A Seattle Mom’s Story: Why We All Need Paid Sick Days

One evening in 2010, Monica’s baby had a seizure. After a frantic call to 911, a terrifying rush to the hospital, and a night spent by her son’s side, Monica had to get to her 7 am shift at a local Safeway. She hated to leave her son but she couldn’t afford to lose a day’s pay or risk her job. But now with paid sick days in Seattle, Monica — and more than two and a quarter million other workers across the county — don’t have to leave an ill child or go to work sick.

Learn more and get engaged in Washington’s campaign for paid sick days with the Washington Work and Family Coalition.

Via Family Values @ Work

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Seattle sick leave law: So healthy that others want to follow suit

By Nick Licata

As noted recently on Crosscut and elsewhere, Seattle’s Paid Sick and Safe Leave law turns one year old this month. September also marks the new school year and a new flu season. Each is a good reminder that our public health is improved when employees don’t have to choose between coming to work sick or losing a day’s wage.

Before the enactment of the paid sick and safe leave benefit, nearly 40 percent of Seattle’s workers, in about 190,000 jobs, had no paid sick days. When these employees got the flu, some would go to work sick. Likewise, if a child was sick, a parent without paid sick days had to decide whether to lose pay to stay with the child, or send the child to day care or school, where other children might be infected.

Detractors have marked this anniversary by pointing to what they call the “unintended consequences” of the law as reported by the Employment Policies Institute (EPI). I was curious about this organization and found that it is one of two dozen groups run by Richard Berman, the former director of labor law for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to oppose legislation proposed by labor, consumer safety and environmental groups. Under the guise of studying “the impact of new labor costs on job creation,” Berman has opposed not only paid sick leave but also increasing the minimum wage.

His approach is to focus on half-truths that pose as unbiased research. For instance, his EPI said that many employers planned to decrease employee vacation benefits or increase consumer costs to cover what they perceived as the costs of paid sick and safe leave to be to their profit. They may be planning to do so because they were opposed to providing this benefit to begin with. And planning on something is not the same as having actually done it. To repeat EPI’s accusation that the unintended consequences of Seattle’s adoption of paid sick leave were not anticipated distorts the truth. The council was informed, before the vote on the paid sick and safe leave benefit, about the experience of cities that already had the law. Some employers raised prices or reduced employee vacation benefits to cover the perceived costs of the paid sick leave benefit to their profit.

But we learned from these same cities that actual employer costs from paid sick leave was small (less than two-tenths of 1 percent of sales) and that savings actually resulted for employers providing paid sick days through reduced turnover, lower employee-replacement costs and higher productivity. We knew then that four years after San Francisco’s passage of their law, the number of small and large businesses in the city had grown, and in the midst of an economic downturn their economy was stronger than in the surrounding five counties, which had no paid sick leave.

The Council took this all into consideration when passing the Seattle Paid Sick and Safe Leave legislation. We understood that employers might choose to increase their prices or trim their employees’ other benefits, even though the cost of paid leave to employers was small. However, the objective of the law was to minimize the effect on individual workers and the broader community resulting from the lack of paid sick leave. No employee should have to choose between going to work sick or getting paid, or choosing between caring for a sick child or losing a job. Sick workers staying at home, slows the spread of disease.

I’ve been promoting our sick leave program nationwide, via Local Progress, an organization that I founded. Since passing Seattle’s law, Portland, Ore. and New York City have passed their own, joining Connecticut, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.  As I write this, from Jersey City to Tacoma, legislators are considering passage of new paid sick and safe leave laws.

Like San Francisco, a year after passage of our own paid sick and safe leave legislation, we lead the nation in job growth with only two California cities (one of them San Francisco) with unemployment rates falling more than Seattle’s.  The bottom line is this:  Paid sick days protect public health, create a healthier workforce, help businesses cut costs and speeds our economy’s recovery.

Via Crosscut

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One year after Seattle’s Paid Sick Days law, business formation and job growth remain strong

From the left, Makini Howell, Jody Hall and Joe Fugere celebrating one year of paid sick days in Seattle.

One year after Seattle’s paid sick days law took effect, local businesses owners joined the small business group Main Street Alliance to present a new report on the economic impacts of the law.

