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Kunin: Paid Sick Leave


When some working moms and dads wake up in the morning feeling sick, they don’t just worry about calling the doctor. They worry about calling the boss.

Why? Roughly 40 percent of Vermont employees have no paid sick days. Getting sick, or having a sick child, means losing a pay check, and may mean losing a job.

I’ve testified on several bills in Montpelier this year, but let me tell you about H. 208. It requires Vermont employers to permit employees to take up to seven earned days off a year for personal or family health reasons without loss of pay or the job. It has strong support from a coalition representing children, the elderly, unions and health care organizations.

The problem is that the bill has more vocal opposition from the Chambers of Commerce, representing part of the business community. Another group, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, supports the legislation.

Why the opposition? The Chamber said, “We’re already doing this.” Fine, if you’re already doing this for your businesses, shouldn’t everybody else have the same benefit?

Many businesses oppose any government mandates, even if they are already following them. They know that paid sick days reduce turnover and improve productivity and yet, they continue to claim that that a policy will be too expensive and, besides, workers can’t be trusted.

The evidence does not support these fears. San Francisco was the first city to implement sick days in 2007. A recent survey of workers and employers suggests that the law is working well and most employers reported no difficulty in implementing the law. Despite the availability of either five or nine sick days, the typical worker used only three paid sick days during the previous year and one-quarter took none.

Connecticut’s compromise paid sick day law is limited to service employees. The Governor campaigned for it with the slogan, “I don’t want someone to sneeze in my salad.” Polls show voters agree.

The health benefits of paid sick days policies are obvious. They prevent the spread of disease. But the impact is wider. If a working Mom or Dad loses a job because of sickness, the family may slip into poverty.
New York City provides a good example of how voters can counter the big business lobby. Until two weeks ago, city council President Christine Quinn, attentive to business groups turned thumbs down on paid sick days. Then, suddenly - as her campaign for mayor heated up - a compromise was reached. Sick days has the votes.

What happened? The paid sick days coalition flexed its muscle by stating the facts, and standing firm. The Yeah sayers overcame the nay sayers. If paid sick days are to become law in Vermont and elsewhere, proponents have to tell their side of the story, which is that paid sick days promote healthy working families and a healthy bottom line.