Paid sick leave bill gains support
of Article: http://www.connpost.com/ci_12032084
08:01:39 PM EDT
When baker Carrie Breslin gets sick, she does what she always
does at the bakery/restaurant where she's employed. She buckles down and
goes to work.
If she sat in an office
cubicle or had a door to wall herself off from her co-workers, perhaps that
might make sense. But Breslin, who has been in the food-service industry
for four years, handles food and interacts with customers. The chance for
spreading colds and food-borne illnesses is high.
definitely times when I've been sick," Breslin says. "What I do
is I tough it out and just go in. I might leave early if I have to. But I
really don't want to call in sick because if I do, I know I won't get paid,
and I can't afford that."
A bill before the General
Assembly that promises to give Connecticut employees paid sick time, up to
6.5 days a year, appears to be gaining traction with support from public
health advocates, food service workers and consumers.
The bill affects any
business with 50 or more employees. Those businesses account for 54,221
food-service workers. If the Legislature passes the bill, Connecticut would
become the first state in the nation to guarantee ill waiters, waitresses, cooks
and other food handlers paid sick days. Only San Francisco and Washington,
D.C., provide restaurant workers similar paid sick time, says Jeanne
Mejeur, program director at the National Conference of State Legislatures,
although three other states, Massachusetts, California and Illinois, are considering
"If people knew how
often sick food service workers were preparing and serving their
food," Breslin said, "they'd be alarmed."
In Connecticut, as many
as 631,270 employees, or 44 percent of the private sector work force, have
no paid sick days, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and
254,901 work in either food service, retail or health care, places where
there is substantial interaction with the public.
Eighteen million cases of
food-borne cases of norovirus, a virulent food-borne illness, occur each
year, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Half of those cases are linked to ill and contagious food service workers
Joe Dinkin, a spokesman
for Connecticut Working Families, which backs the paid sick leave bill,
says despite the ailing economy, it makes sense for the Legislature to
provide paid sick leave for all workers now.
"This bill would not
bankrupt small businesses," Dinkin says. "In fact, the damage
done by one sick worker spreading illness to [restaurant] customers and
others in terms of missed time from work and the medical care is far
greater than the cost of offering paid sick time. This is a bill that
represents a public policy decision, that it is better to pay a sick day
than risk an outbreak of [foodborne] illness."
That's not how opponents
of the bill see it. Among those lined up in opposition to the bill are the
Connecticut Business and Industry Association, the Connecticut Restaurant
Association, the Connecticut Association of Nonprofits, the Connecticut
Construction Industries Association and a number of large employers,
They claim workers would
abuse it, businesses should set their own sick leave policies, and it
represents an "entitlement" they can't afford.
afford another mandate, especially as they work to survive in the weakest
economy in decades. Mandated paid leave would come at a significant cost to
restaurants and other small businesses. The National Restaurant Association
is very concerned about paid-leave mandates, particularly their impact on
small employers, and supports employer efforts to provide flexible,
voluntary leave benefits for their work force," says Mike Donohue,
vice president of the National Restaurant Association in Washington, D.C.
The vast majority of
restaurant help, estimated at 85 percent of the food-industry work force,
in Connecticut has no paid sick days.
That's not the situation
at the Pond House Restaurant in West Hartford, where owner Louis Lista has
offered his staff paid sick days. At a hearing before the Legislature's
Labor Committee, Lista noted once he started offering paid sick time, his
turnover rate dropped and he was saving money.
Ruben Luna, who has
worked in the kitchen at the Pond House for more than five years, says the
paid sick time is a welcome benefit to him and his co-workers.