Debate Forum, 2/19

Debate Forum, 2/19

Debate Center: Senator Brown sponsors perk to keep the sick from going to work

By Alex Culpepper
Illustration: Sam Rhoden

When you get sick, it’s probably because someone made you sick. The frustration is that you don’t always know who to blame, and now you are sick because a gang of pathogens, either bacteria or viruses, has made contact with you. So after getting sick, you feel terrible, and you consider calling your boss to say that you cannot work. After all, you do not want to spread your illness to anyone else – like that awful person who made you sick. At this point you are either one of two people: you can take time off to recover and you still get paid, or you can take time off to recover but you will not get paid. If you are the latter, changes may be coming your way because U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) has a plan that would provide many workers with paid sick leave.

Senator Brown is pushing to create a federal law that would require businesses with 15 or more employees to provide at least seven paid employee sick days. The catalyst for this legislation is partly due to the high number of recent flu cases and related hospitalizations in Ohio. Similar laws are in place in Connecticut and San Francisco, but Brown aims to make this a national law and its reach would be significant because Brown claims about 40 percent of U.S. non-government employees receive no paid sick leave. That number nearly doubles for lower-wage workers. Under this bill, workers would accrue their sick leave much the way workers who currently receive it do – at about one hour per 30 hours worked.

Senator Brown and his supporters present this as a public health issue because they say that sick people in public workplaces create even more sick people via contagion and that can burden the healthcare system. Supporters further back this by citing that workers who do not receive paid sick leave are about 50 percent more likely than people with sick leave to go to work while suffering an infectious illness. Brown believes that this bill will also be good for business because, “healthy workers are more productive workers.”

Critics see this as an attempt to force regulation on business owners. They feel it is the business owners’ choice whether to offer such benefits and the government should have no input. They argue that forcing companies to guarantee paid sick leave will eliminate jobs, cut too far into profits and stunt growth opportunities. Critics also believe workers will abuse paid leave by reporting sick and using paid days off for other purposes.

In essence, this polarized issue generates two camps: one considers it ill-conceived government interference; the other believes it is good public health policy. In the regions where existing paid sick leave has been levied, sources say that the economy has responded positively. Business groups, though, reject the potentially federally mandated benefit as the whim of meddling government bureaucrats. Regardless, the bill must make it to ongress before lawmakers have the final say.

Debate Forum Question of the Week:

United States Senator Sherrod Brown is sponsoring a bill that would deliver up to seven days of paid sick leave for all workers in businesses with 15 employees or more.
Will the benefits of this legislation outweigh the costs to employers?

Debate Forum Left: The death of morality and responsibility

When even the debate question is worded the way it is – as a “government versus private sector” or “them versus us” – we know we’re in trouble in this country. Government and business were never, are not now and will never be enemies. In fact, in many ways, it is their too-cozy relationship that has crashed this country’s economy.

Have we all forgotten that it is Congress that virtually eliminated all meaningful regulation of the banking, pharmaceutical and energy industries? Have we such short term memories that we don’t remember that government coughed up more than a trillion dollars to bail out the very criminals that put us in this mess? That’s kinda like the judge finding a prisoner guilty of horrific crimes, setting bail and then paying it for him so that he can continue menacing society.

Be wary. Be very, very wary of this ongoing hype about government versus the private sector.  By now, we should all see it as the giant hoax it is. The underlying fact of the matter is that big business and big government are pretty much one and the same these days, leaving us – the everyday Joes – out in the cold whenever it suits them.

Businesses shouldn’t have to be told to care for the very people who are solely responsible for keeping them afloat. It’s like starving the dog to death that you want to protect you. People get sick. That’s just a fact. Salaried people who actually can live on their wages, are routinely given both paid sick leave and paid vacation time, but hourly workers get zero, zip, nada. They can work as long and as hard as humanly possible without their wages even keeping their necks above water. When we force them to do without, we force our nation’s children to do without.  This is madness, it is cruel and it is a recipe for national disaster.

We are the richest country in the world, bar none. We are technologically superior to most other countries. Our CEOs are the highest paid, our corporate profits are off the charts. Yet we leave our hardest working and most vulnerable to sicken and die, or to at least suffer under enormous stress and worry daily because of our tacit permission for things to be this way. People without enough to pay their housing and utility bills suffer not only from more illnesses due to poor diet and stress, but also from the psychological side effects of that stress – depression, anxiety, domestic violence and drug abuse. For all of our soaring corporate wealth, we rank dead last – no pun intended – among the 17 most advanced countries in male life expectancy and second-to-last in female life expectancy. How can this be?

Employers used to conduct business intelligently, in a way that acknowledged that happy employees are productive employees who keep their businesses humming in an atmosphere of cooperation and commitment. Nope. It’s not about companies fearing they will lose customers or have to close. It’s simply about companies trying, as they always do, to maximize profit, no matter the human cost.

It’s time for this to end and for all of us who have access to a pen and who have a voice, to use both to call for a return to corporate responsibility. More than 70 percent of us think that the minimum wage should be raised and that workers should have at least a week’s paid sick leave a year. No matter what you hear, the problem really isn’t about it costing businesses too much.  Businesses will, as they have always done, simply pass the cost of doing business on to the consumer and we will continue to pay it. This is exactly why things cost more today than one, ten or twenty years ago.

Those of us here in Dayton who are old enough to remember NCR, know that it was almost impossible to get a job there because of how well its employees were treated and the benefits they enjoyed. If all businesses returned to that operating model, the middle class would grow again, crime would drop, neighborhoods would be revitalized and morale would rise throughout the country.

