All the April Fools jokes in the world can’t change the fact that April 4, 2013 is coming. That’s the deadline for Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter to either sign or veto the earned paid sick days bill that the City Council passed by a nearly 2-to-1 margin last month. He can also do nothing (“return it unsigned”) and it will still become law.
Mayor Nutter had this same chance in 2011, but decided to side with the business lobbyists (lead by Comcast and the over $108,400 spent on lobbying against sick leave) instead of the nearly 200,000 Philly workers who can’t take a day off without risking their employment, health, or basic economic survival.
However, times have changed quickly since that last veto, and Nutter is running out of excuses. This past week in nearby New York City, after three years of delay, Council Speaker (and Mayoral hopeful) Christine Quinn finally compromised to allow a vote on a sick day measure – which 80 percent of New Yorkers and a majority of her fellow City Councilmembers support.
Mayor Nutter is also running out of excuses on the business front. Like many sick leave ordinances, the Philadelphia bill is a compromise, with over 23 amendments “thanks to feedback from small-business owners,” writes bill sponsor Councilmember Bill Greenlee. The measure exempts businesses with 5 employees or less, and requires employees to earn every hour of sick leave – 1 hour of leave for every 40 hours worked. That’s “personal responsibility” if we ever saw it.
Furthermore, every single report or study on this issue has shown that sick leave ordinances are good for businesses. It’s common sense: the sooner workers can get better, the sooner they can return to work at full strength. Productivity goes up, and turnover goes down.
Oh, and we almost forgot – it’ll allow the people who cook our food, serve our drinks, teach our kids, and care for our grandparents to stay home instead of infecting us and the people we love with whatever germ cocktail they are carrying around.
Every day Mayor Nutter takes no action, workers across the city are faced with the impossible choice of working through a sickness, losing a day’s pay, or potentially losing their job.
Some of them are parents who want to stay home and take care of a sick child, but can’t lose the day’s paycheck that allows them to buy groceries.
Some of them are retail workers who are afraid of getting fired if they switch shifts, so they skip doctor’s appointments that could speed up their recovery.
One of them is Michael Cockrell, as cook and dishwasher who has worked at a Philadelphia restaurant for 13 years. Because Philadelphia doesn’t have a sick leave policy, he has worked in the kitchen preparing food while sick with the flu. He has worked when his son had an asthma attack and had to be hospitalized. He once cut himself so badly that he had to get stitches – but he had to wait until his shift was over.
Every day, the lack of a sick leave policy for Philadelphia causes needless, preventable harm and strife to workers, consumers, patients, and businesses. While some big corporations like Comcast have spent big on lobbying against the sick leave bill, many business owners realize that allowing workers to earn sick days increases productivity, reduces turnover, minimizes absenteeism, and is ultimately good for the bottom line.
If there was an Olympic event for out-of-touch, ridiculous, paternalistic economics writing, this piece would have won Philadelphia’s Gene Marks a gold medal.
Quick review: Earlier this month, the Philadelphia City Council voted 11-6 to pass an ordinance allowing Philadelphia workers to earn an hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked. Mayor Michael Nutter can either sign or veto the bill – he vetoed a similar bill in 2011.
Currently, over 180,000 Philadelphians have no sick leave opportunities, which means every single day there are sick cooks, servers, nurses, retail workers, and others showing up to work and infecting customers and patients simply because they can’t afford to miss a day’s pay. No wonder the flu season hit so hard.
Gene Marks, a self-identified “small business owner” and “consultant,” doesn’t think we need a sick leave policy. Why? Because he has one friend who gives sick days to his employees:
James is a client of mine who runs a 30-person roofing company in Northeast Philadelphia. Last week, one of the people in his office wasn’t feeling well and called in sick. It was no big deal. She got paid for the day. The next day she was back at work….This is typical of most of the clients I work with.
