Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., decided to self-quarantine this week after coming in contact with an individual who tested positive for a novel coronavirus, which causes the disease Covid-19, at the Conservative Political Action Conference late last month.
But Gaetz’s decision to take time away from his job at Congress without the fear of losing pay or being fired is a right few Americans share. In fact, Gaetz voted to prohibit Florida residents from sharing that right.
Gaetz’s office did not respond to a request for comment. The lawmaker has since tested negative for the SARS-CoV-2 virus but is continuing to self-quarantine “in an abundance of caution.” Members of Congress get paid a salary of $174,000 or more no matter what. They do not have to vote or be present in D.C., and Gaetz has missed votes all week.
Gaetz initially sought medical treatment from the Capitol’s Office of Attending Physician, the in-house government health clinic for high-level federal officials, alongside two other lawmakers, Reps. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Doug Collins, R-Ga., who also attended CPAC.
Despite the national push for Americans to practice social distancing to curb spread of the coronavirus, many workers do not have the option to take paid sick leave or work remotely, and must continue to travel to work.
Workers in many industrialized countries have paid sick leave, a right that has been opposed by business interests in the U.S. for decades. Over the last 10 years, many Americans have in fact lost the right for paid sick leave as corporate interests groups have pushed to roll back the right of local governments to enact paid sick leave policies.
In 2013, then-Gov. Rick Scott signed Gaetz-backed preemption legislation that barred every city and county in Florida from enacting paid sick leave legislation. Disney World, Darden Restaurants, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce promoted the Florida preemption effort.
The Florida law was part of a national drive by industry that began as a reaction to an ordinance in San Francisco. In 2006, voters in San Francisco passed a referendum that required employers to provide paid medical leave for workers, a decision that sparked a movement across the country as other cities developed similar policies. The counterassault from the business lobby came a few years later, as Republicans began making electoral gains after the 2010 midterms.
In 2011, then-Gov. Scott Walker signed a preemption bill into law in Wisconsin designed to override the 2008 Milwaukee ordinance providing paid sick days to workers. Later that year, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a lobbyist-run group that develops template legislation, championed the Walker legislation as a key policy that other states should emulate.
The ALEC committee tasked with leading the charge on banning local paid sick leave was headed by a lobbyist from Yum! Brands, the company that owns Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell.
In states across the country, the ALEC legislation spread, with Republican-controlled legislative chambers rapidly passing laws to preempt paid sick leave. All told, business lobbying groups have pushed 22 states to enact preemption laws to make local city and county paid sick ordinances illegal.
Although some large American employers have announced plans to voluntarily extend some paid sick leave policies to workers, the crisis around the novel coronavirus has forced the issue back into the national spotlight.
Earlier this week, congressional Democrats unveiled federal legislation to combat the spread of the virus. The bill includes expanded food assistance, free lab testing for the coronavirus, extended unemployment benefits, and paid sick leave.
This morning, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., vigorously pushed back, highlighting paid sick leave as a key provision his caucus would oppose. The bill, McCarthy said at a press conference, “forces permanent paid sick leave for all business without exemptions and no sunsets.”
The GOP stance, notably, reflects the demands of the most powerful business lobby in Washington, D.C.: the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which represents the largest employers in America.
“[W]e believe this crisis should not be used as an opportunity to try to pass legislation that is poorly tailored to the situation and will not be signed into law,” Neil Bradley, the executive vice president of the Chamber wrote in a letter to Congress today. “This emergency bill should not create a federal, one-size-fits-all, permanent leave mandate on employers,” he added.