Here’s another thing for Jim Harrison to get peeved about

Well, the folks behind the paid sick leave bill — the one that made it partway through the last legislative session before flaming out under pressure from business lobbyists — are back for another round. The Healthy Workplaces Bill, H.187, is up for committee hearings this week.

Darn. Just when Jim Harrison was getting over a House committee’s passage of a very watered-down version of the sugary beverage tax. He seemed to take the very idea as a personal affront, at one point telling the House Ways and Means Committee “I can’t believe you’re talking about this.”

Harrison, for those just joining us, is the cagey and influential chief lobbyist for Vermont grocers and retailers. He’s the one who prattles endlessly about small retailers, but whose salary is largely paid by the big chain outfits that are, in reality, the worst threat to small retail. Far worse than a marginal tax increase or a modest enhancement of workers’ rights.

This year’s version of the paid sick leave bill has been watered down a bit, in an effort to assuage the business community’s concerns. H.187 would set a minimum standard for earned sick time for all Vermont workers. The minimum would be three days per year in the first two years after the bill’s passage, increasing to five days per year thereafter.

As the bill’s backers point out, roughly 80% of Vermont workers already have access to paid time off. Most of the remainder are working low-paying jobs in sectors like retail, food service and home care. Most of those jobs are filled by women, and many of those are working mothers.

Yeah, the women get the short end of the stick. Again.

I expect Jim Harrison will pull his long-suffering act and squeal about how this bill would hurt his members.

C’mon, Jim. It’d pinch your members a little bit in the short run*, but it’d benefit your workers tremendously. And it’s been shown in states with such laws, that worker productivity and morale increase. It’s actually good for business to have employees who aren’t constantly at wits’ end over their family responsibilities.

*It’d hurt small retailers the least. It’d be more inconvenient for big-box stores, chain retail and franchise operations because they have more workers. And those are the people who call Harrison’s tune.

Harrison and his ilk notwithstanding, H.187 actually has substantial support in the business community. Advocates are aiming to gain House passage this year and go for the Senate in 2016.

This is a good idea with very little downside. The costs to business are minimal, and the social benefits are far greater. Hey, let’s do this.

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