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Obama Signs Order To Extend Contractors' Paid Sick Leave


President Obama spent part of his Labor Day in Boston.


BARACK OBAMA: Happy Labor Day, everybody.

CORNISH: That's where he announced a new executive order on paid sick days for workers. The president says about 300,000 employees of federal contractors will receive up to a week of paid sick leave every year. NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has more.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: President Obama says he wants to give every worker in America seven days of paid sick leave, but that's something he would need Congress to do.


OBAMA: But where I can act, I will. And by the way, I just did.

WANG: Before his flight landed in Boston, the president signed his latest Executive Order. It goes into effect in 2017, just as Obama prepares to leave the White House. Federal contractors will have to allow their workers earn at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours they work as part of the new requirements to do business with the federal government. The president said it will help about 300,000 workers.


OBAMA: You got parents who have to choose between losing income or staying at home with their sick child and victims of domestic violence or sexual assault who can't think medical attention or counseling because they might have their pay docked.

GARY CHAISON: We're doing something that sounds good, but it remains to be seen in the future whether or not it really has the intended impact.

WANG: Gary Chaison is a professor of labor relations at Clark University. He says the White House is walking a fine line.

CHAISON: Between increasing employee benefits and the impact on employment, the fear is that by increasing employee benefits, there may be greater unemployment.

WANG: In Boston, President Obama used Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft and Facebook as examples of companies that recently beefed up paid leave for their workers. But Chaison says some employers are concerned over incrasing labor costs and would prefer letting the market decide rather than facing mandates from the government. But so far, the White House is showing little patience with the market. Today's executive order comes after a series of other labor-related moves by Obama.


OBAMA: So I'm about to sign this executive order.

WANG: Last year, the president raised the minimum wage for employees of federal contractors to $10 and 10 cents. Then, this past June...


OBAMA: We took action to protect a worker's right to overtime.

WANG: That was by proposing new overtime rules that would raise pay for about 5 million workers. The president has also issued a memo to federal agencies, directing them to give federal workers up to six weeks of paid sick leave to care for a new child or a family member who's ill. For Vicki Shabo, a vice president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, this new executive order for federal contractors is a big victory.

VICKI SHABO: It's adding to the record of evidence from states and cities across the country as they're adopting paid sick leave policies as well.

WANG: Still, she concedes that the Obama administration's piece-by-piece approach to changing labor laws isn't ideal.

SHABO: We should do something bigger, but with the current gridlock in Congress, that doesn't seem possible at this particular moment.

WANG: Though, Shabo says this is also a moment to bring labor issues like paid leave back under the political spotlight as a race for the White House ramps up again. Hansi Lo Wang, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Hansi Lo Wang (he/him) is a national correspondent for NPR reporting on the people, power and money behind the U.S. census.
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