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.
Leaving his cabinet behind to deal with issues like municipal labor contracts, property tax assessments and his new city budget proposal, Mayor Nutter plans to spend the next five days in Florence, Italy, comparing notes on “the creative economy” with a delegation from the U. S. Conference of Mayors and an organization of Italian counterparts.
The full tab for airfare, lodging and meals will be picked up by the Conference of Mayors, at no cost to city taxpayers, said Mark McDonald, the mayor’s press secretary. (Unless you factor in the city’s annual dues to the Conference of Mayors, which ran to $45,569 in 2012, according to the city’s expenditure data.)
At least 182,600 workers in Philadelphia can’t earn a single paid sick day. That means if they get sick, or if their child or elderly relative gets sick, they have to choose between coming in and potentially infecting customers or patients or staying home and losing out on pay – or even losing their job.
So while Mayor Nutter flies off to Florence for a five-day conference, (indirectly) paid for with taxpayer dollars, thousands of those taxpayers are left in the lurch.
But Nutter has the power to change all that with a stroke of his pen. He can do what he didn’t do in 2011 – sign the sick leave bill and restore health and decency to Philly workplaces.
We live in a crazy, ever-changing world, but some things don’t change.
It may be 2013, but Scott Walker is still a terrible governor, and Wisconsin is still suffering under his policies.
Even as new numbers showed the national unemployment rate slipping in February 2013, those same numbers showed Wisconsin heading in the completely wrong direction. Wisconsin is now ranked 44 out of 50 in job growth, and is being outpaced by all of its neighbors:
The new numbers, based on the most accurate current measures available, show Wisconsin with an estimated 2,790,000 non-farm positions as of January 2013 — up 44,600 jobs or 1.6 percent since January 2011 when Gov. Scott Walker took office.
By comparison, Indiana ranked No. 9 with a 3.8 percent job growth rate over the past two years; Minnesota was No. 10 with 3.7 percent growth; Michigan was No. 12 at 3.6 percent; Iowa was No. 24 at 2.9 percent and Illinois No. 30 at 2.3 percent job growth.
Overall unemployment in Wisconsin also rose in January 2013 from 6.7 to 7 percent (February data has not yet been released). The state gained 12,400 private-sector jobs by lost about 10,600 public sector jobs, with a net gain of only 1,800.
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.
A study by the University of Missouri makes it abundantly clear that opting into Medicaid expansion would be positive for the Show Me State’s economy, including the creation of more than 24,000 jobs in 2014 alone.
Let’s quickly review: Because of the Supreme Court decision last summer, states can choose to not participate in the Medicaid expansion found in the Affordable Care Act, which makes Americans at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level eligible for Medicaid and provides the billions in federal dollars needed to insure them. Many leaders of both parties have opted in; some, like Texas Gov. Rick Perry, still stubbornly refuse.
In Missouri, the expansion would open up eligibility to 159,260 additional Missourians in 2014 alone. Because currently there are so many in Missouri without health insurance – roughly 15 percent of the population, or as many as 900,000 people – we are currently seeing reduced productivity, increased cost to public programs, increased private insurance premiums, and increased stress on emergency programs (uninsured folks using the ER as their health care).
But factor in Medicaid expansion, allowing at least a chunk of that 900,000 to afford insurance for the first time, and those problems start to inch down. In addition, with the federal money rolling in to pay for the expansion, health care companies will immediately need personnel. The University of Missouri study estimates that in 2014, we’d see 5,094 new jobs in nursing and care, 3,208 news jobs in retail, 2,905 new jobs at private hospitals, 2,108 new jobs in home care, and a host of other areas. They estimate a total of 24,008 Missouri jobs created in 2014.
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon announced late last year that Missouri would be participating, calling it “the best thing to do for our state.” With the expected employment windfall, and newfound medical security for thousands of Missourians, it’s a no-brainer, right?
Some extremist members of the Republican-controlled legislature, unfortunately, have other ideas.
Let’s put aside the morally bankrupt idea of kicking thousands of children of low-income parents off their health insurance. Even if Rep. Barnes’ bill went into law, under the guidelines set forth in the Affordable Care Act, Missouri probably still wouldn’t be eligible for the federal funds they need to do any of this in the first place, unless the Obama Administration made an exception.
So in other words, Rep. Barnes’ “alternative” proposal is not an alternative at all – it’s a roundabout way of scuttling Medicaid expansion completely.
Let’s not be fooled by Barnes’ political theater. Medicaid expansion does not have to be a partisan issue, as Republican Govs. Christie, Martinez, McDonnell, Kasich, and Scott have shown. This is about allowing the most vulnerable among us to have the medical security we all deserve – not to mention putting thousands of Missourians back to work.
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) released a cost-benefit analysis of allowing workers in Philadelphia to earn paid sick days. Their findings completely contradict the claims of anti-worker politicians and industry groups that a sick leave ordinance would hurt businesses – turns out the policy would actually save Philadelphia businesses money.
