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Paid Sick Day Fight Pits Mother Nature vs. CEOs

Roger Bybee

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The very notion of government-mandated paid sick leave — even with the specter of potentially fatal H1N1 flu hovering over us — remains deeply offensive to Big Business, as witnessed both in cities like Milwaukee.
and at the federal level.

Thus, the modest requirement of seven paid sick days proposed in the Healthy Families Act introduced by the late Sen. Ted Kennedy and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) for all U.S. workers is depicted as an onerous burden to small business and immensely damaging to U.S. competitiveness.


To oppose Healthy Families Act, the Chamber official employs Corporate America’s two most predictable techniques for resisting reform. First, there’s the human shield technique” where small businesses are placed front and center,with a message of, If you try to regulate big business, you’ll only be kiling off mom and pop operations.”

The second ploy: declaring that staying competitive” requires whatever sacrifice for working people deemed essential by major corporations.

In Wisconsin, we saw the consequences justified by the staying competitive” theme in 1994. Stoughton Trailers, the nation’s fourh largest truck-trailer manufacturer with roughly 1,700 workers, experienced a pneumonia outbreak which resulted in two deahts. (Pneumonia is a communicable disease, and can easily be transmitted in confined spaces.) 

The spread of pneumonia was accelrated by the fact that the workers receive no pay when they stay home due to illness. Even after the two workers died, the company displayed the same mentality it employed in breaking the United Auto Workers a couple years earlier. Stought Trailer harassed workres who stayed home with lung and throat illnesses, workers told Madison, Wisc.’s Capital Times.


But a management spokesman staunchly backed Stoughton Trailer’s policies, citing the all-powerful economic pressures forcing management’s hand:

I’m sure there are people out there who would like paid sick leave. But they should also understand that paid sick leave adds to the cost of employment. We’d like to pay people for being productive…to ensure we are as profitable as we can be, so we can treat them as well as we can.”

In other words, management must demand that sick workers report to work — literally endangering their lives and those of co-workers — so that we can treat them as well as we can.” Truly stunning lgoic!

Advocates of the Healthy Family bill are hammering away at the specious competitiveness-made-us-do-it” excuse. Denying workers paid sick leave actually lowers U.S. economic efficiency. Paid sick days for all U.S. workers would not harm the economy, according to a recent report by the Center for Economic and Political Research.


As Rep. DeLauro argues, the U.S. is actually lowering the health of its workforce relative to other nations: 

It is about keeping our businesses and workers strong and helping to maintain their edge in a tightening global economy.

But, we also know, it is hard to stay ahead when 19 of the 20 most competitive countries in the world guarantee paid sick days — and the United States is the odd one out. What does it say when Lesotho and Papua New Guinea are implementing paid sick days to give their businesses and their entire nation a competitive edge, yet America still does not get it?

But this corporate mentality will have to confront, soonr or later, the reality of the increasingly serious HINI threat. As Mike Hall of the AFL-CIO reports,

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that one worker sick with the H1N1 (swine flu) virus will infect one in 10 co-workers if he or she goes to work while infected with the virus. Even more frightening, another recent study predicted that 63 percent of Americans will be infected with the virus by the end of December.

Given the generally hardline stance of U.S. CEOs toward workers, where recognizing workers’ most basic rights is seen as adopting European-style rigidities,” I’m afraid that the clear logic of DeLauro’s argument won’t persuade much of Corporate America.

But Mother Nature — in the form of H1NI — is likely to ultimately drag America’s corporate elite into the 21st century. Even America’s most short-sighted CEOs ought be able to see that only paid sick days will keep the new strain of flu from ravaging thier workforces.

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Roger Bybee is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and University of Illinois visiting professor in Labor Education. Roger’s work has appeared in numerous national publications, including Z magazine, Dollars & Sense, The Progressive, Progressive Populist, Huffington Post, The American Prospect, Yes! and Foreign Policy in Focus. More of his work can be found at zcom​mu​ni​ca​tions​.org/​z​s​p​a​c​e​/​r​o​g​e​r​d​bybee.
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