Argument Against Earned Sick Leave Ordinance = Every Argument Against Every Worker Protection Since the Dawn of Time

Take Action: Tell Mayor Hales and the Portland City Commission to allow workers to earn paid sick days.

When it comes to allowing workers the opportunity to earn paid sick days, the political establishment is typically on the side of keeping things the way they are: where workers have to make the impossible choice between a.) not being able to pay their bills and b.) working while sick, which endangers customers, patients, and consumers across the country.

That’s why when a politician stands up for workers’ rights, it’s cause to cheer. So, three cheers for Portland City Commissioner Steve Novick!

After the prominent Oregon newspaper The Oregonian editorialized (yet again) against a city-wide ordinance allowing workers to earn paid sick days, Commissioner Novick wrote a letter smacking down their arguments without remorse.

Here’s what The Oregonian wrote last month, in an editorial called “Sticking it to small businesses.”

Not only would the [sick leave ordinance] cost [businesses] money and limit their autonomy, but the very fact of its adoption will send a powerful message: Keep away. Businesses will become even more leery of investing money in Portland if they can’t trust local policymakers to exercise discipline, fairness and good sense in regulating them.

On February 10, The Oregonian published another piece against a sick leave policy – you know, the kind that most industrialized nations have – asking that policymakers get a little bit “creative.” Instead of mandating that businesses of a certain size allow workers to earn sick time, just rely on consumers to support businesses that do!

Who’s to say, then, that socially conscious consumers won’t reward restaurants and other businesses that provide paid sick time, either by accepting a slightly bigger bill or by shopping with their feet?

That’s when Novick, a supporter of the sick leave ordinance, had had enough. Here’s his letter in full:

So The Oregonian thinks we don’t need a paid sick leave legal requirement and that we should just leave it to consumers who like the idea of paid sick leave to choose to spend their money in places that provide it (“Use creativity, not cudgel, on sick leave,” Feb. 11). Brilliant idea.

Come to think of it, why not just repeal every law designed to protect workers and consumers, and let consumers do the work? It would be easy enough for every Portlander calling for a restaurant reservation to just go through a checklist: “Do you have a table for six Friday at 7? Great! I just have a few more questions. Do you use child labor? Do you pay the voluntary minimum wage? Do you buy food from farmers that choose to undergo safety inspections? Do you meet the voluntary fire safety standards? Do you pay overtime? Do you pay the voluntary Social Security tax? Do you discriminate against women and minorities in your hiring practices?”

Every argument The Oregonian makes against paid sick leave has been used against every worker protection since the dawn of time. Workers without paid sick leave are largely in service industries, like the restaurant industry, where it is dangerous to consumers to have people working while sick.

The vast majority of other countries, including capitalist havens like Singapore, require paid sick leave. Next month, Portland will join them.

Bravo, Commissioner. But we’re not just taking a victory next month for granted. Send a message now to Mayor Hales and the members of the Portland City Commission and ask them to allow Portland workers to earn paid sick days.