They said it would “threaten our distinctively American experiment of individual freedom.” They said it would “go a long way towards destroying American initiative and courage.” They said it “could close every business in this nation.” They said it cause “the wiping out of industry in this state.” They said it was a “threat to the entire American economy and to every person in America.”
These threats and warnings came from the mouths of respected corporate leaders of their day. But did our elected officials listen? No.
And thank goodness! Had elected officials caved into these scare tactics our seniors would not have social security or Medicare to ensure health and dignity in retirement. Workers would have no minimum wage or occupational safety protections. Clean air and water laws? Nope, we could kiss them goodbye too.
Today, these same threats can be heard from lobbyists echoing around the halls of the state Capitol. Today’s target: paid sick days. Just as creating a minimum wage, Medicare, social security, and OSHA were all characterized by opponents in terms that were barely short of apocalyptic, business lobbyists say that ensuring a handful of paid sick days for service workers will trigger economic catastrophe.
Warnings that the sky will fall are ironic given recent economic history. In 2008, the sky did fall. Was the great recession sparked by part-time waitresses suddenly getting paid sick days? Or was it because our financial industry was allowed to act like a casino and when the house lost big it was up to the taxpayers to foot the bill? Three years later Wall Street has recovered. Corporate profits are back to their highest level in decades. Dividends and big executive bonuses are back in style.
But how’s the part-time waitress doing? If she’s lucky, she’s still patching together enough hours to pay her bills. Her house lost 20% of its value. She had to spend down some of her kids’ college savings just to pay bills. And she’s still a bad cold away from losing a job. What’s wrong with this picture?
No, paid sick days legislation won’t damage our economy. It will provide a little economic security for some of our most vulnerable families. It will give some peace of mind for low wage service employees who are at risk of losing wages, or even their job, every time they get sick. It will allow working moms to stay home when their toddlers are sick instead of sending them to school. And it will benefit the public when those service workers don’t feel compelled to come to work sick – in restaurants, nursing homes, daycares.
This is not to say that there are no costs. But the minority of employers who do not offer paid sick days will soon learn what the majority of employers already know: the cost is really, really small. Economists estimate that the average employer who provides no paid sick days to any employees will experience a cost increase of 0.2%. That’s equivalent to a $5 foot-long sandwich at Subway getting marked-up to $5.01—hardly what I’d call “costly.”
Fortunately, we needn’t only speculate about the impact of this legislation. San Francisco’s paid sick leave policy has been on the books for several years and is now the subject of considerable research.
According to the City’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement, no employers left the city or reduced employment because of the ordinance. The head of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Restaurant Association has called the law “the best policy for the lowest cost.”
Just recently, the accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers released a study that ranked San Francisco as the third best city in the world for attracting business and entrepreneurs. “San Francisco is known for having more progressive social policies like paid sick leave, but it really held its own as a business center that attracts entrepreneurs,” they said. So much for the theory that guaranteeing paid sick days is damaging to our business reputation.
Scare tactics are nothing new. But what kind of world would we live in if our elected officials allowed scare tactics to rule the day? A world without Medicare or the minimum wage. A world without Social Security or the Clean Water Act. I’ll take reason over fear anytime.
Jon Green is executive director of the Working Families Party.