The Opposition to Paid Sick Leave

Paid sick leave is a smart idea. It is smart because it encourages sick people to stay home when they are sick. That does two things – it speeds recovery and it reduces the spread of infectious diseases. So if it is smart for the broader interests of modern industrial capitalism, we should see those motivated by capitalism supporting it…

Meanwhile in reality: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/feb/11/paid-sick-leave-koch-brothers-nfib

A group called the National Federation of Independent Business, funded by the pseudo-libertarian Kock brothers has been campaigning against local laws for paid sick leave. The campaign follows an NRA-style model of demanding vaguely for ‘reasonable’ laws whilst attacking any positive proposals using generic arguments without regard to the specifics of the proposal.

Compared with the scale of other issues in the USA right now or internationally, this may seem a relatively minor fight. However, consider it in terms of what kinds of political consensus there can be. Paid sick leave, depending on the actual scheme, is probably of net economic benefit under modern capitalism. The gains may be vague for a specific business but the potential benefits are not difficult to work out in terms of improved productivity. The opposition arises because of something deeper than ideology. Instead, it is a deep-seated fear that somebody, somewhere who is ‘undeserving’ might get something for nothing.

So much of modern rightwing thought can be traced back to this pathology – a deep-seated fear that somehow ‘lesser’ people are taking the ‘deserving’ people for a ride. ‘Lesser’ need not be defined in terms of race, or social class or ethnicity or nationality or gender or disability but each of those plays a role. As an idea, it is poison – undermining simple schemes to alleviate poverty and disadvantage by requiring less efficient and more costly baroque approaches designed to combat possible ‘fraud’ i.e. to make it as hard as possible for those in need to get something that will help them.

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15 thoughts on “The Opposition to Paid Sick Leave”

  1. Instead, it is a deep-seated fear that somebody, somewhere who is ‘undeserving’ might get something for nothing.

    It’s also a fear that this undeserving ‘someone’ will get some of my money. Pathological-grade selfishness.

    There are ‘free riders,’ if you want to call them that, in every social safety net program designed by society. You can’t get away from it–you just have to keep the percentage as low as possible. I’d far rather have a few ‘free riders’ and make sure everyone is covered, then have deserving people not being able to receive any assistance.

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    1. Yup. With a frisson of racial and class warfare. “THOSE Welfare Queens are taking YOUR hard-earned money. How dare they!” “I never needed a handout and you shouldn’t either.” “Lazy moochers!”

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      1. I thought the prototypical Mail headline was: “Immigrants bring new type of AIDS that lowers house prices” Courtesy of one Francis Boyle.

        It’s the Daily Sexpest that is constantly in on the health scares, and Diana still dead headlines.

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  2. I once had a conversation with a working-class American guy who was so proud that his child had worked full-time while going to college full-time. I said, yes, but what if college was free or heavily subsidized by the state so kids didn’t have to work so many hours and could just focus on studies and have sane schedules. He was adamantly opposed to that idea. Instead, he made arguments like hard work proves merit, only lazy people want things given to them, I’ve got mine, now others can work to get theirs, people don’t appreciate things that are too easy etc. It was baffling, because such policies improve lives and are wiser in the long run (educated people pay into the system at higher rates later so the public investment comes back multiplied, also better mental and physical health from not trying to sustain unreasonable workloads).

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    1. Your ‘working-class American guy’s attitude can, unfortunately, be boiled down to, “I’ve got mine, so fuck everyone else.”

      Again, it’s pure selfishness, along with a touch of American bootstrap bullshit myth. We don’t live in the Wild Wild West anymore, where people can live (and die) on their 160-acre farms all by their rugged little selves and the government is a distant, noninterfering presence hundreds of miles away. (And never mind the inconvenient fact that the “160 acres and a mule” was granted at the expense of Native Americans who had their land and way of life ripped away from them.) We are a country of 325 million people and are part of a global civilization, and we CANNOT live the way we used to. Everyone must contribute and everyone should be able to get help. If that means that “my money” is used to pay for your college and sick leave, then so be it. That is the price of civilization.

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  3. By the time Galileo went on trial for heresy the Italian City states had had free medical care for several centuries. There’s nothing like the plague for concentrating the mind on the advisability of spotting and, where possible, treating sick people…

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  4. The free rider fear does work with conservative voters to get them to vote for conservative politicians so they use it as their argument because Americans are eager to vote against their own interests if it means they claim the superior righteous stance. But the Koch brothers don’t really care about free riders and have taken millions in free government money for themselves legally and not really legally. What they’re after are two things: 1) Making sure that workers don’t get and don’t expect as much as possible any benefits and fair treatment by their employers and are too scared to unionize to demand any benefits, pay justice, safer work conditions, etc.; and 2) Keeping the labor force as poor, uneducated, and desperate as possible so that they will accept any terms, hours, conditions and pay from employers — they want the U.S. workforce to get as close to third world labor forces as possible. That includes as a strategy disabling public schools, keeping higher education out of reach, gutting government social safety nets and services while privatizing and profiting what is left of those, suppressing voting, right-to-work laws that block labor unions, reducing access to healthcare and blocking and dissolving government funded healthcare. That’s why they’ve even tried to change child labor regulations — they want a 19th century labor force set-up, even though the conditions of industry are totally different now. They don’t care if employees get sick or get injured at work and die, that’s helpful for them — they want to have a Depression-ish labor pool where they can easily replace them and control them. They want to break the economy because that helps them at the top. They want de-regulation because that helps them at the top. And it helps them keep voters who would change it from voting, putting pols they can control to give them more tax relief, social services cuts, privatization of taxpayer assets to them for a song, etc. (The Kochs are also Dominionists and an impoverished workforce allows them more right wing religious political control as well.)

