The Funder Behind New York City’s Paid Sick Leave Victory


Bolder Advocacy

New York

The growing movement for paid sick days represents a rare bright spot in the policy outlook for America’s workers. Already this year, a local campaign for paid sick days claimed a victory in Portland, Ore. New York City just adopted a paid sick leave policy, which will make it the fifth city in the nation to pass the law. With its unwavering support for advocacy and skill-building, the Rockefeller Family Fund has played an important role in propelling the movement.

RFF’s commitment to advancing economic justice for women led it to support the paid sick days cause. Associate Director Lisa Guide also credits Helen Neuborne of the Ford Foundation for steering them to the issue. A long-time supporter of the fight for paid sick days, Neuborne invited RFF to gatherings on the topic. After reviewing the data connecting paid sick leave to women’s economic status, RFF embraced the issue.

In deciding to get involved, Guide says the foundation took stock of its ability to do the “hard-hitting advocacy work” necessary to move the issue.

“We asked ourselves: How do we use our dollars to jump start investment in areas that will make a difference in women’s lives?” she explains.

The question: How could RFF best contribute to the movement?

As a hybrid organization, RFF acts as both a foundation and an advocacy organization. Most of RFF’s staff brings a background in advocacy to their work—both in the political campaign and nonprofit arenas. Paid sick days appealed to RFF as a labor issue with popular support and great potential for grassroots organizing.

“We want to help modernize work in a way that meets the needs of today’s workforce and promotes economic vitality,” says Guide. “We decided to fund and develop advocacy that uses paid sick days campaigns as the ‘tip of the spear’ towards achieving those goals.”

Strengthen the field’s capacity for victory

RFF quickly discovered that there were many great and passionate groups around the country that had been working on these campaigns for multiple years—not unusual for such a policy goal. RFF determined the groups could benefit from help developing certain skills integral to an effective advocacy campaign. Many of the skills they identified related to challenges that surface as a campaign evolves. For instance:

  • As you become more successful, how to answer your opponents?
  • When you’re near victory, how do you close the deal?
  • How do you bargain?

To provide campaigns with hands-on assistance in these and other areas, RFF retains consultants with expertise in advocacy. Guide emphasizes that the campaign participants are very talented, but, she notes, “Everyone can use a little help.”

Drawing on the collective years of political experience between its staff and consultants, RFF has developed an internal model of the important components of an advocacy campaign. This model guides them as they assess the strengths and gaps in an individual campaign in a particular state or city. Grantees are then offered assistance from consultants to build or improve certain components of the campaign.

“They help build the capacity necessary for victory,” Guide says of the consultants.

Role as national convenor

The paid sick days movement has been helped immensely by the leadership of a number of national research and advocacy organizations. RFF funds groups like the National Partnership for Women and Families, Family Values at Work and the Center for American Progress, among others, in order to lay out the best cases for the policies and also to give a perspective on the opponents’ arguments.

To enable the exchange of information and best practices, RFF has established a regular phone call every two weeks between the state groups and the national groups they’re funding. The call is an opportunity for each state to give a brief report and then make any requests from the national groups.

“The sharing of information is really, really important so that you’re not recreating the wheel in different places all over the country,” Guide points out.

Fund a combination of groups

Around the country, coalitions involved in the sick days movement typically involve both 501(c)(3) and 501(c)(4) organizations, in addition to unions. Guide believes it’s critical to have a mix of c3s and c4s to increase the “potency” of an effective campaign. As a 501(c)(3) public charity, RFF uses its 501h election to provide grants to 501(c)(4)s.

“It helps to have a bit of c4 to increase the number of tools that you have in the course of the campaign,” she explains.

Finding small victories even in defeats

In addition to New York City and Portland, Ore., RFF has also funded campaigns in Orange County, Fla., Vermont and Philadelphia. RFF takes a long view when assessing the progress of the campaigns.

Despite the fact that Philadelphia’s mayor vetoed a paid sick days bill for the second time in March 2013, Guide sees positive signs in the defeat. For starters, the measure got two more votes from the city council this time than the first time it came up for a vote. And more importantly, the first time around the mayor vetoed the bill in the office of the Chamber of Commerce. This time around he did it much more privately.

“I think the tide is turning in Philadelphia,” says Guide. “It takes more than one year and usually takes more than two years to win these campaigns. I have no doubt that the advocates in Philadelphia are going to prevail.”

And speaking like a seasoned advocate-turned-funder, Guide adds:

“It just takes time, and we’re not going away.”