LINCOLN — The 250,000 Nebraskans who work at least 30 hours a week but don’t have paid sick leave from their employers will likely get the chance to help secure the benefit at the ballot box.

Organizers of Paid Sick Leave for Nebraskans announced Thursday that they were turning in 138,000 voter signatures aimed at putting a minimum level of sick leave into state law.

Jo Giles of Women’s Fund of Omaha, one of many groups helping with the petition drive, said they are confident the push has the 90,000 valid voter signatures required to reach the general election ballot.

How the change would work

The ballot initiative would require businesses with 20 or fewer employees to fund a minimum of five paid sick days a year for full-time employees. Bigger businesses would be required to fund seven days.

Full- and part-time employees would earn an hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, organizers said. They could use it to handle personal and family illnesses.

“It’s a process of earning that time and then being able to use it when you need it,” Giles said.

If approved, those changes would take effect in October 2025. Other state ballot initiatives are in the final stretch of gathering signatures, which are due at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Who would be impacted

Supporters say the changes would help people in every industry, particularly those in factory, agricultural and service jobs, including manufacturing, restaurants, farm work and retail.

Rosa Pinto of the Heartland Workers Center, which advocates for worker rights and civic leadership, said no Nebraskan should have to choose between work and family or health.

She shared stories from a worker with diabetes who felt ill but couldn’t leave work for fear of being fired for missing work and others who had to leave their sick children home alone because of work.

“We deserve to fully recover before having to go back to work,” she said. “We deserve to take care of our loved ones without the pressure of suffering retaliation when we go back.”

Norberto Cazares Sanchez, a farm worker from near North Bend, said he drove two hours to attend the signature celebration in the basement of the Cornhusker Marriott in downtown Lincoln.

He said when you work 12 or 13 hours in the field, rest is sometimes hard to come by. He said as a single father, the flexibility would be helpful.

“I only have one kid of my own, but … my heart goes to everybody that has two or three,” Cazares Sanchez said.

Some businesses back change

Amelia Rosser, who owns Sheelytown Market, a small business in Omaha that sells plants and local artwork, said she is proud to support the effort to require paid sick leave.

She said she already offers sick time to her employees, as part of showing them that they and their families matter. She said some business owners won’t do that unless required.

“That is our responsibility to make sure that there’s a bare minimum requirement for everybody, and then to be able to go above and beyond that,” Rosser said.

Sue Martin of the state AFL-CIO union said too many employees feel pressured to keep working when sick. She said the change would help Nebraska businesses hire and retain workers.

Giles said it was frustrating to have to spend so much time and money on a workers rights issue the public supports but that the Legislature has failed to address.

“We’re glad that there are so many Nebraskans that rallied around this issue, that it’s a common sense issue,” she said. “Everyone’s faced a need to take paid sick time off.”

Lawmakers could reverse any change

State lawmakers who have resisted requiring a minimum level of sick leave would have the option of changing a voter-approved law.

Becky Gould of Nebraska Appleseed said she hopes the Legislature would respect the will of the voters. Most observers expect the measure to pass if it reaches the ballot.

The group raised more than $424,000 to support the effort and still listed $310,000 in cash on hand at the end of May. Much of that backing came from nonprofit organizations.

No group has filed to raise funds to oppose the measure.

Alex Reuss, executive vice president of legislation and policy at the Nebraska State Chamber of Commerce, said most Nebraska businesses already offer paid personal time or sick leave to compete for talent.

She said, “That’s why we prefer a federal approach that incentivizes even more businesses to offer paid leave, rather than a patchwork of state laws with inconsistent mandates that make it harder for them to care for their most valuable assets: Their employees.”

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