By Cathy Mangini
I am a Philadelphia small-business owner, and I believe paid sick days are a smart investment in the health of the city's workforce and economy. So I hope Mayor Nutter signs legislation passed by City Council last week that would give all Philadelphia workers access to paid sick time.
My father and I are the proud owners of Teri's diner and bar in the Italian Market. We've worked hard to build our business, the success of which is due in no small part to a loyal, committed staff. And all 12 of our full-time employees get paid sick days.
In the restaurant world, high staff turnover is the norm. But I'm proud to report that in the three years that Teri's has been open, not one of our employees has left.
Our sick-time policy is one way we show our employees and customers that we value a happy, healthy place to dine and work. When Teri's employees get sick - as we all do from time to time - they can take a day off to get better without worrying about losing wages or not being able to pay their bills.
The policy is an investment that pays us back tenfold. You can't develop customer loyalty with a staff that's constantly relearning the menu and the regulars' names. Paid sick days improve our customer service and help us avoid the cost of recruiting, hiring, and training new workers.
Yes, margins are tight in the restaurant business and other service industries. But the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce's claim that businesses will go under if they have to provide employees paid sick days is just not true. Teri's is proof of that.
Providing paid sick days is also a way of respecting our customers. It's common sense that workers in restaurant jobs should stay home when they're sick, but in most places, workers have to choose between their health and their paycheck. As a result, many restaurant employees go to work sick to put food on the table for their own families. That can make customers sick - and less likely to come back.
Some say sick-time policies should be left up to individual business owners. While I don't think the government should always get involved in business issues, I think a citywide policy is necessary in this area. During the swine-flu epidemic, for instance, an estimated eight million Americans went to work while infected with the virus, spreading it to another seven million. City Council's bill would ensure that more workers stay home when they're sick, reducing the spread of illness. It would also help the city's businesses retain good workers and improve productivity.
Small businesses across the country are backing sick-days legislation because it's a modest reform that improves the health of the workforce while supporting the economy. Businesses surveyed in San Francisco, where a law requiring paid sick days has been in effect for a few years, say it has had little impact on profitability, and two out of three support the law. This month, the Connecticut legislature passed a similar law, thanks partly to the support of small-business owners there.
Last week, Philadelphia's City Council became the latest to support paid sick days and the health of employees, businesses, and the economy. If the mayor is concerned about the impact on small businesses, we invite him to come on down to Teri's and see how well our policy works.