IWPR calculates that Philadelphia businesses could see a netannual savings of over $574,000 if the sick leave ordinance passes. Here’s how they get there:
Cost: Providing sick days is equivalent to a $0.25 increase in hourly wages, or about $8.59 per week per employee. That part will cost about $44 million total. If you assume that covered workers who give birth and half their partners use all of their available sick days, that’s an additional $11 million. If you factor in the fact that sick workers are less productive even when they do come to work, meaning a current loss of about $4 million, the total cost to employers come out to about $51 million.
Benefits to Employers: The anticipated savings of healthy workers, increased productivity, and reduced turnover is also equivalent to a wage savings of $0.25 per hour, or $8.69 per employee per week. That translates to about $52 million in savings for employers.
Benefits to the Community: So instead of workers coming in while sick and potentially infecting coworkers, customers, and patients, they are staying home and getting better. Between reduced nursing home stays, reduced emergency room visits, decreased use of medical supplies, fewer people needing treatment for the flu and other diseases, improved public health, better economic security from stable employment, and reduced expenditures on public assistance programs, IWPR estimates a community savings of $24 million.
What Can’t Be Fully Measured: Anecdotally, workplaces where workers can earn paid sick days aren’t just healthier. There is a respect between employers and employees that doesn’t arise when workers have to be deceitful about their illnesses or their need to take care of a sick child. Also, with reduced turnover comes more long-term, stable employment, which could mean more advancement opportunities and less need to constantly retrain new workers. Even if you can’t fully measure it, there’s a sense of pride, security, and responsibility that comes with long-term employment, versus getting work in fits and starts.
Opponents of the earned paid sick days ordinance (called “Promoting Healthy Families and Workplaces” in Philadelphia) are running out of excuses. Will it impose unreasonable regulation on businesses? No, in fact they see a net gain. Will workers take advantage of their sick days and skip work? No, in fact only about ten percent of workers with paid sick days use all of it, and employees with 7 sick days use an average of only 2.3 every year. Are employers unfairly and unnecessarily threatening the health of customers and patients by creating a situation where workers need to come in while sick? Absolutely – and the more data we see, the clearer the injustice of allowing this to continue.
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.
With Congress continuing to struggle in federal budget negotiations – the notorious “fiscal cliff” with its automatic cuts to federal spending along with an end to all the Bush era income tax cuts – Working American members have more than their personal New Year’s resolutions on their minds. Throughout the last several weeks of the “lame duck” session in Congress, as they have been paying close attention to developments taking place on Capitol Hill, they have been moving forward with a campaign to make their strength in numbers felt in the debate.
Here in southwest Ohio, the target of their efforts has been Senator Sherrod Brown. They want him to clearly understand what members are demanding: an end to Bush era tax cuts for the richest 2%, along with no cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
Members have been writing letters as part of a campaign to gather hundreds of hand-written messages to the Senator from throughout the state. First of all, there was a desire to thank the Senator for being a reliable and long-time advocate for working families. Now, middle class Ohioans are asking him to be a champion for us on the issues that we all care about. In doing so, many in the greater Cincinnati area have also told their personal stories of how they or loved ones depend on these essential programs for their livelihoods, and even their very lives.
One such member is Julia Rothwell. A single mother with a full-time job, a new small business, and a daughter soon heading off to college, she worries about the future of Social Security:
“I will be hopefully retiring in about 25 years, and wonder whether I will have the Social Security benefits that I have been contributing to for the last 25 years. Please make sure to protect what I have worked for, and many Americans have worked for, so we may have peace of mind when we grow old.”
Karen Dollinger is another. A visiting assistant professor from Oxford in southwest Ohio, she holds these concerns for her parents, who also reside in the state:
“My parents are in their 60s, and my mother, who is a cancer survivor, and my father, who has Parkinson’s Disease, are on Medicare. Should my father need to go to a nursing home, my parents would need Medicaid to pay for it. They are not wealthy, and need a fair amount of medical care. If Medicare and Medicaid are cut, I worry about their survival, as they are already struggling to pay bills. I am certain that many other Americans find themselves in the same situation.”
And finally, there is Tammy Friedman. A nurse by training, she is currently a stay at home mom, and has a young son with special needs. In her letter to the Senator, she discusses the importance of preserving programs and institutions that are vital to the well-being of the “98%” and crucial to affording opportunity to people like her:
“We need to end the Bush tax cuts for the disproportionately richest Americans and restore them to the levels they were previously. This only makes sense and helps the nation as a whole. The burden of taxes on the middle class is already oppressive enough, and restoring the previous tax percentage on the 1-2% of wealthiest Americans would not burden or oppress anybody.”
Tammy gives voice to a view held by so many. What she recognizes – along with Julia, Karen, and millions of Working America members across the country – is that when they raise their voices together, they are more powerful. This strength can have a significant impact on what is taking place in Congress right now and into the New Year. You can raise your voice as well! Make contacting your members of Congress about these important issues your resolution. You can take action here.
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.