After raising the minimum wage, economic justice priority number two for the Democratic congress should be mandating paid sick days for all workers. Aside from a simple issue of fairness (just because someone has a low-wage job doesn’t mean they should have to work sick or not get a chance to care for sick kids), there’s pretty good data suggesting that sick workers hurt more than they help. They drag down productivity and spread illness among their co-workers. The New York Times gives a good run-down of the issue today, with the predictable opposition from the US Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbyists. The business owners argue that there’s “no such thing as a free lunch” and that the legislation would amount to a regulatory tax and an “unfunded mandate.”
It’s true mandating sick days will cost employers something, but it shouldn’t have any kind of differential effect. That is, since the law will be universal, any business’ competitors will be paying roughly the same (proportional) amount. And the sector where the legislation is likely to have the largest impact is in the service industry, which unlike manufacturing isn’t subject to the same competitive pressures from globalization to reduce labor costs or outsource. Also, as noted, there’s a significant cost to the existing regime in which sick workers come into work. a cost that could conceiveably be higher (or not much less) than the cost of paying sick workers to stay home.
From the political perspective, sick days are exactly the kind of broadly popular, progressive measure for economic justice that the Democrats should be prioritizing. Will it pass? The spokesperson for the Chamber of Commerce seems confident it will face a filibuster from Republicans in the Senate. Which is why it would seem the perfect kind of issue for evangelicals to flex their political muscle on. There’s been a lot of noise recently about evangelicals broadening their political focus to include issues other than abortion and the gays. They could use sick days to show that it’s not just talk. Caring for your sick kid is a family issue. Mandating sick days is a policy that is parent and family friendly in every sense of the word. The US Conference of Catholic bishops is supporting the legislation. Will the National Association of Evangelicals step up to the plate?