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'When Workers Work Sick, It's Unhealthy for All of Us': New York's Battle for Paid Sick Leave

The U.S. is the only rich country in the world that fails to guarantee workers some form of paid sick leave.

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This year’s PSL bill is a revision of an earlier bill from two years ago. In 2010, despite a majority support on the City Council, Speaker Quinn opposed the bill and did not bring it to a vote. The reason? As Quinn told the  NewYorkDaily News, “I have to help small business stay alive in a fragile economy.”

This year, the bill has been revised to better accommodate businesses and has gained support from three-quarters of New Yorkers, across the political spectrum. On the city council, 37 out of 51 members support it, a majority that could override Mayor Bloomberg’s veto. (The mayor threatened a veto of the 2010 PSL bill.)

Quinn, nevertheless, has spoken on various occasions of her opposition to the bill. In a statement to the Queens Chronicle in response to a pro-PSL bill rally, she said that the bill “will cost us jobs and cost us small business and their future in these tough economic times.”

At least she has been consistent — that is, consistently committed to the influence of the “business community” that opposes the bill vehemently. Quinn tows the line of the bill’s well-funded opposition: big corporations such as McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, and Olive Garden. These corporations “get big lobbyists like the National Restaurant Association, or the NFIB [National Federation of Independent Business] wrapping themselves in the flag of mom-and-pop shops, when they are really speaking for multimillion-dollar corporations,” said Ellen Bravo, director of Family Values @ Work, an advocate group for PSL legislation.

Here are some of those corporations and their lobbyists’ ungrounded claims:

Myth: “Paid sick leave would be expensive.”

Reality: Paid sick leave could save money for businesses.

Numerous studies have concluded that presenteeism, i.e., showing up to work sick, is a major component of health-related employer cost in the form of on-the-job productivity loss. Harvard Business Review put an annual $150 billion  price tag on presenteeism for American companies in 2004. In 2010, that number grew to an estimated $180 billion, surpassing the cost of absenteeism, $118 billion.

Myth: “Paid sick leave would cost jobs.”

Reality: The lack of paid sick leave costs jobs and hurts the economy.

To those without paid sick leave, like Alvarado and Alvarez, getting sick may result in losing their jobs. Based on her analysis of a  Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey report, Eileen Appelbaum at the Center for Economic and Policy Research concluded that the economic recovery is still too weak to support robust hiring by employers. n other words, a job lost for one worker does not necessarily mean a job gained by another.

Recent research shows that job displacement has a significant shock effect on income levels, and those workers’ losses have a negative impact on the economy in general as well, because “families need to earn and spend if we are ever going to see more robust economic growth,” as Appelbaum has  pointed out.

The success of PSL legislation in San Francisco has confirmed that such legislation is good for employment growth. Two studies conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in 2008 and 2011 both show that since 2007, when San Francisco implemented its PSL law, the county’s job growth has been stronger than other Bay Area counties.

Myth: “Paid sick leave would kill small businesses.”

Reality: Small businesses would do just fine.

That is one of the favorite arguments held up by the opposition. However, IWPRs data show that only one in seven employers reported adverse effects on profitability after San Francisco implemented its PSL law in 2007.

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