Unpaid Layoff Bill Gets Hearing

nfib-logoBy Jan Meekcoms
Oregon NFIB,

Article published in Salem Business Journal

Presidents’ Day was no holiday for Oregon legislators, as they busied themselves pushing legislation certain to keep our state’s unemployment rate one of the highest in the nation. Apparently, our jobless rate is no longer an embarrassment to them.

Two such measures, Senate Bill 454 and House Bill 2005, perfectly illustrate the mindset in control of Oregon’s law-making body. I call both bills the Unpaid Layoff, Reduced Benefits Act of 2015. Did you hear about it? Probably not, because both bills are being sold under their official title of Paid Sick Leave.

“Paid sick leave is a basic human right,” echoed a few testifiers at the February 16th hearings held on both measures. No matter that you have no ‘basic human right’ to paid sick leave if you have no job to go to in the first place. We’re talking passion here, not smart policy. And passionate is what Oregon lawmakers are in their mad drive to make our state the first in the nation to require employers to offer employees 56 hours of paid sick leave a year, regardless of the number of employees the employer has.

“An employee does not get sick based on the size of the business,” said one proponent of SB 454 and HB 2005. Connecticut, no one’s idea of a job-generating economic powerhouse, was the first state in the nation to require paid sick leave, but it set a threshold of 50 or more employees for its law, sparing thousands of struggling small businesses from compliance. Not so, Oregon. Even with just one employee, you would need to comply.

Did it occur to legislators to wonder why 49 other states, until now, have wisely decided not to follow Connecticut’s lead? Did any spare a thought as to how employers and employees managed sickness in the workplace until now, 156 years since statehood.

It is not the notion of paid sick leave that is troublesome to Oregon members of the National Federation of Independent Business, America’s largest and leading small-business association, it is the mandated natures of HB 2005 and SB 454.

Many NFIB members actually provide paid sick leave, but they recall as a startup business how it would have been difficult if not impossible to provide paid sick leave benefits while trying to establish and grow their firm. It’s the one-size-fits-all nature of both proposals that is particularly destructive to small businesses.

“Following passage of San Francisco’s paid leave mandate … a survey of employees in the city by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that nearly 30 percent of the lowest-wage employees reported layoffs or reduced hours at their workplace,” noted the Employment Policies Institute. “A separate survey by the Urban Institute found that some city employers had scaled back on employee bonuses, vacation time, and part-time help to adapt to the law’s cost.”

The EPI’s policy brief on paid sick leave looked at Seattle, too, and reported that “While some [businesses] raised prices on customers, others sought to increase the cost of (or scale back on the generosity of) employee benefits. Still other employers had reduced employee hours and even jobs.”

So there you have it. Like its equally Teflon-coated-against-criticism sister, the minimum wage (increases of which do nothing for the middle class and everything to decimate teen jobs), paid sick leave punishes the lowest-income workers and kills employment opportunities for those most in need of them.

Not that the real-world effects of a paid sick leave law are likely to have any sway with our legislators. The public relations honey from paid sick leave is too sweet to pass up. Proponents of paid sick leave have made some compliance exceptions in Senate Bill 454, should it become law: Building and construction workers, Longshoremen, and stagehands covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

Wonder who negotiated that carve-out? Even the most well-meaning need a sugar daddy.

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