In an economy where many of us can at least tread water, Philadelphia’s low-income workers are drowning. About two out of five workers in Philadelphia have no paid sick leave.
In response, a City Council committee last week approved a sick-leave ordinance that would require Philadelphia businesses of six or more employees to provide a limited number of earned, paid sick days. A vote before the full Council could come as early as this week.
Businesses can easily supply a nominal amount of paid sick days. Allowing workers to recuperate from illness without fear of docked pay, or job loss, will result in healthier workers and an overall reduction in communicable disease. Right now, 90 percent of food-service workers do not have paid sick days, and about 70 percent go to work sick, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). It is estimated that employees sick at work engender lower productivity, which costs employers $160 billion per year nationwide.
This is also a women’s issue: Women comprise about half of the workforce, but there is a greater chance of men having paid sick days than women. The service industry, which has more female employees than men, is not as likely as other industries to provide paid sick leave. Further, 80 percent of children’s doctor visits are handled by women, yet half of working mothers do not have paid sick leave, and neither do about two-thirds of women with low incomes.
Mayor Nutter vetoed a sick-leave bill in 2011, sympathetic to the businesses that feared the bill would mean extra costs. However, some business owners have voiced support for the measure, and there is scant proof that it has damaged job markets.
San Francisco enacted a sick-leave law in 2006, and IWPR has found that not only do most employers now support it, but also that employees do not often abuse the law. Gov. Daniel Malloy of Connecticut, the first state to authorize paid sick leave, said that he has spoken with employers who “now admit it really wasn’t that big of a deal,” according to the Wall Street Journal. A study there showed that the five-day sick-leave policy cost employers only 0.4 percent of their sales revenue annually.
In addition, according to IWPR, paid sick leave is thought to provide $52 million in gains to employers annually, primarily due to less job turnover, while supplying the sick days costs $51 million. Further, the institute recently released a study indicating that if all employees in Philadelphia had paid sick days, there would be $10.3 million saved each year in health-care bills due to a reduction of 12,188 emergency-room visits.
Paid sick leave is good for workers, families, and public health, and has a nominal impact on businesses. We urge you to contact your Council member and ask him or her to vote yes.
Tammy L. Gavitt is president of the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Organization for Women.