Sunday, July 27, 2008

Sick pay referendum is not about "mean" v. "nice."

The Milwaukee sick pay referendum, as I understand, it would require all businesses within the city to offer one hour of paid sick leave for every thirty hours worked - or, and I'm relying on someone else's calculation, 9 days each year for a full time employee.

Who could be against such a proposal? I have never worked for an employer that did not provide more paid leave than that. Dan Cody says, that if you can't provide that much paid leave, your business has big problems. (Precisely, better to die.) My former community columnist colleague Janice Eisen apparently believes that opponents of the measure believe that workers without such leave "deserve" their fate.

But these comments reflect a certain economic ignorance. "Deserve" has nothing to with it. Proponents of the measure want to argue that businesses that do not provide such leave are greedy or mean and I am sure that there are businesses who could afford to, and probably profit by, the provision of such leave and yet fail to provide it. Humans are fallible.

But I doubt that they are the majority of such businesses for a variety of reasons, the most important of which is that paid sick leave is a fairly standard benefit in both the private and public sectors. There is a reason for that. In most circumstances, it makes sense. Failing to offer it is going to significantly impair a business' ability to attract good employees. (I refuse to even keep track of my corporate assistant's sick leave and vacation - although she does. I care only that she gets the job done and she does.)

But that doesn't mean that it always makes sense. It seems most likely that those who do not offer it are mostly marginal businesses employing marginal employees. For employers who do not offer paid leave, the measure increases labor costs by 3.3%Believe it or not, there are some labor intensive businesses for which that can spell the difference between profit or loss. And there are some employees for whom that amount spells the difference between a job and unemployment.

Supporters of the law will argue that this is not always the case and I can't dispute that. Some people would benefit from such a referendum. But some businesses will fail and some people will go without jobs.

The net impact is an empirical question. The measure is most likely to be a net benefit when there is a glut of low income workers for which there are not technological substitutes (e.g., self checkout stations) such that employers are earning huge profit on low income labor. I don't think that describes the Milwaukee economy - at least it doesn't describe it in the absence of large numbers of, pick your word, illegal or undocumented workers - most of whom won't benefit from the referendum.

6 comments:

Dad29 said...

Were it only Milwaukee.

This area is serving as a 'test market' for a co-ordinated national campaign on this issue.

Anonymous said...

If people can vote for benefits for themselves we should be voting for a minimum of six weeks vacation rather than sick pay.

Something seems wrong with voting for benefits rather then earning them.

Janice M. Eisen said...

I never said that all opponents of the sick-pay referendum think people without sick pay "deserve" their fate; I attributed that opinion solely to Community Columnist Al Smith, as reading my original post would show.

But then anonymous shows up to comment that people without sick leave haven't "earn[ed]" it -- which seems to give weight to your version of my opinion. So let's stipulate that some opponents of the referendum think people in crappy jobs with no benefits don't deserve sick leave. (They probably don't deserve the eight-hour day or 40-hour week either, but such is the world we live in.)

Terrence Berres said...

Don't tell the dairy farmers or law firm associates, but "Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay." Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 24 (1948)

jp said...

A minimum PTO (Paid time off) benefit may be a good solution to the sick time issue. PTO is common in health care organizations. Employees earn PTO and can use it for holidays, vacation, sick days or take it as additional pay.

Lucas said...

It is amazing that people want government to regulate their lives because they feel unable to do it themselves.
People in Walwaukee must not think much of themselves.