Aldon Hynes

It shouldn’t take a global pandemic to bring to light the impact of the Republican party’s war on the working class, but now that it’s here, the real-life consequences of their coddling of big business is plain to see. Along with the health threat of the coronavirus, workers now must also worry about the economic consequences of staying home sick without pay. That’s why the coronavirus economic relief bill put forward by the House Democrats required paid sick leave.

But ever watchful for corporate interests over those of working men and women, Congressional Republicans and the Trump administration balked and demanded that companies with more than 500 employees be exempted. Together with hardship exemptions for small businesses with fewer than 50 employees, the benefit could exclude up to 80 percent of workers. While many large employers do offer sick leave, not all do, and few offer the 10 days or more needed to address coronavirus recovery times. Other large employers have announced temporary changes to grant sick leave during the current crisis, but still refuse to offer the benefit as a matter of course.

When the economic security of millions of hourly workers is threatened in unprecedented ways, it’s an outrage that Republican leadership is more concerned about corporate profits — already fattened by their 2017 trillion-dollar tax cut — than the welfare of ordinary Americans.

At a time when we need to desperately “flatten the curve” to reduce demands on the U.S. healthcare system that will be stretched beyond its breaking point, low-wage workers will be confronted with the untenable decision of showing up to work sick or staying home without pay.

Meanwhile, hypocrites like Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who as a state legislator backed a bill prohibiting Florida cities and counties from requiring paid sick leave, left work to self-quarantine with full pay and no risk of being fired.

Quite simply, Republicans continue to protect billion-dollar companies rather than the workers who generate their profits. As Rep. Rosa DeLaura (D-3rd District), remarked, “It should not —and must not— take a pandemic to get working people the economic relief and stability they need.”

Alone among the developed world, the United States does not have a national paid sick leave law because corporate lobbyists like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce consistently oppose it, abetted by Republican leaders like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) who call it part of a Democratic “ideological wish list.”

While 12 states and the District of Colombia require paid sick leave (with Connecticut being the first do so, in 2011), the trend has been the opposite in Republican-controlled state legislatures. Not satisfied to block state-level laws requiring paid sick leave, 22 Republican governors have made it illegal for municipalities in their states to require paid sick leave, pushed by the Koch brothers and the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council.

Conservative legislators and business lobbyists are blocking paid sick leave at the expense of public health. A recent study found that requiring paid sick leave reduced cases of flu by 11 percent in the first year following implementation of the law. Considering the flu kills from 12,000 to more than 50,000 Americans each year, corporate greed and GOP opposition to paid sick leave is very likely killing Americans. The impact may be magnified, as lower-paid workers who are most likely to lack paid sick leave are more likely to be jobs with above-average contact with the public, such as food service workers, four out of five of whom don’t have paid sick leave.

Opponents of paid sick leave claim it is too costly for employers. The argument lacks merit. There are many companies that do look out for their employees, and their customers, and manage to turn a profit. A just-released working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research estimates that paid sick leave, on average, costs just three cents per hour worked.

In 2017 President Trump and the GOP pushed through a tax cut that led to a record $800 billion of stock buybacks by companies newly flush with cash. But mandating a paid sick leave benefit costing less than one-half percent of the $7.25 federal minimum wage? Dead on arrival.

Jonathan Perloe lives in Greenwich.

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10 Comments

  1. My small company of 5 people will be out of business in the next 4 weeks as a result of the government shutdown of all economic activity. Then I will not be producing any profits. Will this make you happy that less profit is being generated?

    1. It surely will not make me happy that you and many other small businesses won’t be able to weather this crisis. But the relief package includes tax credits to make small businesses whole. That still may not make a difference, but I don’t believe it’s right to force sick workers to chose between your profit and their health (and potentially the health of your customers, depending on what business you’re in). Owning a business entails risk, for which owners are rewarded; that risk shouldn’t be put on the backs of working people.

      1. Life is about risk. The risk of paying the bank back is borne by the borrower. Is it fair that a business person should have that risk put on their backs to make payroll? Nobody is immune to risk.
        Jim

      2. You miss the point. No profits, no business, no employees. It makes no difference who is sweating, the owner or the employees.

      3. Tax credits don’t pay the electric bills, the heat bills, or the lease/rent. All of these still need to be paid, whether we are open for business or not.

      4. And, in addition to having to continue paying all of the bills for the business, the owners aren’t eligible to collect unemployment – so no bill-paying for personal bills either.

      5. Profit? Seriously you think there is going to be profit for SMBs! You are completely misinformed. Tax credits will be of no help to restricted cash flows and most will burn through their cash in a few months. The best thing we can do for SMBs is low interest rate loans with no payback requirements until after the pandemic is declared over by the federal government and markets begin to function in an orderly unemotional fashion. Businesses will have no choice but to first downsize and then make a decision to temporarily (or permanently close) in an effort to preserve cash to stay alive through the down cycle. The end game reality is a decision will be made by government to do what is best for the majority of people if infections can’t be contained, let’s hope it does not get to that point, hence the seriousness of quarantine and helping those on the front lines.

  2. I believe Mae Flexer proposed a bill las year that was passed by the house and senate for paid sick leave for companies over a certain size. Most large companies do have paid sick leave but lets be realistic, has sick leave been and continues to be abused to the determent of their companies that hey work for? I have seen many “sick” people out and about using paid sick leave as a “mental health” day.

    1. My first employer in 1969 offered a fixed number of vacation days and NO sick days. If you had to stay home because of illness you got paid. If the number of days exceeded 4 consecutive days we had to provide a doctor’s note explaining why. But we got paid. It was not forced by the government – my company did this because they were large enough and had adequate cash flow to do so. Most small businesses can not do this. Our vacation days were on an annual basis and it was use it or lose it before the end of the year.

      Now state and municipal employees have X number of sick days and many can ‘bank’ them. This is nothing more than paid time off (PTO) and is not really paid sick leave. Vacation days can also be banked. This is wrong and increases the burden on the employer. Forcing this (or a similar requirement) on ALL employers is wrong.

  3. Unfortunately your viewpoint can’t be debated seriously because it is completely unbalanced and you use a sophomoric analysis of the SMB business space that are the vast majority of U.S. independent businesses. You ignore, or at least avoid, illustrating the very small profit margins that almost all SMBs operate on, even those that have been doing business for decades. Many of them will be put out of business in less than 6 months without steady income streams from far larger businesses and to a lessor extent consumers (not retail).

    As far as your political bias goes. Let us also not forget that President Obama had a 100% Democratic majority in the legislature for the first two years of his presidency and he still failed to get this done even though he literally ran on that platform. We pumped almost $3 Trillion dollars in the private sector in those first 2 years – yet the vast majority of businesses that failed were SMB’s? Seems like a bipartisan issue to me.

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