State Representative Seth Grove of York County and business lobbyists want Pennsylvania to be the latest state to pass a law stopping city and local governments from ensuring private-sector workers receive paid time off when they get sick.
House Bill 1807 is, in part, a response to efforts earlier this year to enact an earned sick leave law in Philadelphia. City Councilman Bill Greenlee — supported by community groups, nonprofits, unions, and churches — won City Council approval of a bill requiring employers in the city to offer paid sick days to their employees, but it was vetoed by Mayor Michael Nutter.
Representative Grove’s bill would ensure that this type of local momentum is squashed in Pennsylvania before it takes off again.
The United States is the only one among the richest 22 countries in the world that does not guarantee its workers some form of paid sick leave. In Pennsylvania, nearly 40% of private-sector workers, most of them with low incomes, have no paid sick days.
Nationally, nearly 80% of the lowest-paid workers go without paid sick days — many employed in jobs that come into frequent contact with the public, including food service, hotel, childcare, and nursing home workers. When they get sick, these workers must choose between calling off work without pay — risking dismissal — and going to work while sick — risking a public health crisis.
Requiring earned sick leave is not only good for workers. It also saves money by improving public health. It improves the economy by encouraging businesses to compete in partnership with their employees — taking the high road to profitability — which is more productive long-term than squeezing them (as explained further in this op-ed).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that the spread of seasonal flus due to a lack of earned sick days costs businesses $10.4 billion every year. A National Health survey found that workers with earned sick leave are more likely to get screened for cancer than those without. A National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) study found that workers with access to earned sick leave were 28% less likely to have nonfatal occupational injuries than those without.
Earned sick leave also has broad, bipartisan support. A 2012 national survey conducted by Lake Research Partners and The Tarrance Group found that support for earned sick leave is high among voters. Eighty-six percent of voters (73% Republicans, 87% Independents, and 96% Democrats) said that it is important for the President and Congress to consider laws like earned sick leave and paid family and medical leave.
The arguments made against earned sick leave mirror those made a century or more ago against the first child labor, health and safety, and minimum wage laws. (For a discussion of a flawed National Federation of Independent Business study of paid sick days, click here.) How did those laws — now recognized as foundational stones of humane and productive economies — pass? Because progressive local communities had the freedom to lead their state and their nation.
Allowing local communities to demonstrate the positive payback to high social standards — for employers and the community as well as working families — is how America progressed from the 19th to the 20th centuries. It’s the way to move into the 21st century.
Supporters of pre-emption should not be permitted to turn back the clock and to pre-empt progress. Local communities should retain the freedom to take the high road to better social and economic outcomes.