Joe Fugere, owner of Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria; Makini Howell, owner of Plum Bistro and Jody Hall, owner of Cupcake Royale, each shared how their businesses have continued to grow and prosper – and all while providing paid sick days to their employees.

At Tutta Bella, Fugere decided to use a paid time off system that allows employees to use the time they earn for sick leave, vacation or even to go see their daughter’s violin recital. The cost for such a system? One-half of one percent of revenue. “Message to big business and lobbyist: wringing savings out of your employees is really a false profit,” said Fugere. “My support has only grown stronger because of my experience.”

Howell, who had provided employees with paid sick days even before Seattle’s law passed, noted paid sick leave only costs her about $300-$400 a year for her 35-person business. “You don’t have to bring in a specialist to redo the payroll,” Makini noted. “So no, we’re not raising the costs of cupcakes or pizza or tofu to offset that.”

Hall stated that her business has continued to expand since the paid sick days ordinance went into effect. She’ll soon be opening a new shop in Queen Anne, and plans to hire 20 new employees to keep up with growth.

The report, for which the Economic Opportunity Institute provided technical assistance, notes that Seattle’s economy showed stronger job growth and business formation in the first half of 2013 compared to the same time period in 2012: “There were 7,200 more retail jobs and 3,200 more jobs in food services and drinking places in King County during the first seven months of 2013 than for the same period of 2012.”

The report also finds that Seattle has maintained its share of King County businesses and revenues, including in the retail and food services sectors. Further, levels of inflation in the Seattle area have fallen since last year, similar to national trends.

It confirms what many HR specialists, economists and advocates have been saying for years: paid sick days are good for workers and good for business. Seattle’s paid sick leave law means workers aren’t going to work sick and handling your food, sick kids aren’t stuck in the nurse’s office because their parent can’t leave work to pick them up and businesses are building stronger workplaces with lower turnover, higher productivity and less absenteeism.

Despite opponents’ predictions of economic doom, the sky did not fall. Seattle is enjoying a prosperous economy, healthier workers and stronger businesses. But workers outside of Seattle still have no access to paid sick days. It’s time to take action at the local and state level to pass paid sick leave laws that support working families and better our businesses.

You can review the complete report from the Main Street Alliance here.

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D.C. Corporate Front Group Tries to Speak for Seattle – and Fails Miserably

This week The Seattle Times ran an op-ed by Michael Saltsman of the Employment Policies Institute (EPI), an industry-funded ‘research’ organization, claiming Seattle’s Paid Sick Days law is negatively impacting local businesses and driving up costs.

Here’s the funny thing about EPI’s report: it’s basically an opinion survey of a very small sample. EPI surveyed 300 selected business owners (mostly restaurants), asking them if they thought Seattle’s sick days law would increase costs. But EPI didn’t ask for any math to back up those opinions.

They also didn’t bother to ask any employees or customers what they thought.

Of course, when a Seattle restaurant owner like Tom Douglas announces he will raise his employees’ wages to $15 an hour after realizing the sick-leave law costs much less than expected, maybe EPI knew opinions would play better to their case than actual, you know, data.

Reporter David Goldstein, writing for The Stranger, decisively called out the real motives behind EPI ‘s ‘report’:

Although the Seattle Times describes EPI as a “nonprofit research organization,” it’s really anything but. In fact, EPI is nothing more than just one of about two dozen front groups created by DC-based corporate lobbyist Richard Berman, a Beltway-insider notorious for his take-no-prisoners tactics, and his all-out assaults on such enemies of freedom as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Humane Society.

But a lot of people who read The Times don’t read The Stranger – so we need Times’ readers to get the real story about why paid sick days matter. Here are a two ways you can help:

In Seattle, we’re lucky to be celebrating one year of paid sick days, but millions of workers in our state still have no access to paid leave. Next year, we can change that. Healthy Tacoma is working to pass a Paid Sick Days ordinance and the Washington Work and Family Coalition is advocating for statewide Paid Sick Day standards.

