Drive to require paid sick days kicks off

Lindsay DesLauriers,(in green) director of the Vermont Paid Sick days campaign, stands among supporters at a news conference at Red Hen Bakery in Middlesex on Thursday. Photo by Viola Gad/VTDigger

Lindsay DesLauriers,(in green) director of the Vermont Paid Sick days campaign, stands among supporters at a news conference at Red Hen Bakery in Middlesex on Thursday. Photo by Viola Gad/VTDigger

MIDDLESEX — All Vermont workers should have the right to seven days of paid sick leave a year, legislators and advocates said at news conference in Middlesex on Thursday.

The event was held at Red Hen Bakery, an employer that has offered workers paid sick days since 2009, and served as the launch of a campaign to give a bill that would require Vermont employers to offer up to seven paid sick days a year another go in the 2014 legislative session. The bill was brought up in the House in 2013 but did not pass. This time, legislators from the House and Senate have expressed their support.

Several lawmakers who intend to sponsor the bill in the upcoming session attended the event. Former Gov. Madeleine Kunin also gave a passionate speech.

Former Gov. Madeleine Kunin waits to speak at a news conference outside Red Hen Bakery in Middlesex. Photo by Viola Gad/VTDigger

Former Gov. Madeleine Kunin waits to speak at a news conference outside Red Hen Bakery in Middlesex. Photo by Viola Gad/VTDigger

“I urge all of you to let your voices be heard,” Kunin said. “Tell your stories of what it means to be afraid to call in sick, what it means when you can’t take your mother to the doctor, and when you have to send your child to preschool because there is nobody home.”

The paid sick days bill has been on the table since it was first introduced in 2009 and in the 2013 session it was raised in the House by 35 co-sponsors.

With indirect support from the more than 1,200 members from Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility (VBSR) and two dozen businesses giving their direct support together with Vermont Workers’ Center and legislators — now is the moment to get the bill passed, said Lindsay DesLauriers, campaign director at Vermont Paid Sick Days Coalition, an advocacy group working to get the bill passed in 2014.

Rep. Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, and Rep. Johannah Donovan, D-Burlington, two of the co-sponsors of the House bill in 2013 and who intend to sponsor it in 2014, spoke at the news conference. Krowinski plans to make the bill her priority for the upcoming session. She believes it has a good chance to pass this session, especially since Sen. Anthony Pollina, D/P-Washington, and possibly other senators, will introduce the bill in the Senate.

After a hearing on the bill in the House last session Gov. Peter Shumlin said it “goes too far,” according to a news brief from Vermont Public Radio in April.

But at a separate news conference in Montpelier on Thursday he did not remember making those remarks.

“I’m having a blip, I’m a little hesitant to comment on that,” Shumlin said. “What I can tell you is that employers wish they had a way to take care of family members and employees and wish they could figure something out. I think we should put our heads together and figure out something that makes sense.”

Part of Shumlin’s hesitation is over the cost to employers. “I’ve always been a big supporter,” he said. “The challenges are how do you pay for it how do you make it work.”

The Vermont Chamber of Commerce has expressed concern over the potential economic pressure that such a bill could put on business owners in the state.

“The proposed bill would mandate a one-size-fits-all policy to all small businesses of Vermont, regardless of size or sector,” said Jessica Gingras, Government Affairs Program Manager for the state chamber. “As we are slowly, but steadily, climbing our way out of a recession, businesses in Vermont are worried about the impacts that this bill would have on their ability to hire more employees, provide employees with raises or salary increases, and their ability to continue to afford the benefits they already do provide.”

A lot of the opposition comes from people who don’t understand the proposed legislation, said DesLauriers of the Paid Sick Days Coalition.

The bill proposes a system that would make it possible for Vermonters to earn up to 56 hours (7 days each year) to use as sick days. The sick time could be used to recover or receive treatment for illness or injury, care for family when they are ill, obtain health care or to take necessary steps for safety as a result of sexual abuse or domestic violence. Sick days can be part of other paid time off that’s been granted employees, as long as the employee can use those sick days whenever is needed, DesLauriers said.

Public sector employers in Vermont offer paid sick days and according to the Department of Labor’s 2011 fringe benefit study, 75 percent of private businesses in the state already provide paid sick days, she said.

If the bill is passed in the 2014 session, Vermont will become the second state, after Connecticut, to mandate paid sick leave. Five major cities: San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Seattle, Portland, Ore., and New York City have legislation that requires employers to offer paid sick leave.

Comments

  1. Dave Bellini :

    If the Shumlin Administration thinks this is such a good idea, why do many full time state employee correctional officers not have any sick days? Same question for Kunin. When she was Governor she didn’t give benefits to temporary correctional officers either. “Temporary” can last days, weeks, months or years.

    Temporary correctional officers work the same shifts and take the same risks as permanent correctional officers. They don’t get any health insurance. They receive no sick days. They can be fired for any reason or no reason. They receive no benefits what—so—ever.

    This is funny when the thespians take to the stage and perform. “Oh, we believe in paid sick days!” “Yes, people should have health insurance!” “We care!”

