California workers will get five sick days instead of three under law signed by Gov. Newsom

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Workers in California will soon receive a minimum of five days of paid sick leave annually, instead of three, under a new law Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Wednesday.

The law, which takes effect in January, also increases the amount of sick leave workers can carry over into the following year. Newsom said it demonstrates that prioritizing the health and well-being of workers “is of the utmost importance for California’s future.”

“Too many folks are still having to choose between skipping a day’s pay and taking care of themselves or their family members when they get sick,” Newsom said in a statement announcing his action.

It was one of more than a dozen bills the Democratic governor signed Wednesday. He has until mid-October to act on all the legislation sent to him this year. He can sign, veto or let bills become law without his signature.

Beyond preventing workers from choosing between taking a day off or getting paid, proponents of the sick day legislation argue it will help curb the spread of diseases and make sure employees can be productive at work. But the California Chamber of Commerce, which represents businesses across the state, said it will be burdensome for small businesses.

“Far too many small employers simply cannot absorb this new cost, especially when viewed in context of all of California’s other leaves and paid benefits, and they will have to reduce jobs, cut wages, or raise consumer prices to deal with this mandate,” Jennifer Barrera, the group’s president, said in a statement.

The law was among several major labor initiatives in the Legislature this year, including proposals to raise the wages of health care workers and allow legislative staffers to unionize. Newsom already signed a law to raise the minimum wage for fast food workers to $20 an hour. But he vetoed a bill Saturday that would have given unemployment benefits to striking workers, saying the fund the state would use is approaching nearly $20 billion in debt.

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The United Food and Commercial Workers Western States Council, which supported the sick day legislation, said the law will help prevent the spread of deadly diseases.

“Five paid sick days is a step in the right direction and workers will be less likely forced to risk their livelihoods to do the right thing and stay home when they’re sick because of this bill,” Andrea Zinder, president of the group’s Local 324 chapter, said in a statement.

Newsom also signed a law Wednesday to ban local government from manually counting ballots in most cases, a direct response to a rural Northern California county’s plan to stop using machines to count votes.

Shasta County’s board of supervisors, controlled by a conservative majority, voted earlier this year to end its contract with Dominion Voting Systems, a company that has been subject to unfounded allegations of fraud pushed by former Republican President Donald Trump and his allies. County leaders said there was a loss of public confidence in the company’s machines.

At the time, local leaders did not have a plan for how the county would conduct future elections for its 111,000 registered voters. The county had been preparing to count ballots by hand for its next election on Nov. 7, 2023, to fill seats on the school board and fire district board and decide the fate of two ballot measures.

The new law, which takes effect immediately, halts Shasta County officials’ plans. The only exceptions under the law are for regularly scheduled elections with fewer than 1,000 eligible registered voters and special elections where there are fewer than 5,000 eligible voters.

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Assemblymember Gail Pellerin, a Democrat from Santa Cruz who authored the law and is a former local elections official, said the law creates necessary guardrails around elections. The law also requires local government use state-certified voting machines.

The legislation “ensures that no California voter will be disenfranchised by the actions and decisions of ill-informed political actors,” she said in a statement.

The legislation has divided the rural county. Shasta County Clerk Cathy Darling Allen, a Democrat, called the law a “commonsense protection for all California voters.”

Despite the county getting rid of its Dominion voting machines, local leaders gave her permission to purchase equipment needed to comply with federal laws for voters with disabilities. The system that was purchased, made by Hart InterCivic, includes scanners capable of tabulating votes electronically. The equipment will be used to tabulate votes in upcoming elections, Darling Allen said.

Shasta County Board of Supervisors chair Patrick Henry Jones told The Associated Press in September the county would sue to block the law, adding that state officials “cannot guarantee that these machines haven’t been manipulated.” Jones didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Newsom signing the bill into law.

While hand counts of ballots occur in parts of the United States, this typically happens in small jurisdictions with small numbers of registered voters. Hand counts, however, are commonly used as part of post-election tests to check that machines are counting ballots correctly, but only a small portion of the ballots are counted manually.

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Sophie Austin is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Austin on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter: @sophieadanna