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Vermont Main Street Alliance Members Play Key Role in Paid Sick Days Senate Approval

Matt Birong, owner of 3 Squares Cafe in Vergennes

Matt Birong, owner of 3 Squares Cafe in Vergennes

The member businesses of the Main Street Alliance of Vermont achieved a tremendous victory this month that was over ten years in the making. The Vermont State Senate approved the Healthy Workplaces bill (H.187) with a strong bi-partisan vote of 21-8.

The approval came after several amendments were made by the Senate Committee on Economic Development that had jurisdiction of the bill and five successful floor amendments that received signals of support from the Economic Development Committee.

Key changes in the paid sick days legislation

included a one-year grace period for new businesses, an exclusion for part-time workers that work fewer than 18 hours per week, and one year delayed implementation for companies that employ five or fewer employees working 30 hours or more per week. The bill also excludes any persons under the age of 18.

Other floor amendments not supported by the committee met defeat, including an attempt to exempt businesses with five and fewer employees that failed by a single vote – providing universal adoption of the law to businesses of all sizes. Due to a narrow vote on this amendment the Senate reconvened to address this item specifically and for the second time in one week they voted to defeat the amendment.

The Main Street Alliance of Vermont members were vocal in opposition to any modification that would carve-out and exempt businesses for any purpose. If the exemption had passed, roughly 25,000 workers would not have the same protections as the rest of Vermont workers.

“We appreciate all the work that the Senate did on this bill – and feel that a reasonable compromise has been struck,” says Lindsay DesLauriers, state director of the Main Street Alliance of Vermont. “We were particularly pleased that the Senate did not adopt an exclusion by business size as we hear again and again from business owners around the state that a standard of earned leave should apply to all businesses equally.

“Paid leave should be a workplace standard like the minimum wage and this bill accomplishes that,” she said.

“This bill represents years of work and compromise to achieve a balanced bill. I’m pleased with the result and proud of the work that so many business owners on our coalitions did to ensure such a positive outcome,” said Stephanie Hainley, Main Street Alliance of Vermont board chair and COO at White + Burke Real Estate Investment Advisors.

“I think this bill is one of the best examples I’ve seen of really working hard to figure out how to find the right balance between employers and employees,” says Matt Birong, owner of 3 Squares Café in Vergennes. “I applaud all the work that has gone into this.”

Paid Sick Days: Good for Workers, Good for Business

Tony Sandkamp, owner of Sandkamp Woodworks in New Jersey, is a supporter of paid sick days for workers – because it makes sense for employees, and it makes sense for his company’s bottom line. Sandkamp, a Main Street Alliance leader, recently joined a panel of business leaders at the New York Regional Forum on Working Families, organized by the White House and the Department of Labor.

Part of the discussion focused on paid sick days. While many employees take it for granted that their employer will still pay them if they are forced to stay home sick a few days each year,many more workers are not given the option. If employees don’t come to work, they aren’t paid. Even scarier, if they miss work because of sickness, they risk losing their job.

“It’s ironic that I am advocating for paid sick leave, given that I think the last sick day I personally took was when I broke my leg in the third grade,” said Sandkamp. “When I worked for the airlines back in my twenties, I earned the ‘perfect attendance’ award for three consecutive years.

“But paid sick days just makes common sense – even for me and my small business,” said Sandkamp.

He has owned a custom woodworking business in Jersey City for more than 20 years. Sandkamp makes furniture and cabinets that are unique and one of kind – any mistakes can be very costly.

“A few years back, we were working on a cabinet, and the entire piece was coming from one tree, which required us to carefully match the grains of wood. It was very intricate work, and required a lot of concentration.

“One of my employees was cutting the veneers and cut them the wrong way. It was all the veneer we had left. He came into my office after he made the mistake. He had obviously been crying. He was a man who took great pride in his work,” said Sandkamp.

“What I didn’t know was that he had a fever. It was the flu season. But he came to work anyway, because he needed the pay. This man was the sole provider for his family. We started the cabinet over again, and lost a month’s work.

My business bottom line is not only about dollars – it’s about keeping my employees healthy and happy.

“For me, paid sick days is a non-issue since it will improve my employee retention,” said Sandkamp. “The cost of training that employee and replacing them is many times greater. I need people to work at their best every day. If they are sick and feel financial pressure to come into work, they are much more likely to make a mistake or potentially hurt themselves.”

The momentum is growing nationwide for economy-boosting policies like paid sick days. Laws requiring paid sick days have been passed in New York City, Newark, Jersey City, Portland, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and San Francisco. Small business owners across the country are getting involved at the local level to help craft and support laws that are good for small businesses, good for workers, and good for the local economy.

As we work together to build cabinets, paid sick days help build common ground, which makes my business stronger, and my employees’ lives better,” said Sandkamp.

Check out a video of the panel discussion here.