Molly Walsh, Free Press Staff Writer7:53 p.m. EDT June 12, 2014
Ashley Moore worked twenty to 30 hours a week in restaurants to pay her way through the University of Vermont before graduating in May.
She learned quickly that when flu or a migraine struck, she should report to work anyway if she wanted a paycheck. Few restaurants offer paid sick leave, she found.
“I’ve never missed a shift and I’ve gone to work sick more times than I can count,” 22-year-old Moore said. “I’ve seen single moms have to bring their child to work because they were too sick to go to school but too young to stay home alone.”
Everyone who works deserves essential benefits such as paid sick leave, Moore told an appreciative crowd at The Vermont Summit for Working Families in Burlington Thursday.
The event at the Main Street Landing building on the Burlington waterfront was part strategy session and part political rally to pump up support for paid sick leave, fair wages, affordable child care, early education and more. The Vermont Commission on Women organized the Vermont event as a pep fest for President Obama’s White House Summit on Working Families set for June 23.
Former Gov. Madeline Kunin told the crowd of lobbyists, politicians and employees at nonprofits in Burlington Thursday that there is a class problem when it comes to benefits such as sick leave and vacation pay.
People in professional or middle class jobs generally have paid sick leave and can easily negotiate the time off with their managers without risking their jobs, Kunin said. People in lower wage jobs often lack paid sick leave or face a smaller paycheck or firing if they get sick. That’s both a health issue and social justice issue Kunin said.
“You shouldn’t go to work if you’re sick,” Kunin said. “You shouldn’t send your child to childcare or school if she or he is sick.”
Employers who offer the benefit are compensated in return, Kunin added. “When you treat your employees well they are more likely to show up. They are more likely to be productive. They are more likely to be loyal.”
Only half of Vermont employers offer paid leave. Roughly 60,000 Vermonters have no ability to earn paid time off.
A proposal to require paid sick leave in Vermont gained steam but ultimately failed in the Legislature this year. Business owners worried that the benefit would be too costly for them and could mean they hire fewer people. The mandate would also have come as health care costs increase for some small businesses.
Politicians, nonprofit leaders and some business owners at Thursday’s Summit called for a renewed effort to pass the measure next year. They applauded a new law that increases Vermont’s minimum wage over the next four years to $10.50 an hour by 2018.
Randy George, co-owner of the Red Hen Bakery in Middlesex, said offering paid leave for his employees has been a good thing.
Many people don’t expect benefits in certain industries and it becomes a class issue, George said, echoing Kunin’s sentiments.
When Red Hen offered paid leave there was a transformation and employees began to see their jobs as something they could actually make a career of, rather than just a job to get them from point A to point B, George said.
“That makes a really big difference to me as a business owner to be able to have a staff that is really dedicated to what they are doing.”
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