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Who's Afraid of Paid Sick Leave?

Posted: 09/28/10 02:32 PM ET

Seventy-five percent of all New Yorkers agree that employers should be required by law to allow workers to earn paid sick leave. After all, everyone gets sick, everyone needs time to recover from illness, and many New Yorkers can't afford to take an unpaid sick day. But a bill in the City Council that would guarantee every worker paid sick leave is being held up by a small group of business owners.

Today, big-business lobbying group Partnership for New York City released the results of an opinion survey that is intended to derail the bill's progress through the New York City Council with, as my colleague Dan Morris described it, "cost-mongering."

The "study" does indeed try to spook business owners with vague cost estimates. Sadly there is no explanation of how the estimates were calculated, but the fact that they're so out-of-sync with official estimates from the federal government surely undermines their credibility.

Even the study's own conclusions contradict one another. While there are serious methodological flaws with how the number of workers with paid sick leave was calculated, even more troubling is the report's logic. The report first concludes that the problem isn't as bad as we think; most employers already provide paid sick leave and there aren't really that many workers who don't have it. But then the report goes on to say that, yes, we already provide paid sick leave, but if you require us to provide paid sick leave the impact will be disastrous. I'm still trying to get my head around that one.

While the Partnership study looks at the opinions of business owners, I went ahead and looked at the evidence of paid sick leave's impact in the first city to pass a paid sick leave bill: San Francisco. The law passed there is very similar to what is currently proposed there in New York, so we wanted to find out if businesses there have been harmed by the law.

We found no evidence of any harmful impact due to paid sick leave. We found that since the law was passed employment growth and business growth in San Francisco has consistently been greater than in neighboring counties that do not have a paid sick leave law. If the law was so bad for business as groups like the Partnership contend, we would expect to see the exact opposite result.

Why are businesses in San Francisco weathering the recession better than in the rest of the Bay Area? While we can't necessarily conclude that paid sick leave causes employment and business growth, we do know that paid sick leave has been shown to create real benefits for both workers and businesses. Paid sick leave generally increases employee productivity, reduces employee turnover, and increases retention.

The Partnership study will be used as a political tool to further delay a bill that has a veto-proof majority in the City Council as well as the support of the vast majority of New Yorkers. But Council members shouldn't give in to the fear that the report tries so hard to create. When the bill comes forward for a vote this fall, as was promised by Speaker Quinn earlier this year, it will most likely pass. And soon after that, once it becomes apparent that jobs aren't being killed by a basic workplace right, we will forget just why everyone felt so scared.

 

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