Saturday, November 1, 2008

Vote 'No' on the Sick Leave Referendum November 4th

If there was ever a national election where a Milwaukeean could safely skip voting – if it wasn’t for a sense of civic duty that is – it would seem to be this year.

Obama holds an insurmountable lead in the state, the House race is uncontested, and there are no local races of note. Rock the Vote slogans are all well and good, but in fact there is very little difference a Milwaukeean can make with their ballot.

That is, until you examine one of the referendums.

On the table is an ordinance requiring all employers in the City of Milwaukee to provide up to nine paid sick days per year to their employees.

I’ll admit it’s difficult to argue against the ‘Good Samaritan’ inertia behind the proposal. The advertising for it is full of imagery of mothers with their young children, sickly faces gazing at you with hopeful eyes. A vote against the ordinance, it is implied, is a vote against motherhood and children.

The government’s rationale for the law echoes this, with a ‘slippery slope’ argument spelled out in great detail. Through an elaborate Rube Goldberg like scenario, the lack of paid sick days means ‘the employee’s job productivity is likely to suffer’, ‘the health of the public [is jeopardized]’,’ ‘medical costs increase’, ‘hospitalization of patients . . sometimes becomes necessary, and ‘the family’s economic security [is] in jeopardy [thereby] increasing the likelihood that taxpayer-funded sources will have to be used to provide for the family’s needs’.

Thus, says the government, “to safeguard the public welfare, health, safety, and prosperity of Milwaukee” it is necessary to enact a paid sick leave ordinance.

I don’t where to begin.

For the sake of this argument I’ll gloss over the political implications that say this is an abuse of government power, the economic theories that look at it as an unwelcome intrusion into the marketplace, and the ethical ramifications of such a bold move towards socialism.

I agree with all of the above to some extent, but let’s be honest: the law appeals to the good in all of us and few will look beyond that to examine the issue. Debating philosophy is unlikely to change that. So instead, let’s talk about the holy grail of any election: the voter’s wallet.

I acknowledge the importance of paid sick time, both as a means of reducing time lost to illness and as a vital, morale boosting aspect of employment. I think any employer financially able to offer it gains a significant advantage in recruiting and retaining an employee. By all means, if you have the ability, put it on the table.

But note that I said ‘financially able’. Even in the best of times – and these are not the best of times – the majority of employers will be unable to adequately support the burden imposed by this law.

The law allows paid sick leave to be used after ninety days of employment, with one hour being accumulated for every thirty worked, with a cap of nine seventy-two sick hours, and forty for those described as employed by a small business.

The sick leave can be used for mental or physical illness, preventive care, or recovery from abuse or stalking. This applies to the employee, their spouse, child, parent, grandparent, or ‘extended family member’.

At no time may the employer require ‘unreasonable documentation of illness . . .’. Given that the ordinance later details confidentiality restrictions, it would seem that no explanation can reasonably be required by the employer.

Unlike the explanations for the law, no convoluted rationale is needed to argue against it. Taxpayers throughout the city will be forced to pay for the bureaucracy needed to implement the program. An employer, in a best case scenario, may lose an honest employee for up to five business days. During that time the small business owner, who may have only one or two employees on her payroll, will be forced to pay both for the time off and for the hours worked by their replacement.

You think that cost won't be passed on to the consumer? Think again.

Let’s be a little more blunt. The vast majority of sick days will be consumed as nothing more than ‘vacation days’. Why? Partially because it’s human nature, and partially because the law can make no distinction between the student working for beer money, who has no incentive to work, and a single Mom looking for every hour she can to make ends meet.

Add to all of the above the increase in administrative and legal costs for business. The ordinance requires documenting and storing data related to this law for a minimum of five years. . The law also takes care to ensure that people who, ‘in good faith’, make false allegations are protected from retaliation, which translates to a whole heap of retaliatory complaints by disgruntled employees and all the legal bills that go with it.

Payrolls will be cut. Businesses may be forced to close. New companies, if they were foolish enough to consider moving to Milwaukee in the first place, will never do so now.

High taxes, a diminishing population, a fractured education system spitting out unprepared applicants and well-meaning but paralyzing laws? That’s not a recipe for success; not for the city, not for business, and not for the hard working people of Milwaukee who will be victimized by the very law intended to help them.

On November 4th, vote ‘no’ on the paid sick leave referendum.


megryphon said...

Ain't it grand. Spirit AeroSystems, for whom I work, put the mechanics (shop personnel) on a 3-day work week because Boeing machinists went on strike--causing Boeing to suspend receipt of our product (fuselages)--causing our management to say, rather 3-days than no days. The workers could take Earned Time Off (no distinction between vacation and sick-leave) or they would automatically be entered into the Unemployment System for the 2 days they are not working. Which means that if I have a 4-10 work week, thus not working Fridays and/or forget to put in my time on Monday, the Unemployment office sends me a check for missing 2 days of work. Of course, I have to send the check back, but what a deal.

;^) Jan the Gryphon

Psychfun said...

Hmmm? Well, I get 12 sick days & 2 personal days that can convert to sick days if I don't use them by the end of the year. I also have bereavement days. That is from day 1. Of course our union contracts it but...I thin my bro gets more than I do. He gets like 2 weeks vacation every so often, personal days, sick days etc. I suppose it depends on who they are making to do this. City employees? It is difficult when you use up all your sick days for kids & husband etc. Taht isn't even 1 a month. Heck my students are out of school more than 1 a month! HA!

Jeanne said...

I'm retired, but the place where I had worked did have sick pay...

I just don't think it should be law, I'm glad I don't live in Milwaukee so its something I don't have to worry about, yet :)

the nice one said...

I totally agree with you. As an employee, obviously i would love the idea of 9 days off a year with pay. Manadatory benefits are why government jobs are so desired. As a manager, I hate the idea. All the employees I talk to hope this passes, but don't realize that half of them will be out of a job. It is an impossible requirement to impose on small businesses. If the government wants better benefits for the private sector, they should offer a tax break to those businesses who choose to provide them. I think our employees who vote "yes" on this referendum have no clue how much this could actually hurt them.