by Bill Gaston, Greenwich
The following is a response to a letter published in the Greenwich Time and other papers by three state representatives opposing the paid sick days legislation. A version of this letter also appeared in that paper this week. Paid sick days did not pass the legislature before time ran out on the session.
The joint letter (6/2/09) written by Republican state representatives Camillo, Floren and Gibbons opposing paid sick leave for workers and families is an insult to the intelligence of the readers of the Greenwich Time. Rather than making a serious argument on why they think businesses would face a crushing financial burden with the passage of CT House Bill 6187 (which would require businesses with 50 or more employees to provide paid sick leave), these public officials instead resort to buffoonish, fact-free ideological assertions that only serve to cloud public understanding of this important issue.
According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, the United States is the only one of 22 top industrialized countries that fails to guarantee sick workers some form of paid sick leave. As the CEPR has documented, the absence of such a policy means that tens of millions of workers go to work each day sick, lowering productivity and potentially spreading illness to their coworkers and customers. This is no abstract concern, particularly with the sudden emergence of the H1N1 swine flu virus, and the closings of schools and workplaces around the state and country.
In their letter, our troika of clueless state reps ask “what does accrued sick leave have to do with providing parents paid leave to take care of the immediate problem of staying home with a sick child?” Here’s the answer: Everything! Millions of working Americans can’t afford to stay home because they don’t have paid time off, and when they do stay home, they face not only the burden of lost income, but the fear of being fired. That may be fine for business, but it is an unfair burden to lay on employees whose incomes have been stretched to the breaking point, and many of whom don’t have the luxury of paid vacations or time off. It is estimated that nearly half of private sector workers and three fourths of low-wage workers do not receive paid sick days.
These burdens borne by workers seem lost on Reps. Camillo, Floren and Gibbons.
Rather than putting forth evidence-based arguments on the relative costs and benefits of paid sick leave policy, they instead stoop to ridicule. Alluding to the first-in-the-country paid leave policy (enacted in 2006) in San Francisco, our reps simply choose to lampoon the city as “the home to fascinating social policies such as granting citizenship to dolphins,” instead of addressing the issue. This is not serious argument, but caricature, and unbefitting elected representatives charged with the serious business of crafting policies in the public interest.
If our writers had bothered to do the least amount of research, they might have learned that San Francisco’s law – similar statutes exist or are in the works in Washington D.C. and Milwaukee, WI – has hardly led to an exodus of business in the three years since it has been in effect. Indeed, according to a 2009 study by the Urban Institute, business owners surveyed “were able to implement this mandate with minimal impacts on their business.” Is there any reason to think why a comparable program in Connecticut would be any different?
Finally, substituting ideology for evidence, our reps colorfully rant that “Democrats use businesses as cash-laden piñatas at which they blindly flail their anti-business sticks. Instead, the state should be doing everything possible to retain existing businesses…that’s the way we grow jobs, increase revenue, and create a positive bottom line.” By this logic, perhaps our reps would favor abolishing child labor and minimum wage laws. That would certainly attract revenue-hungry employers to Connecticut, and create a positive bottom line, but is this the price we would want to pay?
Rather than howling over imaginary worst-case scenarios facing local businesses, our elected officials should be taking their cues from the rest of the civilized world and crafting public policy solutions that benefit both employers and employees. Supporting mandated paid sick leave policies would a good and “fascinating” place to start. What is good for San Francisco and Washington D.C. and the rest of the industrialized world should certainly be good enough for Connecticut.