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Ellen Bravo's picture

There’s an old saying:

“For want of a nail, a shoe was lost,
For want of a shoe, a horse was lost,
For want of a horse, a battle was lost,
For want of a battle, a kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.”

One small thing can lead to big consequences.

In our nation that is supposed to value families and personal responsibility, being a good parent or following doctor’s orders can affect your ability to stay employed, to advance, to build assets or even to pay bills. If you’re a low-wage worker. the loss of even one’s day pay for a child’s ear infection or strep throat can mean having to decide between diapers or gas, between a bus pass or a phone. And for many, a lost day can signal a lost job – which can easily become the missing nail that leads to significant harm for workers and their families, and also for the economy.

Looking for work is like moving – you have to have the equivalent of a security deposit, money saved to tide you over. If you don’t, you feel pressure to take the first job you can find, which more likely than not also will lack paid sick days. That can mean another lost job – and the spiral intensifies. A spotty resume, debt, employers questioning your work ethic, bad credit, payday loans – more obstacles to being hired in stable employment. And more losses for small business owners counting on this worker’s purchases.


Right now Philadelphia has a task force commissioned by the mayor to come up with recommendations for a paid sick days bill. Their charge was to explore paid sick days especially as a way to reach low-wage workers who have been left out of the current recovery. As the report notes, paid sick days will provide “a measure of job security and income stability.” Among the bottom quarter of earners in Philly, a group disproportionately made up of women and people of color, only 3 in 10 have access to any paid sick days.

Yet some people are arguing that the proposed paid sick days bill should exclude nearly 40 percent of the 200,000 Philadelphians with no paid sick days, by requiring coverage only of firms with 20 or more employees. Do the math – that’s 77,000 people. Even a threshold that covered employers with 10 or more staff would exclude nearly a quarter of those currently lacking access to paid sick days – 46,000 people.

I went to the Task Force hearing today to say this: A proposal to address those left out of the recovery cannot leave out tens of thousands of those very people.

All around the country, local governments and states have been passing stronger bills. The trend has been to cover all employees. Those that do set lower requirements for the smallest establishments of five or less are carving in workers who have direct contact with the public – those who work in food service, or who care for young children or frail seniors and those with disabilities.

The Task Force understandably wants to ensure no harm to small employers and reviews estimated expenses. Unfortunately, what they omit is the cost of not providing paid sick days to employers, workers, taxpayers and to public health. In particular, the report should note the experience of businesses in the many locations where workers are already allowed to earn paid sick time.

The business owners who are partners in our coalitions say they offer paid sick days because it’s the smart as well as the right thing to do – saving them money on turnover, boosting productivity and improving quality. They want a minimum standard for everyone because, as they point out, other employers’ workers are their customers, and need money in their pockets for car repair or new shoes or a night out.

We also hear from those who were wary before passage and now say what they gain in loyalty, good will, job retention and customer satisfaction outweigh the “pennies” they spend to implement the policy.

Even Kevin Westlye of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, an opponent of the law that passed in San Francisco, several years later told a business reporter, “It’s the best public policy for the least cost. After all, you don’t want your server coughing over your food.”

In honor of National Caregivers Month, we call on decision-makers in Philadelphia to help all workers be good caregivers and good providers by passing an inclusive paid sick days law. The results would benefit not just low-wage workers, but all of us, through stronger communities, stronger families, and a stronger economy.

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