Koch-backed group fights paid sick leave laws as flu sweeps US

This week marks 25 years since Bill Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act, which gives US workers the right to unpaid time off to care for themselves and close family members.

It took another decade for some to win paid sick leave, when San Franciscans approved a ballot initiative in 2006 for private employees to earn an hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. Similar measures now benefit 14 million workers in 32 municipalities and nine states.

Paid sick leave advocates cite studies showing flu infection rates decrease in cities where workers earn sick days, and that parents who cannot take leave are two times more likely to send their sick children to school. They also point to a 2012poll of restaurant servers and cooks that revealed two-thirds had served or cooked food while ill, threatening the health of their co-workers, customers and the companies that employ them.

But with a flu epidemic currently raging across the US, potential new sick leave measures are facing opposition from the same Koch Brothers-backed lobbying group that led the legal assault on Obamacare.

When Maryland lawmakers moved last month to override the governor’s veto of a bill allowing 700,000 workers to earn sick leave, the state’s director of the National Federation of Independent Business – the Koch-backed group – complained it would create job-killing costs and mandate “devastating sanctions” for failure to comply.

On Thursday, the NFIB backed a failed attempt to delay the law, which went into effect on Sunday

Past tax records reveal most of the NFIB’s funding comes from Freedom Partners, whose nine-member board includes eight current or former key figures at Koch Industries and other Koch entities. More than 95% of the candidates it backs are Republican.

While its representatives are often quoted in the media as proponents of small businesses, the group refuses to release its donor list and tends to lobby for policies that benefit billionaires and corporate interests..

A University of Washington survey of local business owners about the impact of Seattle’s 2011 ordinance found their “initial fears had faded” and instead of prompting an exodus, “the number of employers grew more in Seattle than in comparison cities”.

In Connecticut, which became the first state to require employer-paid sick days in 2012, a 2014 study found 10% of small businesses reported the law increased payroll costs by 3% or more, with the average worker taking just four sick days, and half using three days or less.

Meanwhile, during a press conference on Tuesday to announce the death of two children from the flu this season in New York City, the health commissioner touted the city’s paid sick leave law as a way to get people with the virus to stay home.

The measure passed in 2014, but a report released last month found fewer than half of low-income workers had heard of it.

(Excerpted vrom The Guardian 2/11/18)