Paid sick days for employees may be ballot-bound 

San Francisco businesses may have to cough up a total of $33.5 million a year if city voters approve legislation requiring companies to offer paid sick days to their employees, but advocates claim the plan would save The City money and lead to a healthier and more stable work force.

A coalition of worker advocate groups seems to have enough support from the Board of Supervisors to put legislation mandating paid sick days on the Nov. 7 ballot.

If approved, San Francisco would become the first city to require employers to offer paid sick days. To date, there is no federal, state or local law requiring businesses to provide such a benefit.

Jim Lazarus, vice president of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, said the cost would make it even more difficult for small businesses to survive.

Business groups recently unsuccessfully opposed a plan to require firms to pay into a health access plan for uninsured residents. A city controller’s analysis confirmed small businesses would be hurt the most by the plan.

"These issues, if not well thought-out, terribly impact small businesses," he said.

The Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee conducted a hearing Wednesday on the proposed sick-day legislation, something Supervisor Chris Daly had requested. Daly said he supports putting the legislation on the Nov. 7 ballot.

"Having sick day benefits would be preventing thousands of avoidable hospitalizations that are costing The City millions of dollars otherwise," said Rajiv Bhatia, director of occupational and environmental health with the Department of Public Health.

He added that it could cut down on the spread of diseases as well.

There are nearly 116,000 workers in San Francisco who do not receive sick day benefits, according to a report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a nonprofit organization based in Washing-ton, D.C.

The report, released Wednesday, estimates that city businesses would pay $33.5 million a year if this legislation were adopted, but would save $42 million a year by reducing work force turnover.

If passed in November, the legislation would go into effect in February 2007.

Under a draft plan, businesses with more than 10 employees would have to offer as many as nine sick days per year to each employee. Businesses with 10 or fewer workers would have to offer as many as five sick days per year.

The coalition, a group that includes the San Francisco-based Young Workers United and members of The City’s largest labor union, Service Employees International Union, said it would meet with The City’s Small Business Commission and the Chamber of Commerce during the next few days before authoring a final draft of the law.

"We believe that having sick day benefits would remove one of the most important barriers people have in seeking physician care," Bhatia said.

jsabatini@examiner.com

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