Fitzgerald’s distinction without a difference

Fitzgerald’s distinction without a difference

Just because you reboot and re-pass a bad law the “right” way doesn’t suddenly make the law good.

Welcome to Allegheny County government.

County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald vetoed County Council’s 10-4-1 approval of a mandatory paid sick leave law. It’s not that he doesn’t support such a law. It was just that he contends the council passed the legislation improperly.

He says the Local Health Administration Law dictates that proposals for county laws regarding public health and safety first come from county health department and board of health. This one did not. And that, he said, left the law vulnerable to a court challenge.

Fitzgerald detailed his procedural objections in a long letter to County Council, a letter that also detailed his rationale for forcing private businesses of a certain size to offer paid sick leave.

“There are many reasons that such a policy makes sense,” he wrote. “Quite simply, we don’t want people going to work who are contagious. Millions of people in this country, and thousands in our own community, do not have paid sick days to care for their own health.

“For many, particularly those earning the lowest wage, the decision to stay home or go to work when sick isn’t really a decision. In order to pay their bills, they must work – and so they go to work ill, including with contagious illnesses that threaten public health. …

“(W)orkers with paid sick days are more likely to pursue routine medical appointments and preventive care because they have the luxury of using paid sick leave to care for themselves. Paid sick time helps workers stay healthy and productive, which benefits everyone,” Fitzgerald contends.

Would that it were. But it isn’t, as we’ve repeatedly documented, citing  scholarly study after scholarly study. And here are details of another, this one from the Employment Policies Institute (EPI):

“The top argument in favor of mandated paid sick leave is that it’s necessary to decrease illness in the workplace. But the evidence suggests that it hasn’t succeeded at this goal,” EPI notes. “In a survey of San Francisco employers conducted a year after implementation of the city’s sick leave ordinance, for instance, just 3.3 percent reported a decrease in employees coming to work sick, while a similar percentage reported more sick workers. Most employers reported no change.”

In fact, EPI notes that of the five studies examining whether requiring employers to offer paid sick leave reduces workplace sickness, four found it does not. The only study claiming to find a reduction did not give employers the option to report otherwise, the think tank says.

“But what of the claim that mandated paid sick leave will save businesses money by reducing employee turnover?” EPI researchers ask.

It notes that claim rests on several misinterpreted studies.

“One is decades old and deals with health insurance, not paid sick leave. Other studies even dispute the notion that employee turnover is inherently bad. Not surprisingly, there is scant evidence linking mandatory paid sick leave laws to employee turnover reductions,” EPI says.

EPI also argues that paid sick leave mandates have moderate negative consequences for affected employers and employees.

“Unsurprisingly, newly affected employers with less flexibility were most likely to report having to deal with increased costs by raising prices and decreasing employee pay and benefits. In San Francisco, for instance, nearly 30 percent of the lowest-paid workers reported layoffs or reduced hours at work after passage of the city’s mandate,” EPI says.

The think tank’s bottom line: “If paid sick leave regulations do not reduce the number of people working while sick, and instead reduce opportunities for employees, then the promised benefits to public health and worker productivity … will fail to materialize.”

Thus, no matter how Allegheny County Council passes a mandatory sick leave law, the deleterious results will be the same – and certainly not what its “progressive” proponents claim they will be.

Bad is bad. And Rich Fitzgerald’s procedural objections are, in any final measure, a public policy distinction without a difference.

Colin McNickle is communications and marketing director at the Allegheny Institute for Public Policy (