislation provides dignity to workers across the state.

“There are millions, not hundreds or thousands, millions of workers in the state of Illinois, they get nothing. They get absolutely nothing,” said Gordon-Booth. “And they have the very same responsibilities that you and I have.”

It also comes from a personal place. Gordon-Booth said she’s a working mother and also remembers times growing up where paid leave would have made a difference for her family.

“My father had cancer twice,” she said. “And he, even through all the chemo treatments, he wouldn't miss work. And at the time, the employer that he worked at, they did have some days, but his previous employer (didn’t), he had just been indoctrinated.”

In guaranteeing time off for every employee in the state, Gordon-Booth hopes to allow families and individuals to address emergencies and unusual circumstances. She also believes the ability to step away in a time of crisis creates better employees.

“When your employees have the ability to manage their own lives outside of the workplace, you have an employee who actually can show up and do the job and do it well,” she said.

Over the course of the bill’s life, the total number of days changed from five to seven and back to five again. Gordon-Booth said negotiations with business and labor groups from around the state hinged, at least partially, on whether or not pre-emption is included in the bill. Pre-emption would allow the state government to overrule county or local governments when setting policy surrounding paid leave.

“The reality of it is, there's no county in the state besides the city of Chicago that actually has any kind of paid leave policy,” said Gordon-Booth. “So, we decided to not go in the direction of pre-emption. So we went back down to the five days.”

Some critics of the bill expressed concern about what the 40-hour requirement will mean for small businesses, and if it could increase operating costs when applied equally to businesses of all sizes. Gordon-Booth said officials plan on working closely with representatives of small business and business community leaders to make sure the bill doesn’t cause harm ahead of its Jan. 1, 2024 implementation.

“All voices have a seat at the table when it comes to the issues that I work on. And that's not going to change anytime soon,” she said. “So, we're going to keep them engaged. Because we want to hear from them.”

There are a few conditions on why and how the paid leave can be used. Workers earn the leave at a rate of one hour for every 40 hours worked and can only start using it after 90 days; employers can allow them to use it sooner if they want. The hours carry over if they’re not used within a year, but employers can still require their employees to give notice before taking the time off.

“I believe that we are leading in a very intentional, dignified way by offering this to the workers,” said Gordon-Booth. “To the millions of workers in Illinois, who don't have any family policy.”

Pritzker expressed support for the bill and is expected to sign it. You can find the full text of the bill here.

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Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.