Report: Paid sick days a public-health bonanza

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.


The Blotter is back from the beach

I’m back today, having spent all last week camping at Manresa State Beach, about eight miles south of Santa Cruz. It was gorgeous by day, and there’s nothing more soothing than listening to the crashing of waves upon a beach as you fall asleep in your tent each night. And, at $25 a night, it was a vacation even a journalist could afford.

Why am I telling you? Because this trip made me that much more positive that closing or reducing services at state parks, as Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had proposed in his original 2008-09 budget proposal, would be a travesty. Manresa wasn’t targeted for closure, but it was among the state beaches at which lifeguard service was to be reduced. He backed off the plan in his May revision.

I said it once and I’ll say it again: This is public land, bought and protected with taxpayer funds so all Californians — rich or poor, young or old, white or of color — could have a chance to see their own place in the natural world. I saw an enormous diversity of people enjoying the campgrounds and the beach last week, enjoying and respecting a fantastic natural resource.

We’ve neglected these parks and beaches with ever-dwindling budgets for decades; it’s time at least to leave ’em alone, if not to find a way to shore up their infrastructure so future generations can enjoy them, too. Maybe the answer is something like the California State Park Access Pass program that Assembly Budget Committee Chairman John Laird suggested this spring: instituting a $10 surcharge on vehicle license fees of all non-commercial vehicles and a subset of commercial vehicles in California, and using that money to provide Californians with free day-use access to virtually all state parks, with no day-use or parking fees required. (Interesting coincidence: Manresa State Beach is in Laird’s district.)

Or maybe that’s not the best plan. But we need a far-sighted solution, not more knee-jerk cuts.


Events Wednesday, Saturday on budget crisis

Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Oakland, will host a regional town hall on California’s budget crisis from 10 a.m. to noon this Saturday, May 3 at Alameda’s Encinal High School, 210 Central Ave.

Assembly Budget Committee Chairman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, will make a presentation on the budget, while assemblywomen Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, and Mary Hayashi, D-Castro Valley, also will take part.

Swanson says there’s “an incredible outcry” against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s plan to cut all government services by 10 percent across the board, as this would cripple schools, social services and other vital public functions. “In these incredibly difficult budget times, and with so many vital services at stake, it is important that we have a conversation about what our priorities in this state really are. That discussion has to begin in our communities.”

So this Saturday’s meeting will include discussions of the education and health care budget-cut proposals, as well as other areas; Swanson said attendees — of which he expects hundreds — will direct the conversation in a question-and-answer session with elected officials present. He said he wants people to leave “informed and energized.”

“We will provide specific and effective ways for individuals to make their priorities heard in Sacramento,” he said. “At the end of the day, that is what is going to sway the conversation. It will take ordinary people standing up and telling their elected officials, including the Governor, that they will not accept a budget balanced on the backs of our children and our most vulnerable.”

Indeed, expect more and more meetings and events such as this as spring warms toward summer, as lawmakers have said all along that this year’s budget battle will be won or lost based on the public’s outcry.

In fact, elected officials are joining the Oakland school officials, teachers, students, parents, businesspeople and community leaders for a demonstration against education budget cuts at 4 p.m. tomorrow, Wednesday, April 30, in Oakland’s school administration building, 1025 Second Ave. They say they’ll offer “specific proposals for addressing California’s budget crisis without gutting the state’s education system and invite Maria Shriver, a longtime advocate of children’s rights and educational issues, to come to Oakland and discuss alternatives to cuts in school funding.” (Hmm, good luck with that one.)

Perhaps most importantly, attendees at tomorrow’s event will visit “action stations” to contact residents of Republican-held legislative districts, asking those voters to pressure their lawmakers to oppose school funding cuts and find alternative revenue to help close the budget deficit. So this won’t just be a rally for the cameras; they’ll be taking the battle right to the ballot boxes, turning up the heat on GOP lawmakers to back off their adamant “no tax hikes” pledge.

Those expected to attend include Swanson; Hancock; Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums; Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, D-Oakland; Alameda County Office of Education Superitendent Sheila Jordan; and representatives from the Oakland Board of Education; the Oakland Education Association; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees; United Administrators of Oakland Schools; Oakland Community Organizations (OCO); Oakland Parents Together and other community organizations.