It seems so far that Marks agrees with a sick leave ordinance. But then he says:
Mayor Nutter vetoed a similar bill in 2011. And I’m hoping he does the same to this one…a sick leave bill is embarrassing and an insult to both employers like James and his employees.
An insult? Marks takes offense at the government taking action to address the needs of over 180,000 Philadelphia workers:
I can’t be trusted to come up with my own policy for my employees? I care so little for my people that I would try to take advantage of them when they’re feeling ill? I need the city to tell me when I should pay them for staying at home? As if I don’t see that a sick employee is unproductive and could potentially affect others in my office?
Marks thinks he’s writing all these questions sarcastically – but the answer to all of those rhetorical questions is a resounding “Yes.”
Mr. Marks: Walk into any Walmart, or Darden-owned restaurant, or fast food joint in Philly. Talk to an employee about their experiences, and if they aren’t too afraid of retaliation to be honest, you’ll find that, yes, many employers do care very little for their workers. You’ll find that many employers do try to take advantage of employees when they are ill – or at any other point in time, for that matter. And yes, absolutely, you’ll discover that these employers have not come up with a sick leave policy, and they do need the city to take action.
Good employers treat their employees with respect and give them the time they need to get better… a good employee is the most valuable asset in the world to most business people. And a good employee works hard and doesn’t worry about it if he or she needs to take time off for a sick or vacation day because his or her relationship with their employer is built on the understanding that sometimes people need time off and that’s OK.
The sick leave bill is intended for that .01 percent. And you know who you are.
You are the person who treats his employees, particularly those in the lowest-paying positions, like cattle. You think that every employee is out to take advantage of you. You keep a wary eye on everyone’s hours and are ready to cut someone’s benefits when they don’t meet your petty standards of fairness.
If all employers were the benevolent angels of Marks’ imagination, instead this bad apple “0.1 percent,” he’s right – we wouldn’t need a sick leave law. We also wouldn’t need a minimum wage, or workplace safety standards, or child labor laws; and we definitely wouldn’t need union contracts, because in Marks’ utopian workplace, all worker-management interactions would be built on magical “understanding.”
Talk to a laid-off Hostess worker about this so-called “understanding.” Or a foreign guest worker who arrived in Central Pennsylvania on a J-1 visa ended up working 25-hour shifts at McDonald’s, living in humiliating housing and paying exorbitant rent. Next time you get in a cab, consider that your driver is misclassified as an independent contractor so her management doesn’t have to pay for her health care. Where’s the understanding there?
Is Mayor Michael Nutter acting under the same head-in-the-sand assumptions that Marks presents in this column – that all worker protections are “insults” to employers? Does he think it’s better to turn a blind eye to how Philadelphia workers are actually being treated than take any action that would offend anybody with fat pockets? Would have vetoed a child labor law for the same reason?
We hope that instead of taking this column as gospel, Mayor Nutter will consider the millions of Americans who have had to work through a stomach bug, had to or carry platters of food on a sprained wrist, or had to prove to their bosses they had a broken leg so they could take a day off, or had to suffer the indignity of losing their job because they couldn’t stand to leave their child alone with a high fever.
People like Marks’ client James, who treat workers with respect, are certainly out there. But protecting workers doesn’t insult employers like James, it creates a tide that will lift other businesses to his level. And that’s why Mayor Nutter needs to sign this bill.
That’s a real win, and it matters to real people—everyone who’s ever been afraid of losing their job if they get sick, or had to choose between a day’s pay and taking care of a sick child.
It’s good for workers’ health and it’s good for public health. It’s a simple, common-sense idea that will make life better for everyone here in Philadelphia.
There’s just one more step before this important bill becomes law: Mayor Michael Nutter has to decide whether he’ll sign it—or, whether he’ll ignore working people in Philadelphia and veto the bill, as he’s done before.
Philadelphians spoke out about this issue, and the City Council listened, voting overwhelmingly for this bill. Now it’s Mayor Nutter’s turn to decide. Will he do the right thing?
