Getting Down to Business (May 2013)

May 06, 2013 | Jodie Levin-Epstein

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  Getting Down to Business:
  News on Employers and Paid Leave
   May 2013
In this Issue

GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS is CLASP's monthly update on the latest news about business and paid leave. If you have news you want to share with your colleagues around the country, let us know. And be sure to tell your area businesses about Better Workplaces, Better Businesses, a website that aggregates news and research related to business and paid leave and highlights business supporters of paid leave from around the country. 

California: Paid Family Leave is a Basic Ingredient, Not the Icing, Says Galaxy Desserts

Galaxy Deserts was built around values, including respect for employees. When California created the Paid Family Leave program to provide employees paid time off to care for themselves or loved-ones (including sick relatives and newborn babies), Galaxy Dessert embraced their workers' rights. And, Galaxy continues as a business leader, having just endorsed efforts underway in the California legislature to expand and better protect worker rights related to family medical leave. When asked what message she had for employers reluctant to support paid leave in other states, Galaxy's Rhoana Stone Rice posed a simple question: "Would you want your company to turn its back on you?

It all started when Jean-Yves Charon and Paul Levitan joined forces in 1998 to establish Galaxy Desserts, a company devoted to producing individual, innovative, gourmet desserts. Building their production and management teams, raising venture capital, and purchasing customized equipment was the work of the early years of Galaxy Desserts. Paul's skill in taking care of Galaxy's customers—combined with Jean-Yves' natural inclination to live, eat, and dream desserts—was a recipe for success.

The company has grown immensely since its birth, and now employs 160 people throughout the year, with an additional 140 seasonal employees. And according to Rhoana, Galaxy Desserts' controller and director of human resources, one of the company's key focuses is a culture that respects employees as individuals.

"Unexpected things can happen to your family," Rhoana said. "And that's true of every employee at every level. I think we need a compassionate view of how to run a business and to live in a community that's equitable for everyone. I see no reason for an employer to oppose paid family leave. In California the 2002 law has the funds come from employee contributions and so there is every reason to favor paid family leave. "She added that the program has not been burdensome to administer, and that honoring employees' need for time off has increased retention and fostered loyalty to the company. Under California's paid family leave program workers are entitled to up to 6 weeks of partial wage replacement.

Galaxy's paid leave system includes one-week of pooled time or "Paid Time Off/PTO" for regular full time employees (not temporary staff). Vacation leave grows over time and starts with one week for hourly/laborer staff which grows to 2 weeks in years 2-5 and 3 weeks after 5 years. Management and professional staff receive one week additional for each step in seniority.

Galaxy Desserts understands that paid leave is a win-win for workers and employers.

Vermont: Businesses Come Out for Sick Days at State Hearing and Roundtable

The active support of the Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility was on display as a Vermont House committee heard testimony on April 18th from individual business owners who joined forces with workers, nurses, and others to make the case in favor of a statewide standard. The hearing in the legislature was followed by an April 22nd Roundtable which featured a facilitated panel discussion aimed at bringing together diverse perspectives and "increasing everyone's understanding of all sides of the issue." The Roundtable was hosted by the Vermont Commission on Women (VCW), in partnership with the University of Vermont Women's and Gender Studies program.

The April 18th hearing included testimony from companies; a clear majority favored a state standard. Fully 5 businesses owners and representatives from two business groups spoke in favor of the bill or offered their perspectives on how to improve it; the two opponents included an individual HR manager and a representative of a local chamber.

Wes Hamilton, the owner of several restaurants in the state does not currently offer paid sick days to his employees but explained that he wished he could noting "As with much of the service sector, wages aren't particularly great for restaurant workers." Hamilton explained that he needed a level playing field, a minimum labor standard, because if he offered paid sick days ahead of his competitors he would have cost they did not and therefore would be at a disadvantage.

Daniel Barlow, with Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility noted that the bill gives businesses the flexibility to continue their banked or combined time off policies. "Many families face the possibility of severe debt, bankruptcy or the need for public assistance programs when facing a personal or family health crisis when paid leave policies are not in place," said Barlow. "A stable workforce and stable families are an essential component of a stable economy."

The Vermont Paid Sick Days Coalition has worked diligently to engage business. As Lindsay DesLauriers, with Voices for Vermont's Children and a key organizer of the coalition noted and noted, "there has been a lot of misinformation circulating within the business community. One issue had been a basic misunderstanding about how companies' varying paid time off packages fit within the legislation. Some had been concerned that discrete, additional, sick days would need to be added by companies with combined time off policies or paid time off banks. Our revised language makes it much clearer that a paid day can count no matter what it is called as long as a person doesn't have to schedule their flu! So if a company lumps vacation and sick days together in a bank they don't need to add more time than the bill sets as the floor. That change happened only because of dialogue with businesses."

The April 22nd panel discussion aired a lot of differences but also raised some common interests. It was attended by representatives from the VT Businesses for Social Responsibility, the VT Paid Sick Days Coalition, the UVM Women's and Gender Studies program, the VT health department and others. Ellen Bravo from Family Values@Work shared a national perspective.

Dan Barlow of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility made a number of observations from a business perspective, including some not often articulated. For example, he noted that among the reasons VBSR supports a paid sick days' law is that it should be viewed as part of health care reform. The inability to take time off to go to the doctor is a barrier to health care.

