Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Archive for the ‘sick days’ Category

When three days sick means losing a month's grocery budget

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

Nearly two-thirds of private-sector workers in the U.S. have access to paid sick leave, but as with so many labor and economic statistics, that masks serious inequality: 87 percent of the top 10 percent of earners have paid sick leave, while just 27 percent of the bottom 10 percent do. And what that means is that the people who can least afford to take a day off without pay are the ones who are forced to do so if they’re too sick to go to work. A new Economic Policy Institute analysis shows how devastating that choice can be:

Without the ability to earn paid sick days, workers must choose between going to work sick (or sending a child to school sick) and losing much-needed pay. For the average worker who does not have access to paid sick days, the costs of taking unpaid sick time can make a painful dent in the monthly budget for the worker’s household:

  • If the worker needs to take off even a half day due to illness, the lost wages are equivalent to the household’s monthly spending for fruits and vegetables; lost wages from taking off nearly three days equal their entire grocery budget for the month.
  • Two days of unpaid sick time are roughly the equivalent of a month’s worth of gas, making it difficult to get to work.
  • Three days of unpaid sick time translate into a household’s monthly utilities budget, preventing the worker from paying for electricity and heat.
  • In the event of a lengthier illness—say, seven and a half days of unpaid sick time—the worker would lose income equivalent to a monthly rent or mortgage payment.

State-level paid sick leave laws are starting to make a difference—in 2012, when the first such law was passed, in Connecticut, just 18 percent of low-wage private-sector workers had paid sick days. But workers outside of the five states with such laws need the federal government to act, and that’s not going to happen under Republican control.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on July 1, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

The 'It Will Hurt Businesses' Argument Against Sick Leave Takes a Hit in Seattle

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Laura ClawsonA few American cities (and one state—go, Connecticut!) have started catching up with the rest of the world when it comes to paid sick leave laws. But despite those cities and state and huge number of other countries embracing the notion that sick people should be able to stay home from work, you still hear a lot of American politicians claiming that sick leave is Bad For Business. And of course, whatever is reputed to be bad for business is going to be difficult to pass, even if the facts don’t necessarily back up the claims. But it is good to have facts anyway, and here aresome facts about Seattle’s paid sick leave law, which went into effect in September 2012:

The audit found that 70 percent of employers in the city support the law, with 45 percent saying they are very supportive. This held true for businesses of all sizes. “These business owners, managers, and human resources professionals view paid leave as a valuable and important benefit for their workers,” the report says.It’s not hard to see why they might feel so supportive. The costs and impacts “have been modest and smaller than anticipated,” the audit notes. The majority report no effect on profitability or customer service, with just 17 percent believing that it made them less profitable. The average reported cost of implementing it was about one eighth of a percent of their annual revenue and providing the leave for the first year was on average four tenths of a percent. To deal with any costs, 8 percent raised their prices or otherwise passed the cost on to consumers, 6 percent decreased raises or bonuses, 5 percent decreased vacation time, and just 2.7 percent reduced employment while only 0.7 percent said they closed or relocated.

The law’s success isn’t just about business owners’ feelings, either:

All three measures of employment robustness – the number of Seattle firms with more than four employees, total number of Seattle employees, and total Seattle wages – grew in absolute terms over the first year of the Ordinance.

Not to mention all those people who could stay home from work if they were sick. There’s still work to be done: Some employers either don’t know about or don’t fully understand the law, and aren’t providing the required amount of leave. But the excuses politicians can reasonably make for opposing sick leave laws are rapidly evaporating—not that that will cause many sick leave opponents to stop making excuses.

This article was originally printed on the Daily Kos on April 23, 2014.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is the labor editor at the Daily Kos.

Oops, So Much for the Right-Wing Arguments Against Paid Sick Leave

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Kenneth-Quinnell_smallIn 2011, Connecticut became the first state to require employers to provide paid sick days for workers, including part-time employees. At the time, extreme pro-business interests in the state ran through the common, yet tired, arguments about paid sick leave in efforts to stop the law from passing. After 18 months of the law being in effect, researchers Eileen Appelbaum, of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), and Ruth Milkman, a professor at CUNY, surveyed more than 250 employersin the state to determine the effects of the law. The results of the study pretty soundly reject the conservative arguments against paid sick leave.