For all the talk about those at the lower end of the living spectrum needing to “take responsibility,” we hear nothing about those at the top needing to do that even more. “Quarterly profits” are a human creation and have taken on a false importance as a measure of success.  Since when is making enough not enough? Since when is living well not doing well enough?   No other developed nation asks so much from its workers and gives them so little.

Businesses know there is a cost of doing business. Putting that load on employees rather than shouldering that responsibility themselves is soulless. We need people to be paid enough to live on, to have medical care and to be able to take time off periodically for health and mental wellbeing – period, no exceptions. This is a given in every other developed country but ours.

Government has an important role to play. It is there to balance the rights of the individual against the public good. If ever a time called for government action, this is it. In this sense, the “other side” is right … we shouldn’t allow government to interfere in what the private sector is doing; when it is this far afield from both common sense and human decency, we should insist on it!

Marianne Stanley is an attorney, college professor and former journalist who believes many of our nation’s ills could be cured if our children were taught critical thinking skills beginning at the elementary level and continuing through middle and high school. She can be reached at MarianneStanley@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Debate Forum Right:  Welcome to your new employer, Uncle Sam

By Dave Westbrock, M.D.

Here we go again. More money and liberty out of the hands of Americans and into the pockets of federal bureaucrats. As if taxing small businesses out of existence is not enough, Senator Sherrod Brown now wants to force a national mandate on businesses to pay employees for seven days of non-work. If a good or service is not delivered due to the absence of an employee, the price and resulting profit does not accrue to that company even though the employee is paid for that absence and lack of product. If enough non-work and no-product activity continue at that plant or that store, the business goes out of business.  This seems like common sense, but of course we are living in postmodern times when the meaning of “is” is questionable. The United States is already a nation on the brink with unemployment stuck at over eight percent and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) chronically growing at less than two percent and recently contracting. Businesses exist to make money. Employers have a responsibility to their employees and the nation. The greatest of which is to stay in business, make a profit, support their families as well as a host of other families and support the U.S. by their ability to pay taxes. Such has been the American way for over 200 years.

Despite Obama rhetoric, businesses have not flourished as the feds spend more and more of the public’s money on giveaways like Solyndra. LG Chem, a Korean battery company contracted to build batteries for the Chevy Volt, received $150 million in federal stimulus money and an additional $100 million in tax credits from Michigan and has yet to build one battery. Such is the state of our current liberal Keynesian economic plan. Now comes Senator Brown who has no experience in managing a business but only in appropriating pork for a never-ending re-election career. Politicians like Senator Brown and President Obama give lip service to free market economics, but it is obvious that neither one has a clue about how healthy businesses begin and grow. Many companies may indeed be able to afford to pay for seven days of sick leave per employee, but the dirty little secret is that large businesses drive out their smaller competitors by means of new mandates. It serves the “bigs” well to have an ever increasing cadre of new regulators and rules since the larger companies can afford to hire employees and law firms just to deal with the Sovietization of current central planning. The National Federation of Independent Business estimates 75,000 jobs lost and a $1.17 billion burden on employers in Ohio alone.

It is estimated by the Congressional Budget Office that Obamacare alone will tax businesses $10 billion in 2014. It applies to businesses with 50 or more employees. Does this mean that a growing company will now put a hold at 49 on current payrolls and is this good for job and economic growth, a goal stated by our president in his State of the Union message? The answer is obvious, as is the burden of yet another federal nanny state requirement on the business sector. But the senator would solve this by limiting the requirement to companies employing more than 15 workers, another barrier to increasing employment.

Let us look at the arguments in favor of the nanny wage. “Adults without paid sick days are one-and-a-half times more likely than adults with sick leave to report going to work with a contagious illness.” Such an argument considers everyone either juvenile or stupid. “If you are sick, stay home,” I tell my patients. Otherwise, the viral illness will linger and lead to more sick days. Are we relieving all citizens of common sense and responsibility? “Too many workers cannot afford to call off when they are sick because they rely on those wages.” Do we not all rely on our wages whether we are salaried or contracted labor? Is there anyone other than the independently wealthy that do not “rely on their wages”? What about professionals who do not have employees? Can they seek government subsidy if they are off work, since they rely on wages? This argument is preposterous on the face of it.

Consider for a moment just a few mandates on businesses of all types in the past 25 years:

-EPA mandates to study the environmental impact on any new building.

-OSHA mandates to require product safety data sheets on things as minor as Sharpie markers in offices.

-FDIC requirements for the reams of paper consumers are forced to review and loan institutions are forced to offer.

-Patriot Act requirements that violate the privacy of individuals making financial transactions.

-Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services requirements that force doctors and hospitals to use electronic medical records despite the lack of evidence for efficacy or safety.

-Department of Labor requirements on minimum wage, a job killer every time it is increased.

-Obamacare, the mother of all mandates that requires under its regulation to offer not only health insurance, but every special interest perk imaginable including contraceptive and abortion benefits.

It is apropos to use a quote attributable to Margaret Thatcher, “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.” Such is surely the case with this bill to require companies to give away paid sick leave by federal fiat.

Dr. Westbrock has been in private medical practice for 35 years. He was the Republican candidate for the U.S House of Representatives in 1994 and 1996. He has written and lectured extensively on the subject of health care reform and health care policy. He can be reached at Dave.Westbrock@daytoncitypaper.com


 

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