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New York becomes largest U.S. city to guarantee workers the right to earn paid sick days

While many New Yorkers were asleep last night, the city council overrode Mayor Michael Bloomberg's veto

While most New Yorkers slept, last night the city council overrode Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s previous veto of paid sick days legislation. [Photo: dorlino, Flickr Creative Commons]

(Cross-posted from Washington Policy Watch)

This morning New York City became the fifth U.S. city – and the largest – to guarantee workers the right to earn paid sick days on the job.

More than 1 million people will be covered by the new law. Employees of businesses with 20 or more workers can earn up to five paid sick days a year beginning in April 2014; at enterprises with 15 to 19 workers, paid sick days will kick in by October 2015. Smaller businesses are required to provide five unpaid sick days per year, meaning that workers couldn’t get fired for using those days.

The victory comes after a three-year marathon effort. New York’s paid sick days bill was first introduced on August 20, 2009. A little after 2 a.m. today it reached the finish line, when the New York City Council overrode Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s previous veto of the legislation – with a stronger vote than its original passage, by a margin of 47-4.

Four other cities and one state have already established similar laws: San Francisco, CA; Portland, OR; Seattle, WA; Washington, DC; and Connecticut. The Healthy Tacoma coalition is working with local leaders to introduce paid sick days legislation in that city as well.

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No Sick Leave = More Germs at Sea-Tac?

How policies for low-wage airport workers can make you sick.

Yoseph Diallo’s dad is the one who encouraged him to look for work at Sea-Tac airport, based on stories his family had heard over the years about stable, good-paying jobs with decent benefits.

So the 19-year-old was happy to get a job last year as a “ramper,” handling and driving baggage from planes to other parts of the airport. But the reality turned out to be quite different than the reputation from years gone by.

A new report by Puget Sound Sage shows that ground service workers at Sea-Tac airport—the majority of whom are people of color, immigrants, and refugees—make substantially less than their counterparts at other West Coast airports, do not have paid sick leave and have filed numerous complaints with the state about poor training and unsafe working conditions.

This article, by Jennifer Langston, was originally published by Sightline

From No Sick Leave = More Germs at Sea-Tac? by Jennifer Langston, Copyright Sightline Institute; used with permission.

The group includes cabin cleaners who disinfect tray tables and look for suspicious cargo left behind, wheelchair assistants who shuttle elderly travelers, skycaps and baggage handlers, and other ramp workers who perform functions such as guarding equipment, refueling planes and removing ice. On average, their minimum compensation at Sea-Tac is nearly $4 to $6 less than airport workers doing comparable jobs in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Jose and San Francisco.

These low-wage workers at Sea-Tac are overwhelmingly people of color, according to surveys that have shown the airport’s contractor workforce is only 36 percent white (compared with 64 percent for all of King County and 43 percent for all airport jobs). And the airport has become an employment magnet for newly arrived immigrants and refugees. As many as half of job applications come from transplants from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe.

On principle, everyone—especially people who have had to flee their home countries and may have little frame of reference for how things are supposed to work here—deserves fair working conditions. But this isn’t just about airport workers. It’s about anyone who boards a plane and the policies that shape whether the employees charged with protecting their health and safety are given the tools to do so.

It’s not just the germy kid sitting behind you

For people who are making barely above minimum wage, missing a day of work can mean the difference between making rent that month or not. The lack of paid sick time is a powerful incentive to go to work even when you’re ill, as Diallo has done. Those infected workers then touch the same baggage handles that people will grab straight off the conveyor belt. They can spread germs on tables that the next planeload of people will eat from. They may assist elderly people and others whose immune systems may be compromised.

Diallo, who works the overnight shift at Sea-Tac and attends Highline Community College, says it’s not just about losing the income when he’s sick. When he misses a shift, he says, a point is deducted from his attendance record. If he hits 16 points, Diallo says he’s been told he’ll be fired.

It’s just so hard. It’s really hard. I want to stay home and rest up and try to make sure I don’t get anyone else sick, and I end up having to go to work because I’m afraid to stand up to my managers and tell them my situation. They seem to just not want to listen.

Diallo doesn’t work for the Port of Seattle (which operates Sea-Tac) or Alaska Airlines, whose bags he handles. He works for one of the many contractors that have become increasingly important to Sea-Tac’s operation as the airport and airlines have sought to cut labor costs. For instance, when Alaska Airlines outsourced its ramp operations to Menzies Aviation in 2005, the average wage for those workers fell by more than $5 an hour, according to Puget Sound Sage.

