Rebimbas, Labriola oppose sick leave bill

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NAUGATUCK — State Reps. Rosa Rebimbas and David Labriola—both borough natives and Republicans—have firmly expressed their opposition to a bill that would mandate the provision of paid sick leave in private enterprise, citing increased costs for struggling businesses and the tough economy.

Labriola and Rebimbas spoke forcefully at a Waterbury Chamber event in Naugatuck Tuesday; the former said he voted “no” when the legislation was first introduced, in 2008, and both vowed to do the same, if it comes up again.

Rebimbas said the bill was a “personal passion” of hers and recounted her vocal opposition to the second incarnation of the bill shortly after she was elected in March 2009.

She said campaigners in support of the bill went door to door and accused her of wanting people to go to work sick or leave their kids home alone when they got sick—“all the fear factors,” Rebimbas said.

She recounted how she received more than 150 phone calls demanding an explanation of her position and returned most of them.

“Each and every single one, and I’m being genuine right now,” she recalled, “there was not one person that I spoke to, when I told them the facts of the bill, what the bill would actually do, how the bill would cost businesses obviously money, not to mention made no distinction between a company that was thriving, a company that was obviously not making a profit, or a company, for Pete’s sake, in bankruptcy. … I think by getting the facts out there, once I spoke to them, once I explained the bill, they had no problem with [my opposition].”

Labriola said he saw the bill as an onus on small business owners.

“Not only is it a bad idea, it’s a really bad idea this year, because it’s just going to make it harder for us—I’m a small business owner—it’s going to make it harder for us to do business,” he said. “If it’s a proposal that’s good for the business community, I’m in favor of it. If it’s not, I’m against it.”

State Rep. Rosa Rebimbas (R-Naugatuck), standing beside state Sen. Joseph Crisco (D-Woodbridge), called the topic of paid sick leave a “personal passion.”
State Rep. Rosa Rebimbas (R-Naugatuck), standing beside state Sen. Joseph Crisco (D-Woodbridge), called the topic of paid sick leave a “personal passion.”

The bill would require businesses with 50 or more employees to allow workers to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked—up to 40 sick hours per year, which could be rolled over into subsequent years—effective Jan. 1, 2011. It also protects employers who already have paid leave policies in place.

Labriola noted that he would vote against the bill (Senate Bill 63) in his capacity as a member of the General Assembly’s judiciary committee.

The bill passed the labor and public employees committee last week. It will likely need to pass the appropriations, public health and judiciary committees before general votes in the House and Senate.

State Sens. Joe Crisco and Joan Hartley, both Democrats, noted the procedural difficulties the bill would face but did not explicitly state their stances at the Waterbury Chamber event, a legislative breakfast at Santos Restaurant on Church Street, sponsored by AT&T and the chamber.

Crisco noted that the labor committee, which passed the measure, 6-4, on March 9, was populated by “those who have a strong interest in labor issues,” noting that the committee’s stance “doesn’t represent the body of the legislature.”

Hartley noted that the bill could be “killed on the floor or killed procedurally,” as it was in 2008 and 2009. In 2008, the Senate passed a similar bill, but the House didn’t take it up; in 2009, it was the other way around.

“That’s always another procedure,” Hartley said: “Not to call a bill [for a vote].”

A union-backed citizen’s political activism group, Connecticut Working Families, estimates that 600,000 workers in Connecticut lack paid sick days. Workers without paid sick days include many of those in the food service, retail and health care industries.

Michael Winterfield, who testified before the state labor committee in late February on behalf of Connecticut Working Families, rebutted the argument that the bill would impose onerous new expenses.

“Depending on the type of firm and the percentage of total operating costs that is represented by payroll, I believe the maximum gross impact is a 0.3 to 0.5 percent increase in total operating costs,” he testified.

Winterfield noted the increase in costs could hypothetically be offset by lower employee turnover and higher productivity—or by modest price increases or savings in other areas. He said in his testimony that he has worked as an actuary and executive officer and considers himself something of a “numbers guy.”

Jonathan Kantrowitz, founder and CEO of Shelton publishing company Queue, Inc., said in his own testimony before the labor committee that his company provides a generous sick-leave policy because it attracts good employees and discourages them from going to work sick. He noted sick employees were liable to infect coworkers and make costly or even dangerous mistakes.

Contrarily, many businesspeople testified that the bill would hurt their companies, in keeping with the concerns Rebimbas and Labriola expressed. Some cited the administrative and financial burden the mandate would impose on their businesses, and some even said they’d consider taking their businesses out of state.

Writes Edward F. Gillepsie, President and CEO of Old Saybrook’s Fortune Plastics: “We do have the option to move all or some of our manufacturing to one of our other locations, specifically Tennessee or Florida. As a long time resident of Connecticut, I don’t want to do this. Please don’t force me to do so.”

Connecticut would be among the first states mandating paid sick leave. Rebimbas noted that distinction would only worsen what she and Labriola called an unfriendly business climate in the state.

“We want to be cutting edge in this state, but we don’t want to be cutting edge when it comes to cutting business out of this state,” she said. “We would be one of the first states to pass a law like this. It’s already a bad business climate in Connecticut. We don’t want to perpetuate it.”

“Did you know that United Technologies, the largest private employer in Connecticut, said they wanted to go ‘anywhere but Connecticut’?” Labriola asked during his opening remarks. “Now what an awful message that is to we here in Connecticut. … We need policies that attract businesses rather than have our largest employers leave the state.”