AFSCME Presses Hard For Sick-Day Bill

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JEFF HORNSTEIN, himself a union organizer, is being backed in his race for 1st Dist. City Council seat by AFSCME D.C> 47's Cathy Scott, left, and Rita Urwitz.

BY KATHY BLACK, Health & Safety Director, DC 47/

With support from a wide range of legislators, businesses, labor groups, nonprofit organizations, and workers, a bill to provide earned sick days for Philadelphia workers is set to move forward in City Council. After a hearing on the earned sick-days bill (Promoting Healthy Families and Workplaces, Bill No. 080474) this Tuesday, the Public Health & Human Services Committee voted in favor of the measure, which will now head to the full Council.

The legislation would grant workers the modest protection of earning up to 72 hours of sick time at medium and large businesses, and 40 hours to employees of small businesses with 10 or fewer workers. Companies with existing paid time-off and vacation-time policies in the same amounts and conditions of use will already satisfy the legislation.

In an already-tough economy, workers without earned sick days face even tougher choices. Currently in Philadelphia, two in five workers have no earned sick days, and a majority of employees without this benefit work in food-service and care-giving positions. When workers without earned sick time (or their families) become ill, they must make a choice between the jobs they need and the families they love. Workers who choose to stay home often lose their pay, and are at risk of losing their jobs.

Earned sick days allow workers to stay economically secure while they keep their families healthy. The fear of job loss when workers have no access to sick time is very real. According to a recent poll, nearly one in four workers without paid sick days (23%) has lost a job or been told they would lose it for taking time to care for a sick family member or a personal illness.

There are benefits for both businesses and workers in a sick-day policy.

Providing earned sick time has proven to be smart for businesses as well as for workers.  Research shows the costs of replacing workers, including advertising, interviewing and training new employees, far outweighs the cost of retaining employees, which is helped by offering earned sick time. Additionally, “presenteeism” – when workers come to work sick – costs the national economy about $180 billion a year more in lost productivity than absenteeism.

A recent independent study found significant benefits for workers and minimal impact on businesses from the nation’s first paid-sick-days law, enacted in 2007 in San Francisco. Despite opposition to the law before it was enacted, two-thirds of employers surveyed there now support the law, and six in seven employers say paid sick days have had no negative effect on profitability.

People who go to work sick out of fear of losing a job or a paycheck remain sick longer, potentially infecting co-workers or customers. For instance, in the 2009-2010 H1N1 outbreak, about eight million workers nationally took no time off despite being infected with H1N1. As a result, these workers spread their illness to as many as seven million of their colleagues. Other studies, such as those conducted by the Center for Disease Control, show illnesses such as the norovirus (a type of gastroenteritis or “stomach flu”) are often spread by sick food handlers.

There is increasing national recognition of the value of paid sick days and other flexible workplace policies. Momentum is building nationally for this kind of work and family policy. San Francisco, Milwaukee and Washington, D.C. passed paid sick days laws in recent years, and at least 15 other States have been actively debating proposals.

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