In a Blow to Workers, Industry Helps Defeat Denver Paid Sick Days Law
Nov 02, 2011
By Andrea Lindemann
Yesterday, corporate money and power spoke in Denver, depriving more than 100,000 Denver employees - 40 percent of all workers and 72 percent of food service workers - the ability to take time off when they are ill without losing pay or even their job.
The vote was a small setback in the growing nationwide movement to ensure better work life/job quality for all workers. Erin Bennett, a spokeswoman for the Campaign for a Healthy Denver, said, "The people of Denver lost today - people like home health care nurse Patricia Hughes who was fired after calling in sick with pneumonia; Mandie Freyta, a Latina mother who lost a week's wages because she stayed home with her four children when they had the flu; and people like barista Laura Baker and bartender Eric Love, who have gone to work sick because they need to work every hour they can just to make the rent."
Paid sick days are a critical policy solution to support low-income workers. The lower a worker's wages, the more likely that worker has no paid sick days, no paid vacation, and/or no paid holidays. Among workers in the lowest wage quartile, nearly 70 percent have no paid sick days, and about half have no paid vacation or holidays. The absence of paid leave laws in the United States means too many workers continuously risk losing wages or jobs.
The Institute for Women's Policy Research found that the law would have resulted in a net savings for Denver employers of $1.4 million annually. Evidence from other cities with paid sick days laws demonstrates paid sick days laws do not harm business. Even business owners in San Francisco, the first city in the country to pass a paid sick days law, reported overwhelming success with the law. Jennifer Piallat, owner of Zazie Bistro in San Francisco, last year said "I was relatively sure they [paid sick days] would become 'paid hung-over days'. They did not...People have not taken advantage of it." The Drumm Major Institute found that employment remains stronger in San Francisco than in neighboring counties without such a law.
Despite research and experience to the contrary, business lobbies came out in full force against the proposition, arguing it would kill jobs and hurt the local economy. The Campaign for Healthy Denver reported the business industry spent more than $837,000 to defeat the measure. Bennett said, "These same business interests are part of a larger national corporate agenda designed to stop paid sick days, increases in minimum wages, overtime pay, protections for the public from second-hand smoke, lower legal blood alcohol levels and accommodations for people with disabilities."
"It [the National Restaurant Association] would seem like the least logical group to oppose it [the paid sick days measure]," said Saru Jayaraman, co-founder of Restaurant Opportunities Center United, a national advocacy group for restaurant workers. "But they're neck and neck with retail as the largest growing industry with little unionization and little worker voice. That's resulted in a large lobby."
The loss slows the momentum of paid sick days laws across the country. After local victories in San Francisco, Milwaukee, and Washington D.C., Connecticut became the first state to pass a paid sick days law in June of this year. Seattle passed a paid sick days law in August, and last month Philadelphia added paid sick days to the existing city living wage legislation.