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OP-ED | Senate Should Say Yes To Paid Sick Days

by | May 20, 2011 1:24pm () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Opinion

Next time you go out for a romantic dinner, consider this stomach turning fact from a study led by Dr. Steven Sumner at Duke University Hospital: one out of eight restaurant workers has come to work at least twice in the past year while suffering from diarrhea or vomiting. It’s not because they’re vying for the chance to be the next Typhoid Mary. It’s because they’re one of the 38 percent of private sector workers who don’t have access to paid sick days.

The bulk of the workers who do not have paid sick days are in low paid service sector occupations, such as restaurants, grocery stores, day care centers and nursing homes, where they are in contact not only with food, but those most vulnerable to infection – very young children and the elderly.

A study conducted by Penn State University found that the lack of paid sick days for private sector workers increased public health risks during the H1N1 pandemic, and continue to leave the country “ill-prepared… for future outbreaks of contagious diseases.” More than 90 percent of public sector employees, who have paid sick days, stayed home from work in accordance with CDC guidelines during the H1N1 pandemic, but only 66 percent of private sector employees took time away from work when infected. When you are making minimum wage or not much more and stand to lose income vital to your family’s survival – or your employment – it’s easy to understand why employees head to work even if it puts the broader community at risk. And so we had a situation where 8 million workers infected with H1N1 went to work, thereby infecting an estimated seven million co-workers.

The usual arguments are being trotted out in opposition to the bill. “If paid sick days passes, Connecticut will be the only state in the country to pass such a piece of legislation and what kind of message does that send?” Senate Minority Leader John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said Wednesday. “It says Connecticut is not open to business.” 

The Connecticut Business and Industry Association opposes the bill on the grounds that it would cause businesses to lose their competitive edge.

But is this really the case?

In 2007, San Francisco, passed the nation’s first paid sick leave legislation. Since then, job growth has been consistently higher in San Francisco than in neighboring counties that lack a paid sick days law, according to a Drum Major Institute study. San Francisco also experienced stronger employment growth than neighboring counties in leisure and hospitality, accommodation, and food service—the very industries critics claimed would be most negatively affected by a paid sick days law. Meanwhile, suspicions that workers would use sick days as additional vacation days proved false. A study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that despite the availability of either five or nine sick days under the sick day plan, the typical worker with access used only three paid sick days during the previous year, and one-quarter of employees with access used zero paid sick days.

Looking at this on a global basis, of the 15 most economically competitive countries in the world, the United States was the only one that didn’t offer paid sick leave according to an eight year study by Harvard and McGill Universities. It’s incredibly myopic of the business community to look at this as a measure that we can’t afford because it makes us less competitive. It’s symptomatic of the old fashioned, inflexible thinking that will prevent us from becoming a truly competitive 21st century global power. Interestingly, for first time this year, San Francisco ranked in the top five (#3) in the 2011 edition of the Cities of Opportunity report from PriceWaterhouseCoopers and the Partnership for New York City, which ranks the best 26 cities around the globe on business opportunities, culture, livability, and innovation. From both a health and economic perspective, it seems unwise not to provide paid sick leave.

Sarah Darer Littman is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers and an award-winning novelist of books for teens. Long before the financial meltdown, she worked as a securities analyst and earned her MBA in Finance from the Stern School at NYU.

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(5) Archived Comments

posted by: CitizenCT | May 22, 2011  12:09pm

Wow Sarah, there you go again.  When you reference the Penn State University study, why don’t you mention that it was bought and paid for by IWPR, a self-serving liberal hack organization?  You reference that during H1N1, “only 66 percent of private sector employees took time away from work when infected”.  But there’s no data saying how many with Vs without paid sick leave took the time off.  I suspect the ones with paid sick time kept working anyway because 1) they more so can work remotely from home and 2) they’re more money motivated because they are paid for performance, where as performance has much less impact on public sector pay changes.

You reference that since the legislation passed in San Francisco, job growth has been higher.  In fact the SF unemployment rate is 3% higher since passage, a decline in jobs not growth.  Why didn’t your piece include that in the survey you like to reference, more than eight out of 10 employers in San Francisco said the paid sick leave ordinance had NO effect on the number of employees who came to work sick or that close to 30 percent of employees in the bottom fifth of earners reported layoffs or reduced hours at their place of work after passage of the paid sick leave mandate?  An inconvenient truth you chose to ignore?  Just checking. 

Businesses know they can’t succeed with sick employees providing customer service or infecting their co-workers.  They don’t need legislation to tell them that, but deserve the freedom to manage it however appropriate for their industry/business.

posted by: skydogct | May 22, 2011  1:42pm

The best op-ed written on sick leave yet. She makes some substantial points based not on fear but on extensive studies and statistics. Those against a sick-leave policy base their case on what-ifs and create worst-case scenarios. Connecticut’s businesses, along with it’s employees, will be better for this policy, not worse. The sky’s not going to fall (the Rapture’s been postponed), and businesses will continue to prosper. Let Connecticut lead the way.

posted by: ASTANVET | May 22, 2011  9:54pm

This is a world gone mad!  Are you serious?? Going forward with a paid sick leave bill is almost as stupid as paying $6 million dollars a mile for a bus tram that no one will use… or $900B on upgrades to a hospital that could have gone to grants to other area hospitals…putting forward a budget that not only doesn’t balance, but raises taxes only to have a built in “surplus”... cut 1.6B from a budget without changing the underlying liabilities… (smoke and mirrors) oh wait, we’ve already done that.  Back to the topic at hand.  What our great friends in the legislature don’t realize are two things, personal freedom (choice) and unintended consequence.  Personal freedom (choice) starts at a very early age.  Many of these waiters and waitresses, grocery clerks, etc are young, working through school or until they transition into the next job.  They CHOOSE these professions because of a variety of reasons, but fully knowing that they do not have sick time, or health care in a lot of situations.  I don’t have a study on the employee turn over, the absenteeism, or other statistics, but common sense would say that they just don’t like coming in to work when they don’t feel good whether from H1N1 to a hangover.  Granting paid time off (courtesy of legislation) is just giving your average college student, high school student paid time for no productivity, in other words, a freebie paid day off to use at their leisure.  It only costs those evil businesses who have to pay double for that shift in order to bring in another worker… i mean what harm can come from that.  Unintended consequences:  You seem to think that employers will hire, and employ people regardless of the change to the law.  There will undoubtedly be changes in employment practice as you have fundamentally changed the rules.  But i’m sure this is another ‘we must pass it to know what it does’ moment.  You guys never cease to amaze me.

posted by: DrHunterSThompson | May 22, 2011  10:03pm

Huh? This bill won’t fix that. This legislation is much ado about nothing from both sides.

posted by: gerardw | May 23, 2011  8:05am

“Penn State” study? Report is co-authored by employee of IWPR and there’s no evidence of any study at Penn State.
With regards to the San Francisco data ... where’s the control group? There’s no science here, just rhetoric.

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