Opinion | Healthy workers will keep the Michigan economy growing

Ali Ramlawi owns and operates Jerusalem Garden with his family in Ann Arbor. He a member of the Michigan Small Business Alliance.

Feb. 13, 2019: AG Dana Nessel may review Michigan minimum wage, sick leave law
Dec. 14, 2018: Snyder signs bills that weaken Michigan minimum wage, sick leave law

My father knew that to flourish, a garden needs strong roots. When he started our family’s restaurant, Jerusalem Garden, in Ann Arbor in 1987, he set out to create a place true to his own roots but grounded in the community he joined when he came to Michigan in the 1960s.

Today my brothers and sisters and I carry on my father’s vision of a business rooted in community, which to us means caring for those that help the community grow and thrive. That’s why we strongly support the recently-passed legislation giving Michigan workers the opportunity to earn paid sick time, so Michiganders can take a short time away from work to recover from an illness or care for a sick family member without disrupting their household’s budget or the fear of losing their job.  

We took the first step toward a well-rooted economy and a thriving community when the legislature passed the popular paid sick leave law. But the fight isn’t over. Special interests and the politicians they fund have made no secret of their plan to water down the law in the lame duck session, forcing tens of thousands of Michiganders to keep choosing between working sick or skipping a day’s pay.

Related: Paid sick law making some Michigan businesses feel queasy

Helping everyone working in Michigan earn a few days of paid time off for sickness each year isn’t just an investment in our employees – it helps small businesses like the one my family owns and operates, and keeps our communities and local economies strong.

We have nearly 40 employees that serve our family’s food to thousands of people each week. We want our staff happy and we need them to be healthy. To us, it’s critical that everyone on our team has the time they need to get well and return to work at 100% — without missing a paycheck.

Offering earned sick leave also helps increase job satisfaction, which in turn cuts down on the high cost of turnover and loss of productivity, helping small businesses reduce costs, run smoother and improve sales. That’s why studies have shown that in cities and states that implemented earned sick days, business owners are supportive of the policy and report the costs are minimal or nonexistent.

Forcing workers to come in sick has a disastrous effect on the economy. Nationally, it costs us $160 billion each year in lost productivity. And it strains our communities’ public health systems, wasting resources on treating preventable illnesses. Allowing Michiganders to earn a few days off per year would reduce emergency room visits by 1.3 million, saving over $1 billion in health care costs for these visits alone.

We recognize fundamental work standards like workplace safety and a minimum wage. Earned paid sick time should be no different. It’s a basic measure to help all of us overcome the inevitable circumstances we all face from time to time, like a cold or the flu, or sick child or spouse.

Creating a reasonable baseline for earned paid sick days will ensure even the most vulnerable among us, those with traditionally lower job quality protections like low-wage workers, working-class families and communities of color, can care for themselves without worrying that illness will keep them from paying their bills. It will keep the garden healthy.

My father knew the value of hard work and that it should be compensated fairly. He left his village outside Jerusalem as a boy and settled in Jordan. As a young man he came to Michigan for a better life. He worked two decades as a union butcher, a blue collar job that in those days had a good salary and good benefits, including paid time off that helped give him and his family a middle class life.

Sound policies like the earned paid sick time represent our shared commitment to a growing, thriving Michigan. Let’s do everything we can to defend it.

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Rita Mitchell
Thu, 11/01/2018 - 9:13am

Ali Ramlawi is an asset to the Ann Arbor community. His statement in Bridge shows his thoughtful approach to business and life. We are fortunate that he has made the decision to contribute even more to our community. He won the Democratic primary for a city council seat, and will soon win the seat in the general election. I look forward to his ongoing decision-making as a council member.

Sat, 11/03/2018 - 5:34pm

Mr. Ramlawi seems only to see what he wants and ignores what could be problems for others. I would like to hear why Mr. Ramlawi believes it is so easy for small businesses and start up businesses to staff for people off sick. I wonder if Mr. Ramlawi has experience with business and staffing outside the food and entertainment industry. Does he have experience with 24/7 operations that rely on specialized knowledge staff, and when there are surges of demand with delivery deadlines?
I wonder if Mr. Ramlawi truly understands the difference when you have a few significant customers rather than many small customers, what it means to a customer that is relying on the delivery of a special piece of equipment from a small company supplier missing a delivery date because of a ‘sick’ employee. I wonder if Mr. Ramlawi has ever had to replace a worker that has put in a long 12 or 16 hour shift when the replacement wakes up for the midnight shift feeling ‘sick.’
I wonder what Mr. Ramlawi considers ‘sick’, I wonder if he has worked with a fever, or an upset stomach, or a sick spouse at home.
I wonder if Mr. Ramlawi even realizes that there are other businesses than what his family has built, I wonder if he recalls the struggles his parents had and what they worked through when they were starting up their business. Saying everyone should be given ‘sick’ days isn’t as easy as Mr. Ramlawi seems to say it is. He doesn’t seem to realize that there are many small Michigan businesses competing with businesses in other states, even other countries.
‘Sick’ leave is a topic to talk about, but it needs a full and open conversation not just someone proclaiming it should be so without consideration of others.