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By Rep. Tom Stevens and Jen Kimmich
As a business owner and a state legislator, we are both supporters of the earned sick days bill, H.208. We know that many business owners have spoken out in favor of such a protection because they see it as the smart as well as the right thing to do. We know it lowers turnover costs and boosts productivity. We know that having sick employees is bad for our business and for public health. We understand that this bill will enable thousands of parents to take care of their sick family members in times of need.
Although a majority of working Vermonters support the earned sick days bill, H.208 has been met with strong opposition. Small business owners, many of whom struggle to make ends meet, are understandably concerned about anything that sounds like it could increase payroll expenses. Strong lobbying efforts have been put forth to stop this bill in its tracks and, unfortunately, during this process misguided fears and concerns have arisen and halted this bill which would help ensure the wellness and financial stability of more than 60,000 working Vermonters – roughly 20 percent of the workforce.
A growing body of evidence should put to rest lobbyists' predictions of doom. Kevin Westlye, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, opposed the first paid sick days bill in San Francisco but later told a business reporter that it's "the best public policy for the least cost. Do you want your server coughing over your food?" The current director of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce testified in committee hearings this year that concerns raised by Vermont's business organizations were voiced in his city, too, but that seven years after implementation, earned sick days have had no adverse effect on his members.
In addition, just released research from Connecticut, the only state thus far to enact an earned sick day law, found that "the concerns articulated by many business associations that the law would impose heavy burdens on employers and invite worker abuse turn out to have been misplaced." Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed said the law had led to no change or an increase of less than 2 percent in their overall costs.
There is clear evidence that earned sick days legislation is good policy for working families, the economy, our business climate and public health. Moreover, there is broad support for the earned sick days law in Vermont among small business owners. However, opponents continue to manipulate the facts in a way that does a disservice to the vast majority of businesses who already offer this benefit and a larger disservice to those most in need of this legislation – our lowest wage earners.
We have heard that a rise in the minimum wage will accomplish quite a bit for the same people who would benefit from the ability to earn sick time. This is true. But those without paid time off will continue to suffer the same stress and poverty they do now without the flexibility to take any time off to manage essential health care. H.208 will provide instant relief to tens of thousands of working Vermonters. The bills are both necessary and inextricably linked.
We can't and won't let misinformation and misguided fear dictate what we do in Vermont. We'll continue to fight for earned sick days because it's the right thing to do for workers and families and also because it's the right thing to do for our economy.
Rep. Tom Stevens represents Waterbury, Bolton, Huntington and Buel's Gore and sits on the General, Housing and Military Affairs committee. Jen Kimmich is cofounder of The Alchemist Brewery in Waterbury, which employs 24 full-time workers and provides them with paid sick days, among other benefits.