CEPR’s Teresa Kroeger said of the study:

The authors found that the law had minimal effects on businesses. A large majority of employers reported that the law did not affect business operations and that they had no or only small increases in costs. Businesses most frequently covered absent workers by assigning the work to other employees, a solution which has little effect on costs. Just 10% of employers reported that the law caused their costs to increase by 3% or more.

The key findings of the study include:

  • Employee turnover was reduced 3.3%.
  • Sick employees coming to work sick was reduced 18.8%.
  • Illness was spread 14.8% less often than before the law.
  • Productivity increased 14.9%.
  • Morale, motivation and loyalty increased among employees (according to their employers).
  • Payroll costs increased by 3% or more for only 10% of employers.
  • Only 10.6% of employers reported reducing employee hours because of the law.
  • Only 15.6% of employers reported increasing prices because of the law.
  • Only 3.4% of employers reported reducing operating hours because of the law.
  • Only 1.3% of employers reported reduced quality of service because of the law.
  • Only 1.0% of employers reported reducing wages because of the law.
  • A strong majority of employers were “very supportive” (39.5%) or “somewhat supportive” (37.0%) of the law a year-and-a-half after it went into effect.
  • The law covers about 400,000 workers
  • The law had minimal impact on employers that already offered paid sick days.
  • Little abuse of the system has been reported by employers.
  • Paid sick day coverage increased from 88.5% of employers to 93.7% that offer five or more paid sick days annually.
  • The number of paid sick days offered to all employees rose from an average of 6.9 days to 7.7 days.
  • About two-thirds of eligible workers used paid sick days, with an average of four days used per year.
  • Unionized employers were half as likely to report cost increases because of the law (compared to nonunion employers).

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on January 7, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

Small Business Owner Gives Employees Paid Sick Days. World Doesn't End. New Jersey Doesn't Go Bankrupt

Friday, October 25th, 2013

Kenneth-Quinnell_smallJersey City business owner Steven Kalcanides, who runs Helen’s Pizza, invited Mayor Steven Fulop to officially sign the city’s new paid sick days ordinance at his restaurant. Kalcanides already has been offering his employees paid sick days and not only has he been able to continue making a profit, his turnover has been very low, with many of his workers staying with him for more than five years.

“As far as I know, it’s been working for me,” he says. “I don’t see it as being the straw that breaks the camel’s back on a business.” Kalcanides says that the new law is how things should be done. “My business is like my family. Everybody that works for me is like family.”

The new ordinance would allow employees at businesses with 10 or more employees to earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours they work, up to a maximum of 40 hours per year. The second largest city in New Jersey will join San Francisco; Seattle; Portland, Ore.; Washington, D.C.; and New York City in requiring paid sick days. The state of Connecticut also has a similar requirement.

Fulop says the new measure would help bridge the gap between the city’s various communities. “I really view this legislation as an important step in that direction.” A similar measure was introduced into the state Assembly last spring.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on October 23, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist whose writings have appeared on AFL-CIO, Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

Obama's Not Alone: Inviting Cities to the Labor Day Barbecue

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

(Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

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We always knew it would take a fight to enact the kinds of sweeping reforms we need to fix the economy so that it really works for working Americans. The Employee Free Choice Act was never set to sail through Congress without opposition from the nation’s most anti-union employers. No one expects that it will be much easier to repair our broken immigration laws, overhaul flawed trade policy, improve retirement security or ensure that parents can finally afford time off work to welcome a newborn. But the sheer nastiness of the health care reform fight begs the question: if even modest reforms are this difficult for a popular Democratic President with large majorities in both chambers of Congress, how will we ever achieve the economic restructuring the nation needs?

One way to improve the odds that working people will have more to celebrate on Labor Days to come is to ensure that our cities get a special invitation to the national policy conversation. Picture it as a giant nationwide barbecue: gathered around the grill, cities can share local policy victories that have measurably improved the lives of their own residents – and can provide a successful model for other cities and for national action. Raising the profile of proven local policies may make the reforms proposed in Washington feel a lot less lonely.

