Recently Mari Cordes, president of the Vermont Federation of Nurses and Health Professionals and vice president of the American Federation of Teachers union, contends that every employee in Vermont is entitled to receive paid sick leave. She cited the National Federation of Independent Business as an “ALEC-led” business group whose opposition to her idea should be dismissed by lawmakers.
NFIB is a national organization representing small business owners in Washington, Montpelier and every other state capital across this country. It has roughly 1,600 members right here in Vermont whom I am privileged to represent. Ms. Cordes is simply ill-informed — NFIB has no affiliation with ALEC.
Paid sick leave is a helpful benefit if a business can afford it, and NFIB appreciates public health risks. Many businesses offer it as a way to attract quality workers. NFIB fully supports and admires the practice of offering this benefit, but imposing it on all small businesses that are unable to absorb or pass on the additional cost will, in the end, hurt workers. Keep in mind that most small businesses operate on a shoestring while a majority fail after just three years of operation.
Imagine that you run a small business with 10 employees. If one calls in sick your workforce is depleted by 10 percent. So what are some of your options? You can either have another employee fill in or ignore the work the absent worker would have performed. Either way business efficiency is diminished, translating to squandered opportunities or sacrificed customer service. Many small businesses are opposed to mandating paid leave because they can’t afford it. It’s just that simple.
Even Ms. Cordes points out that 25 percent of private-sector companies don’t currently offer paid sick leave. Having worked with the small business community for many years, I know that these companies are not penny-pinching Scrooges.
Many Vermont small business owners hire their neighbors, their neighbors’ children and their own family members. They have deep and personal relationships with their workers. They treat them well and pay them fairly based on business conditions. Arbitrarily increasing the cost of labor will force many to resort to layoffs or cutbacks for which their workers would ultimately pay. Small business owners don’t want what Ms. Cordes is selling, and neither should our legislators.
Likely Ms. Cordes is a passionate, caring and sympathetic person, so I would urge her to take a drive beyond Chittenden County. The glamour of Burlington isn’t found across the whole of our state. Much of Vermont is in economic decline, with small businesses struggling to maintain the jobs they currently offer. Some owners even go without a paycheck to ensure their employees receive their wage. I am certain Vermont’s unionized nurses and health care professionals have the means to negotiate their benefits without slapping Vermont’s small businesses with the heavy hand of another government. I hope lawmakers consider the consequences of affordability before they burden Vermont’s small businesses further.
For more information about NFIB, please visit www.nfib.com.
Shawn Shouldice represents the National Federation of Independent Business in Vermont.
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