Will an attempt to water down the controversial mandatory paid sick time bill be enough to save it as it heads to a crucial vote in the state Senate?
The idea of making Connecticut the first state in the nation to mandate that companies with 50 or more employees pay workers who call in sick, or face fines, has received almost universal condemnation from business and industry and from newspaper editorials across the state, including The Day.
While some may sympathize with the stated goal — not forcing workers to choose between sacrificing a day’s pay or coming to work ill and infecting others — there is concern among many about the message that would be sent to business: “We don’t care whether you can afford it or not, you have to pay workers who claim they are sick.” That’s probably not the message you want to send in a state with high unemployment and where job creation has stalled for two decades.
But in reducing the mandate to service workers — such as health care, retail, day care, school bus drivers and food service employees — supporters of the bill have attempted to recast it as primarily a public health proposal, rather than a labor issue. And there is merit in that.
Do you really want the waitress at the large chain restaurant you’re dining at, or the cook in the back, coming into work and coughing all over your dinner because management was too cheap to provide a paid sick day? And arguably a policy that motivates people in frequent contact with the public to come to work sick, and spread disease, will end up costing society far more than the cost of a few paid sick days.
As for the economic concerns, it just doesn’t seem realistic that restaurants, bus companies or health care facilities will move out of state if made to provide sick time. The same cannot be said for manufacturers and other industries originally included in the bill because they might decide such a mandate was one more good reason not to do business in Connecticut.
Opponents have made the bill sound more foreboding than it really is. Covering businesses with 50 or more workers, it will not affect small business. It only provides for five days of paid sick time. And if a business already provides paid vacation time it can require a worker to use that time in meeting its sick-leave obligation.
The service-worker-only amendment appears to be a reasonable compromise. But is it enough to save the bill? Or should the General Assembly reject this proposal no matter what form it takes? I’d like to hear your views.