New Hampshire’s Republican senate nominee, Kelly Ayotte, has consistently called for extending the Bush tax cuts for the richest two percent of Americans, which would entail borrowing and spending $830 billion in order to give millionaires a $100,000 tax break. She also wants to cut the corporate tax rate, giving large corporations who already have a tax code that they easily manipulate to their advantage yet another break.
But how about giving middle-class workers a break by guaranteeing paid sick leave? During a “lightning round” of questions at the latest New Hampshire senate debate, Ayotte was asked “would you support legislation guaranteeing paid sick leave to employees?” Ayotte said that deciding whether or not to provide paid leave is “certainly” something best left to employers:
I think that that is certainly an issue that should be addressed by employers rather than mandated by the government.
Ayotte’s opponent, Rep. Paul Hodes (D-NH), was even quicker with an answer. “Yes,” he said.
The problem with Ayotte’s response is that employers have shown this is an issue they have no interest in addressing. Nearly 50 percent of private sector workers (including 86 percent of food service workers and 78 percent of hotel workers) do not have guaranteed paid sick leave. This amounts to some 57 million workers. The United States is the only nation in the industrialized world that does not mandate guaranteed paid sick leave.
The choice not to guarantee paid sick leave entails real health risks, particularly since so many food service workers are forced to come to work ill or forego their paycheck. Lost productivity due to sick workers attending work and infecting other employees costs the U.S. economy $180 billion annually. During the swine flu outbreak late last year, public health experts expressed a concern that failure to provide sick leave was contributing to the spread of the disease.
The typical conservative response is that mandating paid sick leave will mean creating crippling new costs for businesses. But the Drum Major Institute released a study this week that examined San Francisco’s city-wide implementation of a paid sick leave law and found “no evidence that businesses in San Francisco have been negatively impacted by the enactment of paid sick leave.”
The model that Ayotte is clinging to — in which employers always do the right thing for their employees and dissatisfied workers can always leave their job to find a better deal elsewhere — sounds nice in theory. But what does that world look like in practice?