We need federal legislation like the Healthy Families Act to guarantee paid sick time to all working Americans. But it’s possible to make significant progress even when Congress is slow to act. States and cities across the nation can take action independently to ensure that their own residents can access this critical workplace benefit. These local efforts build momentum and help to illustrate the widespread benefits of guaranteeing paid sick time. After all, the first paid sick time law in the United States was enacted at the city level in San Francisco. And San Francisco’s successful experience with paid sick time shows what’s possible in cities like New York and nationwide. A version of this post originally appeared on DMIBlog and Huffington Post, making the case for a paid sick time law in New York City.
You rarely see this much agreement among New Yorkers: three-in-four city residents believe that workers should be able to take paid sick leave when they need to recover from illness or injury. But nearly half of all workers in the city don't have this basic right. As a result, workers without paid sick leave must choose to either come into work while sick and risk infecting others or to lose a day's pay and risk losing their job.
The New York City Council already has a bill that would guarantee every worker in the city the right to earn paid sick leave. They should act quickly to pass it. The impact of this bill, if passed, would be huge: 1.65 million working New Yorkers currently receive no paid sick leave.
While there is broad support for a paid sick leave law among New Yorkers, business organizations continue to oppose it. But if they were to look at the first city in the country to pass a law guaranteeing workers paid sick leave, San Francisco, they would find that their opposition is unwarranted.
Opponents of the Council bill contend that "paid sick leave... could leave some businesses to re-think hiring plans or even worse, lay off workers." But the latest employment data from San Francisco suggest otherwise. In fact, the labor market there is performing better than in neighboring counties that do not have a paid sick leave law.
The recession has hurt job growth across the country and the San Francisco Bay area is no different. Between December 2006 and December 2009, the five counties that surround San Francisco--Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Mateo, and Santa Clara--saw total employment drop by 5.2 percent.
But contrary to what opponents of paid sick leave would have expected, employment levels in San Francisco fared better, dropping only 3 percent even in the middle of the worst recession since World War II. In other words, workers were guaranteed paid sick leave and the sky did not, in fact, fall in.
What New York's paid sick leave bill will do is help prevent the spread of contagious disease. Sick workers on the job risk infecting coworkers, customers, and hundreds of other people that the may come into contact with on crowded subways and sidewalks. And workers without paid sick leave are often forced to send sick children to school for fear of losing their job or losing a whole day's pay.
Paid sick leave is a successful policy with a proven track record. The evidence from San Francisco is clear: healthy workers and healthy businesses can coexist.