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Fighting for Paid Sick Days

Chris Schroth is a construction worker and farmer in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom.
Chris Schroth is a construction worker and farmer in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom.

"I've never received paid sick days," he said in front of the House General, Housing and Military Affairs committee Thursday. He says not having sick days made his health problems worse.

"I was working my first farm job, and I knocked myself in the head," Schroth said. "I drove myself to get stitches and returned to work the next day. Unfortunately, the concussion I had received made work impossible, and I had to take a number of days off work, which I was unpaid for, and my recovery was much worse because I had gone to work with a concussion."

His story is one of dozens heard by the committee Thursday, in a public hearing about a bill to mandate paid sick leave. It was partially sparked by part-time workers who say they go to work sick because they can't afford to lose income.

"Our chef always says do not come to work if you are sick," said Kane Sweeney, who works at Hunger Mountain Co-op. "Because you're touching food, customers touch the food...we're not going to get the customers sick."

The bill would require employers to give a minimum of 56 hours of sick leave a year.

Employees could use it if they are sick or injured, or to take care of a family members who is sick or injured. The time could also be used for incidents of domestic assault or sexual violence.

The primary opponents of the bill are small business owners who say paying their workers sick time will hurt their business. John Dubie opened Pearl Street Beverage in Burlington over 30 years ago, when he was 23. He told the committee his business can't afford to pay part-time staffers when they call out.

"Most of these people will take time off now to do whatever other thing they'd rather be doing other than work," Dubie said. "I'm sure there will be abuses if we have pay, I'll never be able to count on a staff again."

He doesn't want to have to raise his prices to cover the cost.
   
"You can keep putting the burden of expenses on Vermont businesses."


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