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DN Editorial: Taking your leave

Council needs to pass a paid sick-day bill. Mayor Nutter's finally behind it.

Mayor Michael Nutter
Mayor Michael NutterRead more

IN AN IDEAL world, all workers would get paid a living wage and get employer-provided health care, sick leave and a retirement plan. But, this is not France.

We live in America, the land of the free - where employers are free to offer low-wage jobs without benefits.

The old theory of a rising tide lifting all boats doesn't apply in this case. As the economy has climbed out of the recession, the data tell us that the rich are getting richer while the poor are still underwater.

No one faces a bigger squeeze than the working poor, those folks who have jobs that pay at or near the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. It amounts to $15,080 a year.

In this country, you can be a mother of two children, working full time, and still fall below the poverty line. Far below. The consolation is that you will qualify for the maximum under SNAP, the food-stamp program. It's an example of the federal government, in effect, subsidizing low-wage jobs in lieu of employers paying decent wages.

And what happens if you or your child gets sick? You can take time off - and lose wages.

In some cases, if you are sick for a week or longer, you will be let go by your employer and replaced with another low-wage worker.

Twice, Councilman William Greenlee has gotten City Council to pass legislation that would require employers to offer paid sick leave, and twice, Mayor Nutter has vetoed it, citing burdens that the law would place on employers.

But, Nutter has had a change of heart, and we congratulate him for it.

He did the right thing and named a panel composed of businesspeople, health-care experts, academics and worker advocates and asked them to take a hard look at the issue.

The task force released its findings earlier this month. For starters, it revealed that more than 200,000 workers, about 35 percent to 40 percent of the entire city workforce, lacked paid sick leave.

It also recommended a program in which about 120,000 of those workers could get paid sick leave, about 40 hours of it each year, by requiring that employers with 15 or more employees offer it.

The task force also said that smaller businesses - those with fewer than 15 employees - should have an unpaid sick-leave program, so that employees who do take time off don't get fired for it.

Naturally, employees who work for companies that already have a paid sick leave would not be covered by this proposed policy, nor would part-time workers.

The task force said that the cost to businesses that offer sick leave would be small, based on its comparison with the 16 cities and three states that already have paid-sick-leave laws. It also said that "presenteeism" - coming to work while sick - is estimated to cost employers twice as much as absenteeism due to illness. (The workplace is a perfect place to spread germs.)

The task-force recommendations clearly are a compromise - with one eye on the employee's needs and the other on the employer's cost.

We hope that Greenlee, who has led the way on this issue, introduces a bill that tracks with the task force's guidelines - a bill Nutter now says he will sign.

We commend the task force for a job well-done. They have offered a compromise that will be a giant step forward toward humane treatment of employees.

Last year, Nutter established the Shared Prosperity program to combat the city's high poverty rate. Paid sick leave is one weapon in that battle.