In November of last year, more than 50 workers who perform ground-based services for a variety of contractors filed complaints with the Washington Department of Labor and Industries. They include allegations of exposure to toxic chemicals, denial of bathroom breaks or access to water, exposure to faulty fueling equipment, and lack of training. Here’s a quote from one complaint filed by a wheelchair attendant:

If a passenger was to [relieve him or herself] in my chair, I would just take it to the restroom and clean it with napkins and soap and then continue to use my chair, management has never told me what to do with that chair. I have no gloves or spray to use so I would clean it with my hands in the restroom.

How Sea-Tac stacks up

So are these shortcuts inevitable as airlines are dreaming up new fees and cutting costs wherever possible? The report makes a persuasive case that the answer is no, especially when you compare Sea-Tac to other West Coast airports that provide living wages, health insurance incentives, worker retention programs, paid time off, and training standards for comparable workers.


(Click on graphic to embiggen)

For example, the city of Los Angeles several years ago became concerned about sick leave policies that could contribute to germ “superspreading” at its airport and the public cost of airport workers with no health insurance. So in 2009, it extended its living wage ordinance to airport workers that requires:

  • 12 paid days off and 10 unpaid days off annually
  • A minimum wage of $15.37, with a credit of $4.67 towards the total if the employer provides health benefits
  • Worker retention in the event the airport or airlines replace one contracting firm with another for the same function

Similarly, the city of San Francisco more than a decade ago passed standards that established a minimum living wage for airport ground service workers, access to health insurance and training designed to attract and retain a quality workforce. An analysis three years later showed that employee turnover fell by 60%, employees reported working harder and faster, and employers saw a decrease in grievances and absenteeism.

In Oakland, it was the voters themselves who overwhelmingly (by 78%) approved a ballot measure to create a living wage and other labor standards for airport and seaport businesses.

So, there appear to be multiple ways to take the lead on setting workforce standards for airport employees. And workers like Diallo are optimistic that conditions there can improve, if people want them to. As he puts it:

I love working at the airport. There are so many interesting people. It’s international, and you never know who you might meet there. But I feel like we’re not being respected at the job that we do. If we take the time and actually try to stand up to these guys and tell them how we feel and what is needed to be done in order to make every airport job a good job, I think we can make that happen.

Update: Sightline contacted the Port of Seattle, which owns Sea-Tac, and Alaska Airlines, the airport’s dominent carrier, for responses to Puget Sound Sage’s report. The port declined to comment at this time. Alaska Airlines spokeswoman Bobbie Egan provided this statement late in the day and emphasized that the company employs nearly 13,000 people who earn almost $1 billion a year in wages and benefits, with nearly half of those people working in the Seattle area:

Alaska Airlines partners with vendors that focus on safety and provide quality services at competitive pricing for entry-level jobs. Our focus is to offer our customers safe, reliable and affordable air travel while continuing to grow our business and create more jobs within Alaska Airlines and at our partner vendors. Although we do not dictate the wages our contractors pay their employees, we do understand the importance of having a strong local economy that provides plentiful, good-paying jobs. The most effective way Alaska Airlines can contribute to this goal is to make decisions that ensure our company thrives and continues to provide careers and financial security for thousands of employees and their families.

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Implementing Earned Sick Days Laws: Learning from Seattle’s Experience

clasp logoThe Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) took note of Seattle’s Paid Sick and Safe Days ordinance that passed in November 2011 and took effect September 2012.

CLASP researchers spoke with employees in the Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) to learn how they were handling implementation of the law in a way that balances business concerns and worker protection. From CLASP:

The city has launched a thoughtful and creative implementation and outreach strategy that has been attentive to business needs, spread the word about the law to diverse groups of Seattle workers and employers, and provided an unparalleled level of technical assistance to employers seeking to comply with the law.

Now, CLASP has released an issue brief that draws on the experience of SOCR staff that delineates best practices and provides a framework for other cities to move forward with implementation of paid sick days laws. Read the full brief here >>

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