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Paid Sick Leave Bill Gets Public Hearing Tuesday

Janice Podsada

March 02, 2011

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has repeatedly told the state's businesses that he supports mandatory paid sick leave for employees, a key issue business lobbyists have fought for years.

Unlike his predecessor, Malloy has made it clear to legislators that if they approve this year's paid sick leave bill, he will sign it into law. As a result, this year's debate over the bill has reached a fever pitch.

The paid sick leave bill had a public hearing Tuesday in front of the General Assembly's Labor Committee. Earlier in the day, a mix of lawmakers, lobbyists and workers whose lives have been affected by the lack of paid sick days spoke in support of the bill at a press conference at the Capitol.

Cheryl Folston, of Newington, told lawmakers she put off going to the doctor until she was laid off from her job driving special education students to and from school.

"I worked there for five years and I never got a paid sick day," Folston said. It was only after she lost her job that she sought medical care.

"The doctor told me I had a serious heart condition and if I'd waited any longer, it could have killed me," Folston said.

The bill, which advanced in the legislature in recent years but has not been adopted, would require businesses with 50 or more employees to provide paid sick leave based on time worked. Employees would accrue paid sick leave after three months on the job at the rate of one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked. Businesses that didn't comply would be fined $600 for each violation. Connecticut would be first state in the nation to have this legislation.

Supporters say Malloy's backing could push lawmakers who have avoided the issue to vote for its approval.

"Some people didn't vote for it in the past because the previous governor said she would not sign it. Now that [Malloy] has said that he will sign it, I think more people will vote for it," said Rep. Bruce Zalaski, D-Southington.

The Connecticut Business and Industry Association is leading the charge against the bill, arguing that it would be a costly and unnecessary burden on the state's businesses. The CBIA and others say this year's bill sends the wrong message to the business community at a critical time.

Malloy's declaration that "Connecticut is open for business" becomes suspect should the bill pass, Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, said at Tuesday's public hearing.

"It sends a truly negative signal to the business community in and outside Connecticut," said Lavielle, who described the bill's supporters as well-intentioned.

"We all want to attract business to the state it's our highest priority, but this bill suggests the opposite," Lavielle said. "It makes our state government appear to be lacking in understanding business practices and not altogether sincere in its support of job creation."

"This feel-good legislation will discourage thousands of Connecticut companies from creating any jobs," said Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden. "This is a good example of the contradictory and costly government policy that has earned Connecticut one of the worst business climate rankings in the country and we spend millions of taxpayer dollars to do it."

State comptroller Kevin Lembo told lawmakers that the paid sick leave bill is not only a labor issue but a public health issue.

"As a public health issue, this legislation would have a profound impact on helping to contain the spread of illness between co-workers and others who are in contact with a sick employee during the work day," he testified. "A recent study showed that eight million people in the United States went to work with the H1N1 virus and spread it to another seven million co-workers."

About 553,000 workers, or 39 percent of Connecticut's private-sector workers, lack paid sick time. The bill's passage would benefit about 257,000 of those workers, Lembo added.

Michael Saltzman, a research fellow at the Employment Policies Institute who spoke on behalf of the CBIA, said making paid sick days mandatory hurts employers and workers, particularly low-wage workers.

"Eighty-six percent of businesses in Connecticut offer paid sick leave benefits," Saltzman said. "Those that don't offer it can't afford it."

After a similar law was enacted in San Francisco, 30 percent of the lowest wage earners reported layoffs or work reductions, Saltzman said.

"The unintended consequences of this is people lost their jobs," he said.

But Mike Brown, owner and president of New Standard Institute, a Milford consulting company, said providing paid sick days is the right thing to do and is good business practice. Employees who go to work despite being sick "are less productive, more likely to commit errors and spread disease to other workers," he said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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