San Francisco can share its own universal health care model, which currently provides 45,000 uninsured city residents with access to affordable primary and preventive care, prescriptions and lab tests through city clinics and participating private hospitals. The track record of Healthy San Francisco, as the program is known, should be informing the national health care debate to a far greater extent than it is.

While they’re talking health, the City by the Bay can also recount its experience guaranteeing everyone employed in the city the opportunity to earn paid sick days – a policy that is projected to reduce costs and improve public health and has not increased unemployment. Washington DC and Milwaukee have already passed weaker versions of this policy. Now New York City is looking to emulate San Francisco’s success. Examples like these can boost national legislation like the Healthy Families Act which would let working people nationwide stop having to make the untenable choice between their health and a needed paycheck.

Minneapolis could also pipe up. The City of Lakes insists that when they provide subsidies for economic development, companies that get public money need to create living wage jobs. The successful policy is a vivid example to cities across the country which regularly provide lucrative private tax breaks only to lure poverty-level jobs.

Then there’s New York, where grassroots organizations citywide have teamed up with the State Department of Labor to educate employees and employers about workplace laws and identify cases where employers are illegally cheating their workers out of pay. The program, known as New York Wage Watch has attracted national controversy because it enlists unions in the effort to detect illegal activity by employers. The debate provides a perfect opportunity to consider which poses a greater threat to the country: the pervasiveness of employers stealing employee wages or the potential for groups – which have no special power to look at a company’s books or confidential documents – to intrude on private business as they uncover illegal activity? Lawbreakers may be right to fear that this local education and monitoring effort could go national.

Finally, Los Angeles should join the party. Home to the nation’s busiest seaport, Los Angeles realized it would never significantly improve air quality as long as the dirty diesel trucks servicing the port were owned by overstretched independent operators without the resources to buy or maintain cleaner vehicles. The city took bold action to both clean up the trucks and transform the drivers from exploited independent contractors into employees with a chance of improving their own working conditions. Not surprisingly, national business interests don’t like the idea of port truckers unionizing. But other port cities are considering the policy, with the potential to improve the quality of both air and jobs.

Federal policy battles cannot be won in a vacuum. Cities and towns across the country demonstrate the success of policies that improve the lives of working people. This is one Labor Day barbecue we should all attend.

About the Author: Amy Traub is the Director of Research at the Drum Major Institute. A native of the Cleveland area, Amy is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Chicago. She received a graduate fellowship to study political science at Columbia University, where she earned her Masters degree in 2001 and completed coursework towards a Ph.D. Her studies focused on comparative political economy, political theory, and social movements. Funded by a field research grant from the Tinker Foundation, Amy conducted original research in Mexico City, exploring the development of the Mexican student movement. Before coming to the Drum Major Institute, Amy headed the research department of a major New York City labor union, where her efforts contributed to the resolution of strikes and successful union organizing campaigns by hundreds of working New Yorkers. She has also been active on the local political scene working with progressive elected officials. Amy resides in Manhattan Valley with her husband.

This blog was originally written for DMI Blog for Labor Day 2009. Re-printed with permission by the author.

No More Delay on Paid Sick Days in NYC

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Continued anxiety over swine flu is a poignant reminder that only some New York City residents can afford to stay home if they or their children fall ill. Most lower-income residents do not have the right to get sick; they are not guaranteed paid sick days. But when workers are not allowed time off for illness, they are more likely to spread disease in confined spaces, worsening their own condition and putting others at risk. City government must enact a paid sick leave policy that will serve everyone equally.

New York City has a lot to learn from San Francisco, the first city in the country to mandate paid sick days for public and private sector employees, including part-timers and temps, who accrue the days over time. The business groups originally opposed to the San Francisco law have called it “successful”. The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce even admitted: “we really have not heard much about it being a major issue for a lot of businesses.”

That’s because paid sick leave is cost-effective and actually boosts the productivity of workers. New York City cannot afford any further delay of this crucial legislation.

