When you get sick, should you risk losing your job? Milwaukee: Yes, Seattle: No | WisCommunity

When you get sick, should you risk losing your job? Milwaukee: Yes, Seattle: No

[img_assist|nid=71663|title=Job may get sick, too|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=200|height=154]The problem with representative democracy in America is that, too often, it's home sick in bed. Example:

About 70 percent of City of Milwaukee voters decided in 2008 via binding referendum to create an ordinance mandating sick pay for virtually all workers in the city, and not just the well-compensated ones. The Metropolitan Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce (MMAC) fought a losing battle against the measure in court until, finally, the Republican-controlled Wisconsin legislature enacted a statewide law tailored to un-do the Milwaukee ordinance.

That's right. When more than two-thirds of Milwaukee voters not only wanted something but took formal action at the ballot to enact a law making it happen, elites both public and private fought them on the basis that it would be bad for business. Now there's your definition of sickly, right there.

But if keeping workers healthy is really so very uneconomic, why are other, more prosperous states and cities around the country-- most recently joined by the dynamic City of Seattle -- increasingly enacting similar provisions? Is it because they are reckless, or is it because Milwaukee's upper crust is antiquarian, anti-democratic and not very thoughtful about what's really in the best interests of both workers and the profiteers?

From the Milwaukee Area Labor Council / AFL-CIO: 

Turns out to be good business to give workers paid time off for illness or to help children in their care get healthy or stay strong in school. Studies from San Francisco and Washington, D.C., after they implemented similar paid sick day policies, suggest profits for businesses and good will from customers, just like nearly 70% of Milwaukee voters wanted to see but were robbed of in the lengthy legal battles. 

Remember, the attack on the vote by the MMAC demeaned Milwaukee voters as in effect agreeing to a free lunch, that paid sick days used to keep sick workers from coughing in your noodles or taking earned time to care for a sick child was the workers seeking something for nothing, the undeserving would-be welfare queens of legend running amuck. Better, said the MMAC, to give the boss the power to fire anyone who brought up concerns about their children or their own wheezing. 

Aside from the ethical issues, it also turns out the business lobbyists had the financial results wrong. Again.

Crunching the numbers as well as understanding the human values, Connecticut in June passed the first statewide paid sick days law. Currently the city councils of Seattle just approved sick days legislation and are waiting for the mayor to sign it, and Philadelphia’s council supports the same. Voters in Denver will be able to support paid sick days on a ballot initiative this November. Massachusetts leaders from the governor on down are pushing a similar law in that state legislature, and in New York City, 35 members of the city council back such legislation. Not all of these may succeed, but note that. even in Georgia, a bipartisan group of state legislators led by five Republicans is supporting a bill that would ensure workers could use sick time they’ve earned to care for their children and loved ones.

Democrats including Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett need to be progressive on this issue and treat the workers with dignity and respect. Yes, the paid sick day mandate is risky in that some businesses may balk, and even leave the city's environs, initially. But here's the thing: No pain, no gain. No risk, no chance of profit. Be left in the dust, or sweep into the future with human policies that make friends and create hope. And, statistically, are actually profitable for employers. 

Barrett's other concern was that the measure only applied to Milwaukee, potentially givng suburbs and other Wisconsin communities an unfair competitive advantage in attracting employers. Granted, a statewide requirement would be more fair. But opposing the Milwaukee ordinance on that basis is to presume the truth of the right-wing, business meme, namely that it would have put the city at an economic disadvantage when all the available evidence shows exactly the opposite.

In microcosm, the sick pay fight in Milwaukee is the very same fight being waged over Medicare and Social Security, namely: Oh, they're nice programs, but we simply can't afford them. Actually, we can't afford the cost of not having them. Or a universal sick pay mandate, either.

So, to Democrats we say: The courage of your convictions, please! FDR told us the only thing we need to fear is fear itself. Being fearful of controversial public policies that displease wealthy eites is a powerful way to neutralize or, worse, un-do progress. Time to get rid of that tired, New Democrat stance before the voters. We don't need any more timidity and narrow political calculation, we need strength and conviction in our elected representatives. And they'd better take care to really represent us, too, and not just pay lip service.

Economic security for working Americans is a vital component of a future that works. Rather than disassemble and deny protections for workers of low-income or modest means, the country will only move ahead when there's a safety net for when bad things happens to good people. That's a society that's just, humane and -- let's say it -- aware of the real and potential value of all its citizens, working and otherwise.

UPDATE: The excellent Cognitive Dissidence blog takes this issue from a different direction, asking, "Where's Cindy Archer's medical slip?" And noting that when some public school teachers took sick days to protest in Madison last spring, conservatives were going ballistic. See:



September 17, 2011 - 1:21pm