Opinion

The Divide: The time has come for paid sick leave in Albany County

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The Divide: The time has come for paid sick leave in Albany County

 

The Albany County legislature is considering enacting a local law that would require employers to provide their employees with paid sick days. The proposal, entitled “The Albany County Paid Sick Leave Act” has highlighted the divide between corporate greed and treating employees considerately and humanely. (NOTE: There will be a legislative hearing May 29 at 7:15 PM, Legislative Chambers, Albany County Courthouse, 2nd Floor, 16 Eagle St.)

On the labor side, Citizen Action of New York (full disclosure – I am a board member of the Capital District Chapter of Citizen Action) is leading the charge for passage of Local Law No. “C” for 2018. On the business side, the Capital Region Chamber is in full defense mode in trying to prevent the Albany County legislature from adopting the law. The lobbying effort has Citizen Action using the postcard approach to pressure county legislators to vote “Yea,” while the Chamber has circulated a petition among its members stating their opposition to Local Law “C” and urging a “No” vote.

The Times Union reported that the Institute for Women’s Policy Research estimates that “roughly 40 percent of workers living in Albany County have no paid sick days.” The study also noted that the service and transportation sectors rank lowest for “paid sick day access.” When broken down further, the percent of part-time workers in Albany County who lack paid sick days is a whopping 74 percent, while for service workers, it is 66 percent.“

Local Law “C” is a 14-page bill that sets out very specific guidelines for employee eligibility and employer obligations. The legislative intent of the bill is to “ensure that all workers in Albany County can address their own health and safety needs…and the needs of their families…” The legislature found that access to paid sick time promotes a healthy and safe county, reduces the spread of illness, and provides greater flexibility to employees with caregiving responsibilities.

The key points of the legislation are: coverage for all private sector workers; the requirement that paid sick time is earned at the rate of one hour per every 30 hours worked; and the number of eligible paid sick days is based on the size (by number of employees) of the business. The reasons for allowing an employee to take paid sick time include: employee’s short term illness; time to deal with medical, legal or relocation issues related to domestic violence or child abuse; and to care for a family member when ill or in need of medical care. Employer protections are also laid out in the legislation. These include the giving of reasonable notice and documentation for leave of more than three days. The proposed law also prohibits both the firing of an employee for taking paid sick leave and requiring the employee to find a replacement worker. The county’s Commission for Human Rights is the designated enforcement agency.

The arguments made in favor of paid sick leave, in addition to those stated in the legislature’s intent, are: Employees who are sick, especially if they have a contagious illness such as the flu, will be more willing to stay home if they know they will not be docked pay for taking a sick day. This will help stop the spread of infectious diseases. Employees who work where paid sick leave is already policy have shown to be more loyal to the employer and stay in the job for a longer time than employees who work where paid sick leave is not in effect. This keeps employee training costs down and productivity up as sick employees are not at work infecting their fellow employees. And, what is a very important aspect of the law, paid sick days addresses the long-term issues faced by a domestic violence and/or sexual abuse victim. Victims of domestic violence may need quick access to shelter, legal advice, medical services and possibly transfer a child from his/her current school to another school. Many victims have found that the financial burdens placed on them by having to take time off from work due to the abuse is too much to bear when facing all of these other issues. Paid sick days will help to alleviate at least that one stressor during this time of enormous stress.

The arguments against paid sick leave, as stated in the Capital Region Chamber’s petition opposing Local Law “C” on behalf of its more than 2400 area businesses and organizations, include:  the proposal will hurt our economy, reduce jobs, lower the county’s sales tax revenue, and act as “an impediment to attracting, retaining and growing jobs.” In its “Memorandum in Opposition,” the Chamber goes even further and states that businesses will be put at a competitive disadvantage to businesses in adjoining counties, that job creation will be stifled, and that consumers will bear the cost of the mandate. The Memorandum also posits that “employers are best suited for determining the terms and conditions of employment, including benefits such as paid sick leave.”

This last sentence conjured up some past abuses of employees by employers because “employers are best suited…”: Wasn’t it employers who took advantage of children, so much so, that child labor laws had to be enacted? Wasn’t it employers who refused to pay employees overtime, resulting in the adoption of labor laws that placed limits on how many hours a person had to work before the employer had to pay overtime? Wasn’t it employers who forced employees to work in such unsafe conditions that in 1970 Congress created, and President Nixon signed into law, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration after public outcry against rising injury and death rates on the job?   

So, can we really expect that “employers are best suited for determining the terms and conditions of employment?” Probably not. So that is where our elected representatives have to step in and put in place worker protections and benefits that employees deserve. Paid sick leave is one of those worker benefits that need to be legislatively enacted for, as the Chamber’s position shows, the 2,400-plus businesses and organizations they represent are opposed to providing earned paid sick leave to their employees.

Paid sick days are law in New Jersey and New York City, where, according to The Huffington Post (2015), 86 percent of employers surveyed supported paid sick days. It is time that Albany County follows suit and enact this much-needed benefit for employees working in the county.  

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