SAN FRANCISCO – Two thirds of 727 San Francisco businesses surveyed back the city’s paid sick leave ordinance, contradicting prior corporate claims that it would be expensive to business and hurt the economy, a new report says. And a similar share of 1,194 workers surveyed approves of the law, too.

The Institute for Women’s Policy Research report, released Feb. 10, comes as worker advocates prepare to release their own reports, on Feb. 14, on paid sick leave and restaurant workers in Washington, D.C., Miami and Los Angeles.

And Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., introduced legislation that same day to reduce the number of companies – mostly restaurants – that can pay sub-minimum wage to workers who allegedly more than make up the difference in tips.

San Francisco’s ordinance gives any worker in the city, private or public, one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. Some 59,000 workers – 17 percent of the city workforce – who had no paid sick leave before now earn it, thanks to the ordinance. Workers at firms with fewer than 10 employees can earn up to five paid sick leave days yearly, while workers at larger companies earn up to nine days yearly.

“San Francisco’s policy helped parents, workers with chronic diseases, low-wage workers, and others, with minimal impact on employers,” said report co-author Vicky Lovell. She said the ordinance could be a model for the nation.

Two other cities, D.C., and Milwaukee, have also approved paid sick leave ordinances. Several states enacted laws involving various limited types of paid leave. A California assemblywoman is readying a statewide version of San Francisco’s ordinance, speakers said in a Feb. 10 telephone press conference.

The ordinance benefits businesses as well as workers, said speaker Ann O’Leary of the Center for American Progress think-tank. “One of the important points is that this [paid sick leave] also has a positive impact on a worker’s health,” she said.

The San Francisco workers, once they had paid sick leave, were less likely to come into work sick, less likely to infect others – including retail and restaurant customers – more likely to recover quickly and less likely to run up high health care bills.

Other findings from the report included:

The typical worker with sick leave used only three paid sick days, and a quarter of them used none. More than half of all workers said they benefited from the ordinance “because their employer became more supportive of usage, the number of sick days provided increased, or they were better able to care for themselves or family members.”

The greatest beneficiaries were minority-group and low-wage workers – but those were also the workers whose employers most frequently did not comply.

Kids benefited, too. By law, the workers could take paid leave to stay home and care for sick kids. The San Francisco parents were “more than 20 percent less likely to send a child with a contagious disease to school than parents who did not have paid sick days.” That not only let their kids get well, but it prevented exposure to other kids.

Employers did not see profits wane. “Six out of seven employers did not report any negative effect on profitability as a result of” the city ordinance – contrary to business claims before the council approved it – according to the report.

 “Approximately one-third of employers reported any difficulties implementing the law, and only one-sixth needed to introduce an entirely new paid sick days policy. However, some employers (also around one-sixth) are in violation of the law and still did not offer paid sick days at the time of the survey,” it added.

Speakers at the press conference said that last figure of employer non-compliance was due to lack of education of both companies and workers. The report urged the San Francisco city office that enforces the ordinance to publicize it even more.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.