Paid sick leave is a good thing

To the Editor:

In his June 14 letter to the editor in The Altamont Enterprise, Albany County legislator Mark Grimm acknowledges that paid sick leave is a good thing. However, he then goes on to say that government should not be dictating to employees what their benefit package must be.

While many employers in Albany County do offer paid sick leave, about 40 percent of employees living in Albany County do not get even a single day of paid sick leave, according to Ron Deutsch, executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute, based in Albany. If paid sick leave is the good thing that Mark Grimm and I agree it is, then I say we, as Albany County legislators, should consider how we can expand that benefit to more workers in Albany County.

Given the many public benefits that might result, we should carefully review the facts, both for and against such a policy decision.

The history of government involvement in workplace safety and labor practices goes back over 100 years to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Without rehashing the long history, I will simply say the involvement of government in these matters has been driven by a well-documented need for worker safety and health protections. Great progress has been made by government mandates that ended exploitative child labor practices, improved workplace health and safety, shortened the workweek, and provided medical benefits and health insurance to many workers.

But, as workers today struggle with stagnant wages and in some cases the erosion of retirement benefits, I believe government should be looking at these workplace issues, including paid sick leave, with the intention to improve worker benefits, especially when the general public also benefits from the government’s action.

In his June 14 letter, Mark Grimm painted a scary picture of the dire consequences for employers of enacting a local paid sick leave law in Albany County. So let’s look at some facts.

First, there is a need for paid sick days in Albany County. Lower wage earners, women, and minorities tend to be those without paid sick leave. As Ron Deutsch testified before the Albany County Legislature, 85 percent of computer workers, and 83 percent of management, business, and financial operations workers in Albany County have access to paid sick days, while 76 percent of service workers — including food service and personal-care workers — lack paid sick days.

This is where the public-health aspects of our current situation come into play. When workers go to work sick, especially those in food service and personal care, this creates fertile ground for contagious diseases to spread throughout the workplace and to the consumers visiting these establishments. In contrast, parents with sick leave can stay home with an ill child and provide preventive care and prompt treatment while reducing the opportunity for that child to infect other children and school staff. This is consistent with the recommendations of public health officials during flu season or when other contagion threaten a community.

Many employers, fearful of the costs associated with paid sick leave, fail to recognize the cost of not offering it. Data shows that higher employee turnover exists without paid sick leave, which leads to higher costs for recruiting, screening, hiring, and training. Another avoidable cost is “presenteeism,” which is the productivity loss of sick workers on the job, as well as the additional sickness that strikes the workplace as contagious illnesses spread through the workplace.

Another employer risk is that sick workers can lead to more workplace injuries to the sick worker or others.

Finally, we should consider the public benefits associated with paid sick days. Paid-sick-day laws are associated with reduced flu rates in the jurisdictions they cover. Paid sick days reduce costly spending on emergency health-care services, much of which is taxpayer-funded spending. Paid sick days can help protect the paychecks and jobs of survivors of domestic violence. For many families, paid sick days help family caregivers manage both their caregiving responsibilities and the jobs they need to support their families.

A paid sick day policy is a pro-family policy.

Most states bordering New York — including Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Jersey — have paid-sick-day laws, as do New York City and 30 other municipalities across the country. Rather than experiencing the dire economic hardships and job losses predicted in Mark Grimm’s June 14 letter, many of the municipalities with paid sick day laws, such as Seattle, San Francisco, and New York City, have exhibited strong economies and above-average job growth in recent years.

It is time for New York State to join its neighboring states in realizing the benefits of paid sick leave, and a vote by Albany County for paid sick leave will be an important step in the right direction.

William Reinhardt

Albany County Legislator

District 33


Editor’s note: The Enterprise wrote a story, “The Albany County Paid Sick Leave Act: Business and workers spar over whose health matters most,” on May 31, 2018, and an editorial on the subject, “Providing employees paid sick leave shows a healthy self-interest,” on June 7, 2018.

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