The bill had been amended to be more amenable to Mayor Nutter’s corporate sensibilities. It would allow workers to earn one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked. It would also exempt small businesses with up to five employees.
But it was still not enough. In rejecting this pro-worker measure, Nutter repeated the same claptrap that politicians have used to oppose the minimum wage, worker safety measures, and child labor laws throughout history.
Mayor Nutter, in his veto message, said mandatory paid sick leave would result in job cuts that would hurt “the very workers this bill is intended to help.” And he said it would hurt the city’s ability to attract new businesses.
But there’s something different in 2013. We are only one vote away from overriding this veto in the Philadelphia City Council.
Councilman Dennis O’Brien is a swing vote on the sick days bill. He voted no the first time, but moving him to a “yes” could provide this crucial worker protection that so many Philly workers have lacked.
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.
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.
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?
The latest episode of AFSCME TV describes how working families in the city are standing up to Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (D), who they say is siding with the wealthy and pushing policies that are harming the rest of the city’s residents. In particular, they are upset Nutter closed libraries and schools and refused to negotiate with city workers, who have worked without a contract for four years.
In related news, the Philadelphia City Council passed a new ordinance that would require employers to provide earned paid sick leave, but they did not pass it with enough votes to override a veto by Nutter. The mayor has previously vetoed a similar bill.
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.