Berkeley Still Rejects Paid Sick Leave

by Harry Brill on October 26, 2015

The Berkeley City Council

In a show of how removed current officials are with the city’s progressive legacy, a majority of the members of the Berkeley City Council have so far refused to legislate paid sick leave.  The Council should reconsider its position when it discusses and perhaps votes on a new minimum wage proposal at its November 10th meeting.

The City Council solicited the views of Dee Williams-Ridley, who is the interim City Manager. He submitted his recommendations to the City Council, which reflects the cautious position of Mayor Bates. The liberal wing of the Council, which include Kris Worthington, Max Anderson, and Jesse Arreguin, are sympathetic to the progressive views of the City Council’s own Labor Commission.

Of course, there has been considerable support for a Berkeley paid sick law from many progressive organizations, including SEIU, the California Nurses Association, EBASE, the  East Bay Tax the Rich Group. and the Berkeley Minimum Wage Initiative Coalition

The City Manager opposes a sick leave ordinance at this time.  He points outs that the State has already adopted a sick leave law, and second, more time is needed to evaluate the issues the State law poses before moving ahead in Berkeley.  The problem is, a paid sick leave law for Berkeley workers is long overdue.  And the State law is appreciably more limited than the one being proposed by the Council’s own Labor Commission.  For larger employers, the State law provides fewer sick leave days. Also, unlike the Labor Commission’s recommendations, the State law contains some restrictions that appreciably limit the application of the law.

Without paid sick leave, not only are low wage workers adversely affected. The health of the public too is being jeopardized. Many low income workers, who cannot afford to lose any pay, feel compelled to come to work sick.  Whether customers are exposed to a sick waiter or waitress, eat from dishes set by a sick employee, or eat the food prepared by an ill cook,  customers are unknowingly endangering themselves by being exposed to contagious diseases.

Take for example the Shigella bacteria outbreak that began in a San Jose restaurant.  It has affected so far over 110 people. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal pain. It can be fatal with patients who have severe symptoms.  Significantly, the infectious disease spreads when food or water has been handled by contaminated hands or by an infected person.

In addition to restaurants and other retail businesses, the adverse impact on health is a problem in all other businesses  as well.   Co-workers are always endangered.  And by not staying home sick workers risk the further deterioration of their own health. Many people who contract the flu and other illnesses have had direct or indirect contact with workers who should have stayed at home taking care of their health.

Enlightened employers provide sick leave.  But too many employers do not.  It is therefore the moral obligation of the Berkeley City Council to protect the interests of the public as well as the workers themselves by adopting a paid sick leave law.

Filed under: Bay Area / California

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