    Gimmie a break………

  2. Wayne Andrews :

    Does this apply for part time workers? Does it pertain to contractual matters already in place. What happens to contracts where an employee has been paid a higher hourly rate in lieu of sick days, personal days and the like? How about elected officials?
    Seems to me this is a bad idea and should be changed to make it optional with continued education to businesses in the pros and cons.

  3. first, what does “obtain health care” mean when referring to using sick time for…. secondly, as a business owner myself in the service industry, i provide PTO that acrues with time worked. Employees earn an extra day/quarter with a great review which includes tardieness and attendance. They can also take it in pay. My problem with the “7” days off is that for businesses that have 10 and under employees this could have a severely negative impact. 10 employees x 56 hours/year = 560 x $15/hour is $8,400 not including taxes! Are you all MAD? The lost service cost is tripled which is necessary to pay overhead! A small business can’t survive this.

    Small business are the heartbeat of VT! Don’t pass it Gov. Shumlin, this needs to be revised to serve both employee and employer!

  4. Townsend Peters :

    All Vermonters should support this initiative. The government must act when employers exploit their market position to deprive employees of common sense benefits like a week of paid sick days a year. We cannot pretend that employees have as much bargaining power as employers.

    If Gov. Shumlin claims to be a “big supporter,” he should announce his actual support. The proof is in the pudding: You can’t claim to be a “big” supporter and then hesitate to say yes.

  5. Paul Dame :

    I know this is a shocking idea for some but… how about we let each small business in Vermont decide what the right number of sick days are. How about we let each employee negotiate with their employer the number of days they need?
    It would require a culture shift of individuals learning to advocate for themselves, rather than having the state government do everything for them. But I think it will ultimately lead to a more desirable result.

    • Walter Carpenter :

      “How about we let each employee negotiate with their employer the number of days they need? ”

      How can you predict how many sick days you will need? Some years you will not need a one; other years, you will need all of them and then some. When I had sick pay once through an ex-employer, I had to use all of them and many more when I contracted a serious illness. It was the only way I could pay the bills and the rent.

    • Walter Carpenter :

      “It would require a culture shift of individuals learning to advocate for themselves, ”

      Please define “individuals learning to advocate for themselves.” Is that not what these people are doing?

  6. Dave Bellini :

    “…learning to advocate for themselves, rather than having the state government do everything for them.”

    So government shouldn’t offer business any tax breaks.

    Government shouldn’t have any small business loans or grants and no tax dollars should be wasted on economic development. Apply this same rugged individuality to business.

  7. patrick cashman :

    Essentially this group would like to require employers to pay for work that isn’t performed. A cost that would then be passed on to all of us as an employer is not going to stay in business if he just keeps accepting costs without raising prices.

    Since we all are going to end up paying anyways, let’s get the cost out in the open. Redefine this idea as the state will pay the salary for those 7 days. Then get a formal estimate of how much that is going to cost us. If it is the State’s mandate, the state should pay for it.

  8. Dan Carver :

    Everything old is new again.
    I remember when companies had a specific sick day benefit. Then employees complained that extended sick time off might require a note from the doctor AND sick days unused would expire at the end of the year “punishing the healthy.”

    In response, companies created CTO (Combined Time Off) or to Stacey’s point above, PTO (Personal TO) for employees to use at their discretion and all was well in the world. Vacation time, personal time, sick days, etc. are all part of a company’s benefits package and based on a company’s values and ability to pay–not all companies are created equally and neither are employees–they are people and we are all different.

    In Stacey’s example above, if such a law was passed, then I would recommend for her to reduce the PTO benefit she provides to her employees by the mandatory 7 sick days. No one is giving her more money and if she raises prices on her services to cover this new cost, she may lose business to a less generous competitor.

    To David’s comment about ending business tax breaks. Really? Vermont’s tax and spending policies are not so generous that I am hearing of new businesses moving to Vermont every month to take advantage our generosity. The breaks are given in attempt to KEEP the few good paying companies to stay in Vermont.
    Conversely, our tax and spend policies do entice individuals to move to this state, some poor and some, who are at the 1% level, because their wealth is sheltered.
    As I’ve said before, why would anyone want to start a business in Vermont; where the government goal seems to be “how fast and how deep can we get our hands into the business owner’s pockets.”

    • Jodi Ovens :

      These are my thoughts exactly! The State of Vermont legislators have no clue what burdens they have already shifted onto small business owner’s shoulders over the last four years.
      The payroll taxes alone are absurd for Unemployment Taxes. The State Legislators should open their eyes before they see small business owners running out of the state as fast as possible!!!

  9. Lee Russ :

    Some of the comments here reflect the views of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Views which have been proven–over and over again–to simply NOT WORK.

    Have individuals negotiate their sick days? Really? Someone thinks that there is a reasonable balance of power between a single worker and the employer? Then explain why unions came into being, and why workers risked and sometimes lost their lives to get a decent agreement between workers and employers?

    Have the state pay for the sick days because it would be a state mandate? What sense does that make? Should the federal/state government pay the portion of all wages that represent the minimum wage? Should the local governments pay the cost of complying with all its zoning mandates?

