A brand of the paid sick leave program that Portland just approved may soon spread to the nation's largest metropolis, New York City—affecting millions of people. Back home, though, the sour-grapes Oregonian editorial board is inveighing against a sensible expansion of the policy statewide.
An editorial released over the weekend, part of the paper's right-leaning "agenda" for Oregon, calls a requirement that lets workers stay home when they're ill—without worrying about how they'll make rent this month—a "mistake" and something that makes Portland "a place where businesses fear to tread."
The editorial is pegged to a hearing on HB 3390, which would apply a sick leave policy similar to Portland's all throughout Oregon. Portland's policy, pushed by Commissioner Amanda Fritz in concert with worker's rights advocates, allows for such a development. It's seen as a way of removing incentives for businesses who don't want to treat their workers to bolt for the other side of the city line.
The author of the piece kindly allows that sick time is "well-intentioned"—as far as the editorial goes in acknowledging that working conditions isn't just a financial issue. It's a moral issue, too. But the main idea is that we can't afford to do that right thing. And the editorial draws heavily from a report on San Francisco's experience and cited examples in which some employers reported reducing other benefits or deciding not to hand out raises so easily.
Nice try, but not quite. The report deals only with 26 businesses, with the O plucking the worst anecdotes. Of course, there's a wide world of anecdotes that all say the opposite. Like in this research article, published today, that quotes a pizzeria owner in San Francisco formerly opposed to paid sick time but now pleasantly surprised at how little it's cost her.
“I thought the sick day ordinance could become an excuse for my servers or other employees to call in sick at the last minute and leave shifts unstaffed,” Piallat said. “Turns out, that hasn’t been a problem at all.”
Nor has the ordinance cost her nearly as much money as she originally expected. Piallat anticipated paid sick leave for her 32 employees would cost $35,000 per year, but since 2006 she hasn’t spent more than $7,000 per year total on her employees’ sick leave.
But why trade solely in anecdotes?
That research article also cites a 2011 report that really did find some negative effects for businesses—the thing the Oregonian frets over. But that report—which looked at hundreds of businesses, not just a couple of dozen—also puts that downside in context:
"Overall, six out of every seven San Francisco employers did not report negative profitability effects." And then this, too: "Some firms may have reported no adverse profitability effects because they found ways to contain costs or improve revenues.... However, more than eight in 10 employers report that they did not make any of the changes asked about in the survey."
Portland naysayers aren't the only ones taking a darker than warranted view of San Francisco's experience. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has threatened to veto his city's proposal. Bloomberg says he's worried about job creation, but another study in San Francisco found no downward pressure on job growth.
So what's the "mistake" here? Maybe it's supporting a status quo that's failing workers and their families.