SHOULD HOURLY workers be able to earn paid sick days? A bill in City Council that mandated businesses to provide paid sick leave was vetoed by Mayor Nutter in 2011, but it may be having a second wind: Council holds hearings Tuesday on an amended bill.
Back when the bill was first promoted by Councilmen Darrell Clarke and Bill Greenlee, many business leaders complained that it would be another obstacle to job creation in a city that already has a punishing wage tax to contend with. We agreed.
Today, we're not so sure.
For one thing, Greenlee has made significant changes to the original; those changes would exclude workers in collective bargaining, as well as pool employees and interns.
The provision would call for a maximum of four paid sick days for employees of small businesses (six-20 employees) and seven days for big businesses. Mom-and-pop businesses, with five or fewer employees, would be exempted.
But what's also changed is a few years of hard times for many workers, including a confluence of worker-punishing trends that have seen stagnant wages and an erosion of benefits prompted by the great recession. A 2011 report pointed out that while worker productivity in the U.S. has surged, income and wages have stagnated.
And the Economic Policy Institute reports that by 2012, corporate profits had hit record highs, while worker wages fell to their lowest-ever share of the GDP. Low-wage workers who would be most likely to benefit from earned sick leave are the most vulnerable to job loss, as well as to serious hits to their income if they must take time off for themselves or a sick child. That affects the city's economy.
This isn't our bleeding hearts talking; it's the recognition that as more people suffer from job or income loss and fall into poverty, we all pay anyway - we pay not just in a weaker economy, but in higher health-care costs, and higher social-service costs. And that's even before getting to the potential lost time of all those who may be infected by the sick who must report to work and school.
Nobody sets out to create poverty, but we should be more cognizant of policies that lead to the kind of dead ends that throw people into poverty. Illnesses leading to job loss, for example, can too easily lead to poverty. And it's not just government's job to solve it.
States like Connecticut, and cities like San Francisco have passed such earned-sick-leave legislation, and the reports suggest that the damage to the bottom line is, at most, minimal. San Franscisco, for example, reported no loss in overall profitability. Advocates point to other compelling arguments for the benefits of a healthy workforce.
And it would be easier if the region or the state as a whole adopted such a law instead of just this city - but Nutter has taken a leadership role in forming the Metropolitan Caucus with regional leaders. This would be a good agenda item for that group.
We encourage those on both sides of earned sick leave to give this idea another hearing.