Opinion: Paid sick days a boon to Vermont

In the Addison Independent’s Legislative Review last week (April 30, 2015), Rep. Fred Baser concluded with comments in opposition to a House bill mandating paid sick days for Vermont workers. I happen to know Fred Baser and have sat across from him in labor negotiations. I am of the opinion that he is intelligent, personable and fair-minded, but I think that he is wrong in opposing paid sick days for Vermont’s workers.
Opposition to paid sick days is short-sighted. To believe that sick leave legislation to benefit workers will therefore be bad for business is to fail to understand the concept of public good. What is good for working people is most often good for the economy and for society at large, and therefore good for business. The idea of allowing workers who are sick or who have a sick child to stay at home without losing a day’s pay is a good idea. It is a humane response to a situation we all face in our lives. It is enough, already, that there is illness; no need to add the punishment of an economic penalty. We certainly do not choose illness. It comes upon us unbidden.
Opposition to paid sick days shows a lack of concern for public health. Do we want to be served by a restaurant worker with the flu, or a cook with a lung infection? Do we want to drop off our children at a day care where parents have left their sick child because they could not afford to lose a day’s pay? Have we not seen the effects on productivity when one employee brings illness into the workplace? Do business owners share a sense of responsibility for the good of society, or is that not good for business?
Opposition to paid sick days is a failure to understand the needs of others. Low-income workers struggle daily to provide decent housing, transportation, childcare and healthcare to their families. Refusing to grant paid sick days is simply inhumane; it is a failure to comprehend the desperation of that struggle. The government and the taxpayers already have to subsidize businesses by providing housing, healthcare, childcare supports, and food stamps to the low-income workers who do not get paid a living wage and do not receive benefits from their employers. Does it seem fair to shift the responsibility for providing a decent living from business to government?
Paid sick leave is simply a fair way to treat employees.
Fred Baser writes that “Vermont employers take care of their people.”
Please. Some employers certainly do; others obviously do not. Fred also writes that “there have been few incidents of complaints about the lack of sick days.” If there is no perceived need for this legislation, why did the House pass the bill? For at least the past five years there have been attempts to pass this legislation, and there have been days of testimony by the public before the Legislature complaining about the lack of universal paid sick days.
Among these complaints were: the loss of pay in order to care for a sick child, further stressing low-income families; losing a job or being threatened with firing because of illness; the need for families to ask an older sibling to remain home from school to take care of a younger brother or sister so that the parents will not miss a day’s pay; not having a day off in order to visit a doctor; the basic inhumanity of being required to show up at work when one is miserably ill.
Fred feels that this bill will not pass the Senate this year. I can only hope that it will, and I now appeal to our two senators, Claire Ayer and Christopher Bray, to support this legislation in the Senate. It is the right thing to do for our workers, for our state, for our society, and especially for business.
Millard Cox

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