    The problem is that the multi-nationals have, particularly in the U.S., changed from capitalism to raider capitalism. Instead of investing capital — profits — into expanding labor and R&D to make companies grow, bosses get the bulk of their wealth from the stocks, not salaries or even company expansion, and they and the largest shareholders use profits for stock buy backs and siphon off cash. They try to up the stock price, including lay-offs and cutting employee benefits, gut the companies of their value and then sell them off whole or in pieces and/or let them go into bankruptcy and use the “loss” to offset taxes. Every time they lay off workers, their stock price goes up, so it doesn’t really matter to them if the company is understaffed, especially when hedge funds and finance companies own the companies that make things and trade them like poker chips. Companies like Toys-R-Us, Sears, Payless Shoes were all mega forces in their sectors and are now facing or in bankruptcy, being slowly shut down and drained of their assets because they were gutted by the major stockholders/executives. (The same thing happened to Borders bookstores.) The Waltons who own Walmart continually do buy backs, so they are very rich, but Walmarts are understaffed, have employees on foodstamps and have bare shelves they can’t stock.

    Once Reagan started massive de-regulation in the 1980’s, it turned to crap. Even though he then had to raise taxes to deal with the rising deficit, the companies continually push for further and further de-regulation. Even tech companies who need skilled workers still are making most of their money at the top off of perceived value that raises stock prices and gets venture funding. And they want those skilled workers to be desperately competing with each other and willing to accept bad trade-offs and conditions, with low pay for the lower level ones and factories in Asia that run on child and slave labor. They make no real profits for years, grab cash in public offerings, then sell off companies or write them off as venture losses. Twitter was not supposed to last that long — it was suppose to grow stock value and then get sold and make its owners lots of money. The tech companies are run by mainly white libertarians who want a corporate feudalistic set-up with workers as serfs.

    So yes, it makes perfect sense to have paid sick leave — it saves companies a ton in the long run. And if they were concerned with saving money, growing the company and workforce and efficiently putting out products, that would be the plan. But in the U.S., most of them want to dismantle the power of labor, raise the stock price and skim off the cash for those at the top. Not paying for sick leave helps them do that. The U.S. has a diseased economy run by gilded scavengers. And unfortunately, since it’s the largest one, it has the ability to take other countries’ economies with it, including the ones with sensible ideas like paid sick leave and universal healthcare.

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  5. Small business (as opposed to the Koch’s) may have problems with paid sick leave. They are at risk of a random (or not so random) cluster of illnesses, which is a doubly whammy. They lose the benefit of employing the workers, and they lose the wages paid. But the solution to this is not to remove paid sick leave; it is to introduce an insurance scheme to cover it.

    Big companies employ enough people that averaging out means that they’re not at risk from anything short of the Spanish flu.

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    1. Yeah, that’s a fundamental problem with our current economic models – we don’t distinguish between small businesses* and corporations properly. They function entirely differently to each other, and require very different types of regulation, but it seems to be assumed that “hey, they’re profit-seeking enterprises therefore they are the same.”
      [My position is that as soon as a business needs managers to manage the managers, it’s probably too big to be a “small business” since decisions are almost certainly being taken on spreadsheets, rather than on what the company actually does.]

      *I argue that there’s not really any such thing as a medium-sized enterprise. It’s (a) aspiring to become a corporation itself; (b) angling to be taken over by one, or (c) is heading for a fall.

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    2. On the whole, dead employees don’t assist businesses, big or small. At present, 1 in 10 deaths in the US are caused by the current flu epidemic, which is a tiny proportion of the fatalities expected in the Big One; given the inefficacy of antiviral meds isolation is the only way of saving lives, ‘deserving’ or otherwise…

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  6. Small businesses are benefited from universal healthcare. Most small businesses are sole proprietorships or have only a handful of employees. And they can’t afford health insurance plans, much less a paid sick leave plan. The ACA has helped small businesses and the self-employed. Yet small business owners are chief among Trump’s supporters and vote against their own interests — and they also vote against benefits and government programs that would help their employees because they also concentrate on only keeping costs down instead of reinvesting in labor. And small businesses aren’t necessarily under the same regulations as big corporations — there are a whole bunch of exceptions for small businesses that benefit them, as well as loopholes that only benefit corporations. In the U.S., there is an over emphasis on small businesses as an excuse — for not raising the minimum wage for a living wage, for letting employers steal workers tips and cheat them with various forms of wage theft and unpaid overtime, etc. But while small businesses are certainly vital, the bulk of the American workforce works for bigger companies. And those companies if they were run by those concerned about improving those companies, would do paid sick leave. But they aren’t so a lot of them don’t.

    For small businesses, paid sick leave is also a good plan because they can’t afford their entire staff to get wiped out with a flu bug and because in many small businesses, some employees can do part of the work from home while sick. If they have paid sick leave, it means that they have less employee turnover since it’s an attractive benefit, which means more productivity and less time and money spent on continually training new people. But again, small businesses vigorously fight things like paid sick leave because they also want a poor and desperate labor pool that will put up with the terms they offer and because they don’t do a lot of long term planning in America. It’s an ingrained idea in American business that doing things for workers is bad, irresponsible business (because it doesn’t serve stockholders, investors and owners,) and that they should be able to demand anything they want from workers, like the old days. America, like many countries, had the system in the 20th century that workers would live on company land in company owned houses in what was essentially a company town and buy all their groceries from the company store — thus giving all their salary back to the company and going into debt to the company so that they couldn’t leave their jobs. They were serfs, and there are still forms of this in big companies in the U.S. today. Even when companies give paid sick leave, workers often have to give up other benefits or types of wages to get the leave.

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