President Obama’s paid sick leave plan gets mixed reactions

Local News

Go to work sick or stay home without pay. It’s a choice many people here in Hawaii and across the U.S. have to make.

A national study says more than 40 percent of workers in the private sector do not get paid sick leave. They come to work unable to be at their best as well as get their co-workers sick.

That’s why President Barack Obama is calling on all businesses to give their workers up to seven paid sick days a year.

But what do local business owners think about the plan?

Some say for restaurants, especially the smaller ones, giving workers paid sick leave just wouldn’t be affordable.

Goran Streng, chef and owner of Tango Contemporary Cafe, has 25 employees. He says that added cost has to be added on to the customers just to keep his business profitable.

“It’s a very tight margin. Any little thing is going to make a difference,” he said. “It’s just like the minimum wage. There’s that ripple effect to everything.”

Gregg Fraser, executive director of the Hawaii Restaurant Association, says paid sick leave may add to the already staggering number of restaurants that go out of business within the first year of operating.

“It’s my opinion that it should be left up to the individual business owner to decide what benefits are offered,” he said in a statement.

The president’s proposal is actually meant to increase productivity by helping workers recover faster and prevent germs from spreading.

“I had two meetings already today and in one of the meetings, the person was clearly under the weather so they should have stayed home. I would have preferred if they had stayed home,” said realtor Jon-Eric Greene.

Here in Hawaii, state and city workers who work full-time get 21 paid sick days every year. What they don’t use can be carried over to the following year. It’s a generous benefit compared to private sector standards.

The president’s proposal would require seven days a year and a state lawmaker says overall it’s a good idea.

“I’m sure there would be debate and we’d try to balance the needs of the employers and the needs of the employee, but I think overall, I would think it would be something that we would support,” said state Sen. Maile Shimabukuro, (D-Kalaeloa, Ko Olina, Nanakuli, Maili, Waianae), vice chair of the Senate labor committee.

But, Shimabukuro says, it’s important that employees don’t abuse that right, so there should be certain safeguards like requiring a doctor’s note. “That at least shows that I truly was sick, here’s some proof from my doctor, and it’s not something where you can just call in and claim to be sick,” she said.

Obama will ask Congress to pass the measure and will also ask cities and different states to pass similar laws at the local level.

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