The economic and health reasons for City Hall to move forward on this important issue transcend the politics of the moment. Long before swine flu appeared, the people who most needed paid sick days—low-wage workers, especially women, immigrants, and people of color—were the least likely to have them. That need hasn’t diminished.

Last year, the Drum Major Institute convened a Marketplace of Ideas panel on paid sick leave that showed how and why New York City should replicate San Francisco’s policy. Participants included Councilwoman Gale Brewer, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, David Jones of the Community Service Society, and Sara Flocks from Young Workers United, the San Francisco organization that developed the law and mobilized grassroots support for it.

The full transcript is available here and YouTube clips can be watched here.

About the Author: Dan Morris joined the staff of the Drum Major Institute in September 2008. A communications strategist with a policy, research, and editorial background, he specializes in issue-based media campaigns. His high-impact story placements have appeared in such outlets as The Associated Press, Reuters, New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, and The New York Daily News. Before joining DMI, he was the head of public relations at eChalk, an organization that empowers schools with web-based technology, where he built a new communications operation focused on message development, press cultivation, thought leadership, and issue advocacy. An experienced educator, he has taught literature to junior high students in New Jersey, and philosophy to college students in New York City.

This article originally appeared in the DMI Blog on June 3, 2009. Re-printed with permission by the author.

Would You Like a Side of Swine Flu with Your Order?

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

In President Obama’s “first 100 days” news conference, he gave good, common-sense advice:

– “Stay home from work if you’re sick; and keep your children home from school if they’re sick.”

But this advice is about as helpful as being told to eat an apple a day to keep the doctor away when nearly 50 percent of private-sector workers have no paid sick days. This statistic jumps to four out of every five low-income worker going without paid sick days. Overall, 57 million private-sector workers in this country have no paid sick days, and 94 million cannot use their paid sick days to care for a sick child [Source: Public Welfare Foundation]. There is a bad joke somewhere in there about the 48 million Americans going without health insurance not needing the sick days to go to the doctor, but the punch line is tragically unfunny.

The survey, conducted by the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago, found that when workers took time off for illness or to care for a sick family member, one in six say they were fired, disciplined or threatened by their employer. Another study done by Harvard and McGill University researchers finds the United States ranks at the bottom of 21 high-income nations in providing paid parental leave for workers.

In fact, 145 countries guarantee paid sick days; the United States, the wealthiest nation in the world with the most productive workers, is not one of them. We can do better.

Bottom line – employment law and policy have consequences far beyond the relationship of employees and their employers. If we want our co-workers to take time off to recover from illness and not jeopardize exposure to colleagues, if we want the ability to strategically close a few schools when flu cases are identified and keep children at home, then we need a policy to support it or else being told to ‘stay home from work’ becomes meaningless.

Preparing for pandemic illness requires stocking up on vaccines, improving access to health care and tracking cases, as well as giving people the ability to take sick days. The Healthy Families Act is a federal bill that will let workers accrue up to seven paid sick days a year that they could use to recover from illness or care for a sick family member.

Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, Corporate America considers the right to seven paid sick days a year as “paid vacation.” These are some of the same folks that are ‘championing’ workers’ rights’ to a management ordered secret ballot election for union representation. In case I’m being too subtle – workers’ advocates are championing the Employee Free Choice Act so that employees may collectively bargain for benefits such as paid sick days. Corporate America is threatened by a more unionized work force because it jeopardizes unchecked greed; and is fighting the legislation making it easier to form unions under the guise of protecting workers’ rights just as they are lobbying against the Healthy Families Act. This is a side point to the one I’m making about sick days, but I think worthy of consideration.

Paid sick days are a basic workplace standard. Or, more accurately, should be a basic workplace standard. And to make the point personal, do you want your restaurant food handler working on the day he has the flu? How about your child’s daycare worker?

It’s time to pass the Healthy Families Act. You can get involved with a number of groups. I recommend the National Partnership for Women & Families as well as the Everyone Gets Sick online rally.

Eileen Toback is a political strategist and labor relations expert. To read more of Eileen’s commentary on labor issues check out unionmaiden.wordpress.com. If you have a question for Eileen, contact her via eileentoback@gmail.com.

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