Business survey shows support for paid sick leave, universal health care and better support for child care

Peter Sterling, executive director of Vermont Leads. Photo by Anne Galloway

Peter Sterling, executive director of Vermont Leads. Photo by Anne Galloway

A survey of business owners released by an advocacy group shows that a majority support mandatory sick days, universal health care and better funding for child care.

Forty-nine percent of respondents would support a minimum number of sick days for employees; 58 percent supported a universal health care system, and 60 percent would like to see more public funding for child care in Vermont.

The non-scientific poll of 259 small business owners from across the state was conducted by Main Street Alliance of Vermont. The business sizes ranged from one to 50 employees. Three-quarters of the companies surveyed have 10 or fewer workers. The companies represent the retail, food service, restaurant, construction, grocery/general store and hospitality sectors.

Main Street Alliance is a national network of small business advocacy group with chapters in 12 states. The alliance has a liberal bent and advocates nationally for support of the Affordable Care Act, labor issues and immigration reform.

The Vermont alliance concludes from the survey that a majority of business owners are “drawing connections between workforce development recruitment, retention and a stable economy.” Benefits like health care, child care and sick days are directly tied to a business’s ability to attract and retain workers, according to the alliance.

About 18,000 small businesses employed about 158,000 workers in Vermont in 2010, according to data from the Small Business Administration.

Lawmakers will take up Gov. Peter Shumlin’s financing plan for single payer health care coverage in January. Under the program, all Vermonters would have access to care and it would be paid for through a payroll tax and a public premium or income tax. Ninety percent of business owners that responded to the survey said they don’t offer health insurance for workers.

Paid sick leave legislation failed last year, and advocates are working with lawmakers to bring the bill back to the Statehouse this year. The bill would set a minimum standard for earned sick time after 500 hours of employment.

The state subsidizes child care programs for low-income Vermonters, but subsidy levels have not increased since 2008.

The survey found that 42 percent of companies employ workers with young children, and 50 percent of respondents say they believe the high cost or limited access to child care in Vermont hurts small businesses. Sixty percent of respondents support increased public funding for child care.

Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they do not provide any paid leave to workers.

The state’s minimum wage will increase to $9.15 per hour on Jan. 1, to $9.60 in 2016 and $10.50 in 2018. Sixty-seven percent of the companies surveyed supported the increase.

Main Street Alliance of Vermont also announced its policy priorities for the 2015 legislative session at a press conference at Hotel Vermont in Burlington on Monday. Lindsay DesLauriers, the head of the group, will lobby again for a mandatory minimum standard for earned sick leave. In addition, DesLauriers will join a brace of advocates associated with Vermont Leads, Vermont CURE, Physicians for a National Health Plan and others to back Gov. Peter Shumlin’s financing plan for single payer health care in Vermont.

Anne Galloway

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