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Report: Paid sick days a public-health bonanza

By Josh Richman
Wednesday, July 30th, 2008 at 4:01 pm in Alberto Torrico, Assembly, California State Senate, Fiona Ma, General, John Laird, Sandre Swanson.

A new study makes a compelling case for a pending bill that would require all California employers to provide their workers with paid sick days, researchers say.

The report – produced by Human Impact Partners (an Oakland-based nonprofit project of the Tides Center) and the San Francisco Department of Public Health – says the proposed law “would help reduce the spread of flu; protect the public from diseases carried by sick workers in restaurants and in long-term care facilities; prevent hunger and homelessness among sick low-income workers; and enable workers to stay home when they are sick or when they need to care for a sick dependent,” according to its findings summary .

The summary also notes that about 70 percent of California’s accommodation and food service workers don’t have paid sick days right now, so they’re apt to come to work sick rather than lose that pay. I know I’ll think about that the next time a server coughs while taking my order.

This is “not only a labor policy but also a sensible and effective public health policy” which could save the state significant healthcare costs, said Dr. Rajiv Bhatia, the San Francisco Public Health Department’s director of Occupational and Environmental Health, told reporters on a conference call today.

His office provided much of the research from this report – data it had gathered when San Francisco was considering such a law. The city’s law has now been in effect since early 2007.

AB 2716, the California Healthy Families, Healthy Workplaces Act of 2008 — authored by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, and co-authored by assemblymen John Laird, D-Santa Cruz; Sandre Swanson, D-Oakland; and Alberto Torrico, D-Newark — would guarantee that all workers in the state accrue at least one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours. A small business (having 10 or fewer employees) would be able to limit an employee’s use of this accrued sick time to 40 hours or five days in each calendar year; larger employers would be able to limit it at 72 hours or nine days in each calendar year.

Dr. Jody Heymann, founding director of both the Institute for Health and Social Policy at McGill University and the Project on Global Working Families at Harvard University, said the idea that such a law would make California less competitive is a fallacy. “If we just look at the 10 countries that have been ranked by businesses as the most competitive countries, nine out of 10 have guaranteed paid sick leave – the United States is the only one that doesn’t.”

The bill, which the Assembly passed May 28 on a party-line vote of 45-33, is pending before the state Senate Appropriations Committee.

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