The Benefits of Paid Sick Days

In recent weeks, I've written here and here about legislation before Philadelphia City Council that would allow every worker in the city to earn paid sick days.

To round things out, I am now passing along an op-ed I co-authored with Lonnie Golden, a professor of economics and labor studies at Penn State Abington, that was published last week in The Philadelphia Daily News urging City Council to pass the paid sick days bill. Post a comment to let me know what you think.

The benefits of paid sick days

LAST WEEK, a group of economists, including the authors of this op-ed, published an open letter to City Council urging passage of a bill that would let every worker in Philadelphia earn paid sick days. A growing body of real-world research shows that the Promoting Healthy Businesses and Workplaces bill would be good for business, good for the economy and good for public health.

The public seems to agree. A poll released last week indicates that seven in 10 city voters support such legislation.

For many workers, taking a day off from work to care for themselves or their kids when illness strikes means losing a day's pay, or worse - losing their jobs. The alternative is sick adults going to work or sick children going to child care or school. People should not be forced to choose between being a good worker and being a good parent.

Two of five private-sector workers and four of five low-wage workers have no paid sick days at all - 210,000 Philadelphians. More than 38,000 work in health care and social assistance, many in direct contact with children and the elderly. More than 36,000 Philadelphians without paid sick days work in restaurant and hotels, jobs that include food preparation.

Paid sick days are good for business and the community, as well as for families. Businesses save because worker turnover declines, lowering hiring costs and eliminating lost productivity as new workers get up to speed.

The cost of hiring is high compared to paying for sick days because managers and human-resource professionals who recruit earn more than lower-wage workers. Businesses also save because paid sick days reduce worker resentment and improve worker-manager relations.

The community benefits because, when sick workers stay home, disease doesn't spread to other workers or to customers. Workers also obtain more timely medical care and recover faster, reducing lost productivity and holding down health-care costs.

Some opponents use inflated estimates to argue that paid sick days would cause businesses to close, cut jobs or leave the city. For example, a new report by the chief economist for the National Federation of Independent Business makes three errors that inflate its maximum cost estimate by more than five times. The study also takes no account of the benefits for businesses and the city.

There's a certain familiarity to the attacks on paid sick leave. They resemble attacks on proposed smoking bans and fire codes in the city. They also resemble attacks on the first labor standards - prohibiting child labor and establishing minimum- wage and maximum-hours laws.

These attacks are grounded in a theory that favors no mandates and lets "the market" set workplace standards. The same theory focuses only on short-run costs and does not consider what makes businesses and cities more dynamic and innovative. In the real world, there's ample evidence that advanced workplace standards can play a positive role in discouraging companies from taking advantage of their workers and encouraging them to capitalize on workers' loyalty and skills combined with advanced technology.

San Francisco, which enacted paid sick days in 2007, has embraced this high-road formula. After four years, two thirds of employers - including two thirds of small employers - are said to be somewhat or very supportive of paid sick days.

Price Waterhouse Coopers just ranked San Francisco the third-most-successful "city of opportunity" in the world. Paid sick days protect public health, strengthen the local economy and are demonstrably not a threat to business. City Council should enact this legislation without delay.

Lonnie Golden is a professor of economics and labor studies at Penn State-Abington. Stephen Herzenberg is an economist with the Keystone Research Center.

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