PhillyDeals: Sick-day proposal: Aid workers, hurt firms?

City Councilmen Bill Greenlee, left, and Darrell Clarke, whose bill has stirred dispute. "To me it's not a lot of paid days off," says Greenlee.
City Councilmen Bill Greenlee, left, and Darrell Clarke, whose bill has stirred dispute. "To me it's not a lot of paid days off," says Greenlee.
Posted: May 26, 2011

How'd you like an additional seven days off each year?

That's what a City Council mandatory family sick-pay bill, backed by labor and women's groups, would impose on Philadelphia employers.

It's a popular proposal (companies with 10 or fewer employees would provide only four days): Seven of every 10 people polled during the May 17 primary said they would like more sick days, according to Ricardo Valadez, Washington-based organizer for the Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces, which supports the legislation. (The surprise is that three in 10 said "no.") Valadez's coalition lists labor unions and women's advocacy groups among its members.

People who have to pay for this social benefit aren't so positive.

"This is going to drive employment out of the city," David Blum, owner since 1988 of Y-Pers Inc., a Wissinoming disposable-wipes maker, told me.

His labor contract already offers his 16 workers each 14 days off, he said. He said he assumed workers would automatically take the extra days if the bill passed, "because I can't police their family members' being sick."

Blum accused bill backers, such as Democratic North Philadelphia Councilman Darrell Clarke and Democratic at-large Councilman William K. Greenlee, of imposing social policy on employers without bothering about the cost.

Blum's not impressed to hear that San Francisco and Washington have such laws. He called those "office-worker" towns where sick pay was already the norm, and said they lacked Philadelphia's industrial base of companies that have the option of moving to nearby towns such as Pennsauken and Bensalem, where local labor legislation was scarce.

"To me, it's not a lot of paid days off," Greenlee told me. Without a law, "sick people can't stay home. They don't get paid. This is a fair proposal."

Valadez said his group figured the bill had the support of a majority of Council.

But not Mayor Nutter. Sick pay is a "laudable goal" but "onerous" for business, said Nutter spokesman Mark McDonald. "Philadelphians need jobs. This kind of legislation would hurt job growth."

Greenlee and Clarke are working on revisions that would exempt companies that already give days off, and preparing for a June vote.

Stock investments by 300 members of the U.S. House of Representatives paid profits averaging 6 percent greater than market indexes (such as the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Average), suggesting some in Congress used information collected on the job to wrongly profit at other investors' expense. This according to a study of 16,000 trades reported by members of Congress from 1985 to 2001, by four scholars led by Alan J. Ziobrowski of Georgia State University.

In an earlier study, the same team found even bigger profits by senators. As I noted in an article after that study, then-U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (R., Pa.) profited from timely trades in 2004 in Comcast, Microsoft, Boeing, and other companies whose business went before his committees. Specter said it was a coincidence.

The new study shows the formerly dominant House Democrats scored bigger profits (9 percent per year above average) than did House Republicans (2 percent).

As a group, the House favored lower-priced, small-cap stocks, the kind most likely to jump on short-term movements. They showed greater aptitude for buying stocks right before they went up than for dumping them when they were about to go down, according to the study: "Representatives knew when to buy their common stocks, but didn't know when to sell."

The trades aggregated in the report recall the Securities and Exchange Commission definition of insider trading. But the authors don't expect government agents to do a mass audit on Capitol Hill.

A few U.S. representatives accounted for a large share of trades and profits, but Ziobrowski told me that he wouldn't name them.

Instead, he and his colleagues called for more detailed research, and said a proposed Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge (STOCK) Act would likely reduce the potential for conflicts of interest. If it ever passes.


Contact columnist Joseph N. DiStefano at 215-854-5194 or JoeD@phillynews.com.

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