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Poll shows support for paid sick leave ordinance

Thursday, January 11, 2018 by Jack Craver

Most Austinites like the idea of requiring businesses to provide their employees with paid sick days, according to a poll released Thursday.

The survey of 600 Austin voters, which was conducted by Public Policy Polling, a respected national polling firm that typically works with Democrats, was commissioned by the Workers Defense Project, a local workers’ rights group that is pushing for City Council to adopt a sick leave ordinance. The poll had a margin of error of 4 percent.

Sixty-three percent of those polled said they supported “requiring private employers in Austin to offer employees the opportunity to earn paid sick time,” while 19 percent said they were opposed and 17 percent said they were unsure.

Although Council has still not been presented with a concrete paid sick leave policy to examine, the survey also asked voters whether they found the following statement against a potential policy convincing: “Earned paid sick time may sound good at first, but this proposal goes too far, too fast. It increases costs and shifts a huge burden on to local businesses, forcing Austin business owners to give more time off than any major city except New York and San Francisco.”

A quarter of voters found that argument very convincing, while 16 percent found it “somewhat” convincing and 19 percent “a little” convincing. Only 32 percent said they didn’t find it convincing at all and 7 percent weren’t sure.

Less effective was the argument that a paid sick leave ordinance would hurt the local economy. Twenty-three percent said that was a very convincing argument, 13 percent said it was somewhat convincing, 15 percent said it was a little convincing and 43 percent said it was not at all convincing.

Voters reacted favorably to a number of arguments made in favor of the policy. Sixty percent were very convinced by the argument that workers who can’t take paid time off when they’re sick or a child is sick endanger public health. Fifty-five percent said they were very convinced by an argument that focused on the number of workers at risk of losing their jobs or losing wages worth up to a month of groceries if they “follow doctor’s orders.”

Forty-two percent of voters said they would be much more likely to support a Council candidate who supports a paid sick leave ordinance, while 19 percent said that candidate would be somewhat more likely to win their vote. Eighteen percent said that that would be make them much less likely to support a candidate and 8 percent said it would make them somewhat less likely to do so.

Bo Delp, who heads the Workers Defense Project’s Better Builder Program, which focuses on the health and safety of construction workers, highlighted the support that paid sick leave enjoyed across the political spectrum. Fifty-six percent of those who described their politics as “moderate” were in favor.

Delp also pointed out that the poll’s sample was likely more conservative than the Austin population as a whole because it only included landlines. At the very least, the sample was definitely older: Only 30 percent of the respondents were under 45.

Of those polled, 20 percent identified as “very liberal,” 20 percent as somewhat liberal, 33 percent as moderate, 15 percent as somewhat conservative and 9 percent as very conservative. Twenty-eight percent approved of President Donald Trump’s job performance and 64 percent disapproved.

“If you brought in cell phones, you would probably see the number of people who support paid sick days increase,” said Delp. “Because you’d be tapping into a younger demographic and also people who tend to skew more progressive.”

Asked for comment, the Austin Chamber of Commerce referred the Austin Monitor to one of its members, Sue Burnett, who runs a staffing firm with locations in multiple Texas cities. Burnett said that she was not surprised that people would support the idea of paid sick leave, but stressed that it simply wasn’t practical for businesses such as hers, which provides temporary employees to businesses for a variety of jobs.

Her clients are not willing to pay for paid sick days for temporary workers, she said, noting that it is hard for companies to verify whether employees are actually sick when they say they are.

“We can’t really charge (the clients) for sick days,” she said. “That costs a lot of money.”

Last month, the Austin Independent Business Alliance, an advocacy group for small businesses, polled 111 of its members on the issue. The group cautioned Council against a “one-size-fits-all” policy.

“It’s going to be nearly impossible to create a policy that serves everyone, even every employee,” said the organization. “No one wants people to work when they’re sick but there is a serious cost to a policy that demands specific benefits to employees.”

The group also said that many members felt that “if an employee wants a benefit that is not offered at a particular company, they can find employment with another company offering the benefits they seek” and that due to Austin’s low unemployment rate, the city is an “employee’s market.”

If Council passes a policy this year, there will likely be calls from Republicans at the state legislature to override it in the next legislative session in 2019. Delp said it’s a fight he welcomes.

“When the time comes, we are enthusiastic in having a conversation with lawmakers about whether or not they want to take paid sick days away from working families in Texas,” he said. “If that’s a conversation they want to have, let’s have that conversation.”

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