If you think a tip for a server at your favorite restaurant is a gesture of recognition for good service, you’re mistaken.
“People think a tip is extra, to show gratitude for really good service, but it’s really not,” said Daisy Chung, executive director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York, an advocacy group for restaurant workers. “Consumers should really know that they’re subsidizing workers’ wages, it’s not on top of it. You’re making up the difference for the fact that someone doesn’t make minimum wage.”
The Salon article by Matt Frassica, Restaurant Horror Show: How Waitstaffs Are Mistreated, covers some of the abuses that occur in the restaurant industry. This article is part of a Salon series brought to you by the AFL-CIO. Forced tip pools, wage theft and erratic scheduling are just some of the ways employers exploit workers “behind the kitchen door.”
Frassica explains why everyone should care about who’s serving their food:
According to a ROC report, nearly 90 percent of restaurant workers don’t receive paid sick days, vacation or health insurance.
In this sense, restaurant workers are increasingly representative of the situation of American labor in the early 21st century: employed at-will, without benefits, for a wage that’s constantly shrinking in buying power.
There is momentum growing across the United States to update the federal minimum wage. Last week, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) introduced the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013.
Raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 by 2015, in three steps of 95 cents each.
Adjust the minimum wage each year to keep pace with the rising cost of living starting in 2016—a key policy reform known as “indexing,” which 10 states are already using to prevent the minimum wage from falling in value each year.
Raise the minimum wage for tipped workers—which has been frozen at a meager $2.13 per hour for more than 20 years—to 70% of the minimum wage.
While many experts and doctors urge people to stay at home to avoid infecting others, 38% of private-sector workers lack even one paid sick day. This means, many people have to choose between working sick and not being able to pay their rent and utilities. That’s a pretty big problem. To make matters worse, many of the workers who don’t have paid sick leave are the people cooking and serving our food when we eat out.
And since the minimum wage for tipped workers at restaurants has been frozen at $2.13 an hour since 1991, many of our nation’s cooks and servers and busers literally can’t afford to stay home when they’re sick. So they come to work with a runny nose or the flu or worse. In 2009, a bartender with swine flu worked for several days at a Washington, D.C., hot spot because he couldn’t afford to not go to work.
Jayaraman added that the federal Healthy Families Act, expected to be re-introduced this year, would “require all businesses with 15 or more employees to provide up to 7 days of paid sick leave each year.” San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Connecticut have already approved such legislation locally.
Raising the bar nationally and ensuring that restaurant workers can stay home when they’re sick will save a lot of money on public health response measures and save a lot of headaches for consumers—not to mention stomachaches as well. The way we treat restaurant workers in America is sickening. So maybe it’s fitting that restaurant workers have no choice but to come to work ill and make us all sick, too.
The Massachusetts AFL-CIO is using the state of emergency around the flu epidemic in Boston to remind the state legislature that more than 1 million residents do not have paid sick leave. If you’re in Massachusetts and want to contact your state representative about a bill for earned paid sick time, click here.
The flu shot is still available at pharmacies all over the United States.
We couldn’t have done this without you. Because of your help and dedication, Working America had saw wins across Oregon and the country.
But our work isn’t done. Portlanders have been fighting to make sure all workers in the city get paid sick days off from work. No one should have to come to work when they’re sick, or leave a sick child at home alone. Portlanders deserve better, and we have a chance to make a difference.
We had a great election night in Oregon, electing pro-worker candidates to the Oregon House and Senate. But a major issue remains in the city of Portland: the 40 percent of private-sector workers and 80 percent of low-income workers without a single paid sick day, who have to choose between their health and a paycheck every day.
On Tuesday, we delivered 3,000 letters from Working America members to Portland City Hall, calling on Mayor Sam Adams, City Commissioner Amanda Fritz, and other city leaders to take action and allow all Portland workers to earn paid sick days.