Thursday, March 3, 2011

Paid Sick Leave Advances in Philadelphia

(By Amy Traub at DMI)

Across the nation, the attack on workers’ rights continues to mount: in Missouri, a state senator proposed rolling back child labor laws and reducing enforcement, while legislation to limit collective bargaining rights for public workers moved forward in Ohio.

But in the midst of the grim news and tough defensive battles, some city policymakers are moving in a more positive direction: asserting that what working people hit hard by the recession need is greater protection and more recognition of basic workplace rights. Philadelphia is one bright spot.

On Tuesday, the Philadelphia City Council Committee on Public Health and Human Services voted to approve legislation guaranteeing a small number of paid sick days to every person employed in Philadelphia. An estimated two in five private sector workers in the city currently lack this right. Based on San Francisco’s successful law guaranteeing paid sick leave, the Philadelphia bill would enable low-wage employees to avoid losing wages when illness strikes and they need to care for themselves or their children.

I had the opportunity to contribute testimony at the committee hearing. I spoke after a representative from the city’s Commerce Department, who was taken to task by legislators for failing to provide hard evidence for his claim that paid sick leave would burden businesses and harm Philadelphia’s economic competitiveness. Drawing on a study I conducted last year on paid sick leave in Philadelphia, I offered data on the relative success of San Francisco’s economy in the wake of paid sick leave legislation and noted:
In places where paid sick leave has been implemented, there is a significant divergence between predictions of economic doom beforehand and the actual impact. For example, in San Francisco the restaurant industry trade group initially asserted that the policy would substantially increase small business costs and discourage employment. Yet now that the policy has been in place for a number of years, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association calls the law “successful” and “the best public policy for the least cost,” acknowledging that employees have not abused paid sick leave. A top official at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, another original opponent to paid sick leave, admitted that “it has not been a huge issue that we have heard from our members about… I don’t think it’s quite on the minds of employers.”

Rather than predicting negative outcomes once again, I suggest that looking at the concrete evidence of how this policy has operated in practice is the best way to predict the impact in Philadelphia.
To read the rest of the testimony, click here.

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