Here are some Vermont press clips and business testimony:

For additional details contact: (802) 343‐7423, or

New York: Blue Bottle Brings San Francisco Biz Views to Big Apple

Just a few days following an April New York City Council public hearing on pending sick days legislation, a deal was struck that is expected to lead to the enactment of a law that will give a million workers in the Big Apple job protection and pay when the flu strikes. A statement from businessman James Freeman, the founder and CEO of Blue Bottle Coffee Co. in San Francisco enabled council members to hear from a business that already operates under a law (San Francisco's) and who 'having been there- done that' fully support such a law in New York City where he has opened new stores and created new jobs. A level playing field across businesses is also important, as Freeman notes:

"I have had no difficulty complying with [the San Francisco] law and I am very happy that my workers can take time off and not come to work when they or a family member is sick… I'm really glad that there is a paid sick time law that applies to all businesses in San Francisco because it is nice for an employer like me, who would want to give my workers a reasonable amount of time off when they are sick, to know that my competitors will also be supplying that benefit to their workers… as an employer who recently moved to New York, creating 63 new jobs in the city – and great coffee! – I support the New York paid sick time proposal currently before the City Council."

The bill that was hammered out will ensure that New Yorkers cannot be fired for taking a day off when they or certain family members are sick and will require all employers with 15 or more employees to provide up to 5 paid sick days per year.

U.S. House of Representatives: Bill on Worker Time Assailed by Progressive Businesses

A bill expected to be voted on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in early May, seeks to allow employers to avoid overtime pay and substitute comp time; a number of business groups have already stepped up to point out how this innocent-sounding measure "The Working Families Flexibility Act" (H.R. 1406) cloaks some troubling policy. Business groups including Main Street Alliance, the American Sustainable Business Council, and Restaurant Opportunities Centers National Roundtable sent members of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee of the House Education & Workforce Committee and are reaching out further as the measure heads for the floor. The business groups identified a range of concerns including how small businesses are disadvantaged by loopholes for big box stores

The letter from the Main Street Alliance (MSA) challenges the very name of the bill asserting, "While "flexibility" sounds good in theory, the only flexibility this bill will provide is for unscrupulous employers to cut overtime pay, taking money out of their employees' pockets, undercutting responsible competitors, and undermining consumer purchasing power in local economies. As small business owners, we urge you to oppose this bill." MSA goes on to note "Creating a new loophole for Big Box stores and other competitors to do away with overtime pay and replace it with comp time won't boost our local economies. Instead, it will take money out of workers' pockets and weaken local purchasing power. At the same time, it will undercut responsible small businesses that refuse to take advantage of our employees. The American Sustainable Business Council and Restaurant Opportunities Center submitted a joint letter which observed that "current law does not deny employers and employees the ability to develop mutually beneficial flexible scheduling if they so choose, which makes this an unnecessary new law."  

U.S. Senate: Portland Business Briefs Staff on Importance of Federal Healthy Families Act

"Lights went off in their heads" is how Jim Houser, co-owner of Hawthorne Auto Clinic in Portland, Oregon explained how he and others were able to dispel the misinformation and myths some fellow business owners had held about how paid sick days would work in the city. Portland now has a sick days' law (and a measure is pending in the state legislature). Houser was part of a May 2 panel in the U.S. Senate that briefed Hill staffers on how and why cities and states are increasingly enacting paid sick days laws. "No one will buy our $25 dollar burger" was the type of worry harbored by some Portland businesses which anticipated that sick days would be abused and consequently very costly; however, Houser provided data on actual utilization that knocked the wind out of the misplaced concern that Houser also noted that reluctant businesses came around once they understood that vacation time could count as long as the employer did not require as much advance notice. These and other implementation details were part of the Portland process that engaged area employers both in learning what is known from implementation elsewhere as well as getting their input on specifics of the law. Houser is part of the state's Main Street Alliance and also has a leadership role within national MSA.

New Tool: Video of San Francisco Business Implementation of Paid Sick Days

Is your campaign reaching out to employers who worry that implementation is going to be a headache they just can't manage? What better way to allay that concern than the words of a business peer who not only is implementing a paid sick days' law but also started out with lots of worries?

ROC-United, The American Sustainable Business Council, the U.S. Women's Chamber of Commerce and Social Venture Network, have co-sponsored a new video that focuses on the implementation of the sick days law by restaurateurs, retailers, and bankers in San Francisco. "Business Voices: Implementation of San Francisco's Earned Sick Days Law" is a great tool to start off your coalition meeting, to forward to businesses, or at a panel presentation. Sam Mogannam, owner of Bi-Rite Market in San Francisco and now a paid sick days' proponent, started off leery. Here's what he has to say

"Really a lot of the anxiety was around the implementation and the bureaucracy around the implementation, the reporting, and making sure that we were doing it accurately so we wouldn't get in trouble. But once we began to understand the requirements and began to understand how our payroll software could actually help with it, we embraced it and realized that, "You know what; this could be a cool thing".

Additional resources include:

Business Voices: Employers Discuss Implementation of D.C. Earned Sick Days Law

Business Voices: Implementation of Sick Days' Law is Straightforward

New High Road Business Group: ROC and RAISE

On April 17, ROC-United launched RAISE (Restaurants Advancing Industry Standards in Employment), an alternative restaurant association of nearly 100 business owners across the country aimed at supporting business owners and employers—and the workers they employ. For ROC-United (Restaurant Opportunities Centers), RAISE is one part of a multi-pronged strategy to improve the treatment of workers within the $515 billion restaurant industry.

RAISE is designed to support smaller business owners as they move towards "High Road" to practices which ROC notes include: paid sick days; livable wages for tipped and non-tipped workers; access to affordable health care; a safe and healthy workplace; diverse and equitable employment; career advancement opportunities; responsible immigration reform; and, environmental sustainability. RAISE provides its members with tools that can both improve profitability and worker well-being.

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