Paid Sick Leave: Battle Lines Are Drawn [Hartford Courant]

May 9, 2011

Hartford Courant
Story as it appeared in the Hartford Courant on May 9, 2011

The long-running controversy over paid sick leave arrived in the budget-writing appropriations committee Monday, prompting a major debate over labor versus business.

Connecticut would be the first state in the nation to mandate paid sick leave, and the bill has been opposed sharply by the 10,000-member Connecticut Business and Industry Association. The bill would affect only companies with 50 or more employees.

The big question is over the vote in the state Senate, where some insiders say that the vote count is close to an 18 to 18 tie in the 36-member chamber.

Sen. Edith Prague, a liberal Democrat from Columbia, defended the measure strongly in the appropriations commitee Monday afternoon.

“It makes for a better employee, a more productive employee, and this is the right thing to do,” Prague said.
If part-time employees work 20 hours per week for 26 weeks for a total of 520 hours per year, they can start accumulating hours to be used for paid sick time, she said.

She cited an article by two women who said that “doomsday predictions” by businesses are wrong.
“Business owners who don’t want to give paid sick days came in to testify against the bill,” Prague told her colleagues.

But Sen. Rob Kane, a small business owner and the ranking Senate Republican on the appropriations committee, said he meets with fellow small business owners who simply scratch their heads about what is happening in Connecticut’s state government.

“The first question out of their mouth is : What the heck are you doing up in Hartford?” Kane said. “We already know that we have the highest taxes in the country, per capita. Many business magazines and trade publications say this is the worst state to do business. … No other state has a bill like this.”

Kane noted that more than 250 businesses have opposed paid sick leave, including the Connecticut Restaurant Association.

“All the businesses that I have spoken to have been vehemently opposed,” said Kane, adding that he offers paid sick leave to his five employees in his own business. “You cannot mandate these type of things.”

During the debate, Prague asked, “Would you, Senator Kane, like to go to a restaurant where someone was sneezing all over you?”

“I don’t think that’s the issue. Currently, if someone is sick, they take the day off,” Kane said. “They have a very good system in the restaurant world to do that. … Currently, the system works. Under this bill, that will entirely change.”

Kane added, “I think it was Senator Paul Tsongas who said, ‘You can’t be for employees and against employers.’ ”
Kane said that a company just left Waterbury with 138 employees “because the grass is greener in New York State.”