In response to the threat posed by the H1N1 virus (swine flu), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) have proposed legislation that would require all businesses with more than 15 employees to provide seven days of sick leave. As I’ve noted before, the Centers for Disease Control has advised workers who contract the virus to stay home, to prevent them from infecting other workers, but nearly half of the private sector workforce has no paid sick leave — and the number increases to 78 percent of hotel workers and 85 percent of food service workers.
In response to the new legislation, the big business community — led by the Chamber of Commerce — has voiced its opposition to the very notion of paid sick days, by downplaying the extent of the problem. The Chamber said that “the problem is not nearly as great as some people say,” while the National Association of Manufacturers claimed that employers who don’t provide sick leave are “clearly the exception.”
The Wonk Room sat down with DeLauro today to discuss her bill. She said that by steadfastly opposing paid sick leave, the Chamber and its allies are simply ignoring the 57 million working Americans who currently have no paid sick days:
[The Chamber of Commerce] is just ignoring the needs of a bulk of a workforce, people who get up every day, go to work, want to work, but you know what? They get sick. People get sick and to not have the opportunity to take a day or two days, nobody’s talking about two weeks…What we are trying to do is address the issue of 57 million people — who are hard-working people — who today have not one paid sick day.
They said at that time that business was going to crash, that this country was going to go to hell in a handbasket, that we couldn’t survive this kind of an act. Well, they were proven wrong, and they are wrong in this instance.
DeLauro correctly noted that the U.S. economy loses $180 billion in productivity annually due to sick employees attending work and infecting other workers. DeLauro is also a sponsor of the Healthy Families Act, which would permanently require seven paid sick days for workers (again, at firms with more than 15 employees). In both bills, leave could be used to care for a sick child or elderly relative.