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Sick leave bill a welcome remedy for low-wage workers

We've all been there at some point, sitting in a restaurant ordering dinner when the waiter sneezes and mumbles an apologetic, "Sorry, I'm fighting a cold."

Why is he at work? Especially at a job that brings him close to other people? Maybe it is because he can't afford to miss the shift, something that a recently introduced Assembly bill could help remedy.

AB 1522, introduced by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), would require companies to provide a minimum of three days annual paid sick leave for any employee not covered by a collective bargaining agreement (which usually includes sick leave guarantees). The employee must work at least seven days in a calendar year; the leave would accrue at a rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked; the worker couldn't claim the paid leave until 90 calendar days after the hire date.

This strikes us as an eminently reasonable way to address a significant problem confronting primarily low-wage, part-time private sector workers who often have to choose between their health and losing a day's pay. Gonzalez's bill also would let workers use the sick days to care for an ailing family member — a crucial benefit for single mothers — and for issues related to domestic abuse or sexual assault.

Similar proposals have been made in Sacramento in the past; former Assemblywoman Fiona Ma was the standard-bearer for several legislative sessions. But those efforts crumbled under opposition from business groups, which argue that such laws drive up the cost of doing business in a state that already imposes heavy burdens on employers.

Maybe. But the cost to business would be minimal. Such a small, incremental benefit wouldn't dramatically alter a business' staffing needs or costs.

San Francisco already has a paid-leave law, as does the state of Connecticut. New York City adopted a measure last year that applied to firms with at least 20 workers, and new Mayor Bill de Blasio just moved to lower the threshold to firms with five or more employees. California might give thought to such a threshold too, which Gonzalez's bill does not include.

Overall, the costs to businesses are minor, but the benefits for individual workers could be significant, as could the benefits to public health. We urge the business community to work with the Legislature to enact Gonzalez's bill or, through negotiation, something close to it. It's fair to the workers. And it's fair to Californians who would rather not dodge a sneeze while ordering dinner.

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