    How would a paid sick day mandate affect current employer practices r.e. sick time and similar benefits? That remains to be worked out. I haven’t read the proposed bill so I don’t know what it says about this problem.

    I can tell you that not having paid sick days is dangerous for both the employer and the employee. I worked 4+ years with no sick days, and many times showed up for work sick as a dog, endangering the health of my coworkers, endangering my own health, endangering my safety by operating a cutting press with a high fever and weakness, and potentially subjecting my employer to lost business if my sick body produced subpar products.

    And Dave, the problem of the state (and many private employers) abusing the concept of “temporary workers” to cut costs shouldn’t make you oppose the paid sick days bill. Get stated on your own campaign to correct the temp worker abuses. Many of the people and groups supporting the paid ick days issue would also support your issue.

    • Dave Bellini :

      @ Lee, I do support the legislation. I’m saying that politicians haven’t supported paid sick days. My example is Temporary Correctional Officers. Vermont has run its state prisons with Temporary Correctional Officers for over 35 years. Governors have known this and been fully aware they have no benefits. No Governor, of either political party, has attempted to correct this. No Governor has thought this is wrong or tried in any way to change it. To see a former Governor suddenly acting like she gives a hoot about sick days strikes me as a stage performance.

      Temporary Correctional Officers are not seasonal employees. They are full time 40++ hours a week workers doing exactly the same job as permanent officers. They have to attend the same correctional academy. When they work in prisons they face the exact same dangers and have to take the same risks. They get assaulted, spit at, have feces thrown at them etc. They have to follow the same work rules. They are required to perform at the same level as permanent officers.

      The DIFFERENCE is that temporary officers:

      are excluded from the state employee health plan,

      are excluded from the Employee Assistance Program

      are excluded from the dental plan(admittedly a joke)

      RECEIVE NO SICK DAYS, EVER,

      don’t get any vacation days, ever,

      are excluded from retirement no matter how long they work,

      are excluded from important post academy trainings,

      can be fired for no reason, without notice,

      quit frequently and are replaced with more temps,

      are not treated with respect and dignity.

      The turnover for Temporary Correctional Officer is over 300% a year. The DOC wastes millions of tax payer dollars training Temporary Correctional Officers just to have them quit work shortly thereafter. Why stay with an employer that has no respect for you? They have to make sure that murderers and child molesters get taxpayer paid for medical treatment but the state won’t pay one penny if they get ill. The inmates get better treatment than Temporary Correctional Officers.

      The state of Vermont is not a small business. There is no reason to deny their full time, non-seasonal, workers benefits.

      I CHALLANGE ANY POLITICIAN OUT THERE TO PUBLICLY DEBATE ME ON THIS ISSUE.

    • Linda Quackenbush :

      As an employer my husband and I grant 3 sick days/yr to new employees and more to our longer serving employees . If something catastrophic happens and they require sick time/leave we would most certainly be empathic to their needs.

      The problem I see with government Employer mandated “sick day” legislation is it has the potential to set up an unfriendly working relationships between the boss and his/her employees. The government is sabotaging business leaders and employee relationships by forcing employers to pick up the tab on legislation that will ultimately force employers to make budgetary cuts which would lead to layoffs. The US government is leading a disingenuous public relations campaign that offers a massive nationalized “one size fits all” legislation to all of their subordinates. We The People no longer control them…THEY control US.

      LOOK…at all the governmental employer subsidized programs (Healthcare, Education, Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security) that are insolvent and have absolutely “no” accountability and/or budgetary cost controls. Our “Big Boss” insolvent “too big to fail” government has a pattern of preaching to the masses by offering feign promises that directly ATTACK the “bottomline” of genuine, solvent & successful businesses. Our government is in business with corrupt and unethical business practices. They have no budgetary/cost controls and don’t know how to run a business so they have enlisted the help of unions and community organizers to attack bonafide solvent businesses. Just remember… The “government” is whittling away YOUR hard earned paycheck with “BIG” government “FICA” programs that are virtually insolvent. Even worse, your payroll taxes are going into governmental programs like Social Security that are insolvent. I cringe every week at the amount of Federal withholding payroll that goes into a government that no longer WORKS for its PEOPLE…

      As an employer it has been my experience most employees are “happy” with their employers and have a great working relationship. It’s the ones that aren’t happy that have the greatest complaints and don’t want to work that end up first in line at the unemployment line!

      • Lee Russ :

        There is little I can say to that. Your experience is not my experience.

        I know from your comments on many other Digger articles that you fear government intervention more than you fear the consequences of not intervening. I don’t share that broad antipathy to government involvement–I think there are times when government involvement is best for us as a whole and times that government noninvolvement is best for us as a whole.

        On the paid sick days, I think government involvement is necessary, Employers who try to do the right thing by their employees are competitively handicapped compared to employers who do the wrong thing by their employees, making it hard for them to continue doing the right thing A law mandating the right thing does away with the incentive to do the wrong thing.

        But I know without a doubt that neither of us is going to change the other’s mind.

  10. Deborah Wright :

    Oh please. Small employers like mine would be crippled by having to pay for sick time off. We cannot bill for flagging services unless someone works. Paying for them to take time off would kill this and most small business owners.

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