The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

January 31, 2013

Sen. Sherrod Brown calls for sick-time legislation

Star Beacon

— For at least 39 Ashtabula County residents, the flu season of 2012-13 will be remembered as one that bite out of their lives, and, most likely, their paychecks.

According to information released by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, on Wednesday, Ashtabula County had 39 hospitalizations due to flu between Sept. 30, 2012, and Jan. 19. Brown said the entire state had 3,081 persons hospitalized for the illness, a huge increase from last 2012, when there were fewer than 100.

The senator is using the data to make a case for the Healthy Families Act, legislation that would allow workers to earn paid sick time “while protecting business owners.” A Joint Economic Committee of Congress determined in March 2010 that legislation like that co-sponsored by Brown would expand sick-day access to 90 percent of the private-sector workforce.

Brown enlisted Heather Rocco-Geissler, the CEO of a family-owned Dayton, aviation products firm, to shore up his reasons for the legislation. Rocco-Geissler said employees of the company who work more than 20 hours a week earn four hours of sick time per month. The time can be used for personal illness or care for an ill family member.

“Heather understands very well that this is good business,” Brown said. “When workers show up without sick leave, they are not as productive ... this is a benefit that makes for a better worker.”

She said the policy is a matter of treating employees like family — she would not want a family member to have to go to work when ill, nor would she want their paycheck to take a hit because of illness. Ironically, the high cost of medical insurance premiums forced the small company to drop that benefit. Employees do receive vision and dental coverage.

Nationally, four out of 10 private-sector workers don’t have any paid sick days, and the benefit becomes even rarer with low-wage and part-time jobs. Accordingly, these workers are likely to go to work ill out of economic necessity, and by doing so, spread their illness to other workers.

“Adults without paid sick days are 1.5 times more likely to go to work with an illness (than those who have sick days),” Brown said in a telephone news conference Wednesday. Further, if a parent can’t take time off from work to care for a sick child, the youngster’s peers and teachers will suffer, as well.

Ironically, the Centers for Disease Control, in setting forth common-sense recommendations for dealing with the flu, lists “stay home” as a top preventive measure.

Those who go to work ill endanger other employees and those they serve. Nearly three out of four food-service workers and child care/nursing home employees don’t have sick days. Brown said that ill workers who spread their germs to other workers and the public thus drive up the cost of health care while reducing productivity in the workplace.

On the other hand, working people who have sick days are more productive and less likely to leave their jobs, which saves businesses money by reducing turnover, according to a fact sheet prepared by the National Partnership for Women and Families.

Brown pointed out that most government workers enjoy some type of sick leave benefit, as do most union jobs. But the senator said that the number of Americans who are union members is at its lowest point since 1930.