The following is the text of Chamber President & CEO Lynn Ward's "Chamber Happenings" column from Monday's Republican-American, concerning the state's proposed Paid Family & Medical Leave bills:
Many small business owners who are members of the Waterbury Regional Chamber are outraged over the legislature’s efforts to pass bills creating a state-operated paid family & medical leave program, saying the bills will put them out of business.
“What’s right with the bills? Nothing. Zero,” said Donald Piombo, owner of American Heating & Air Conditioning Service LLC in Waterbury.
There are three state bills proposing the program: Senate bills 1 and 881, and House Bill 5003. (Click on the bill numbers and you can read each bill.)
Each bill allows employees up to 12 weeks of paid leave in a 12-month period and would deduct 0.5 percent from every employee’s weekly earnings to pay for it. Each also requires all companies to participate, regardless of the number of people they employ — unlike the federal, unpaid FMLA program, which limits the requirement to companies with 50 or more workers.
Piombo’s company, which installs and services heating and air conditioning systems, employs just six people. That includes four technicians, each of whom must be certified to do the work. Replacing a tech on paid family or medical leave is impossible, Piombo said, because of the state’s low unemployment rate and the difficulty in finding people with the proper skills.
“I advertised one position for two years,” he said. “There’s a very shallow pool of potential employees. These are people you can’t replace, because there’s nobody out there. Trade businesses are going to get creamed with this kind of thing. You can always find somebody to stock shelves, but in a trade business if you lose somebody, you’re done.”
For employers with 50 or more workers, losing one or two is probably not a problem. For a company with six employees, losing two means trying to replace a third of your workforce. “This bill is a smallbusiness killer,” Piombo said.
David Mulhall, a CPA and financial adviser with LPL Financial Services in Middlebury, said many businesses are seasonal, so losing employees at the busiest time of year could cause it to fail.
“A seasonal business such as tax preparation could not survive where employees could be compensated for taking the months of February, March and April off with pay,” he said. “If my two parttime workers did take those 12 weeks off, they would return to a closed business.”
Mulhall also worries about the program’s sustainability. The bills would pay either 90 percent or 100 percent of a worker’s base weekly pay, up to $1,000 per week for the 12 weeks of leave, yet they propose taking just 0.5 percent from weekly paychecks (the deduction is mandatory). As the Connecticut Business & Industry Association notes, for an employee paid $52,000 per year, it would collect just $260 annually, meaning it would take 47 workers paid at a similar rate to cover the cost of one taking paid leave.
“This program will never be paid for by a 0.5 percent payroll tax,” Mullhall said.
Especially, he added, because state employees are exempt.
Business owners also are concerned about language in two of the bills that broadly define “family,” allowing leave not just for a parent or sibling, but for anyone “whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family member….”
“The ambiguity of it is rife for abuse and fraud,” Piombo said.
Another concern is provisions that entitle two spouses employed by the same company to a combined 26 weeks of leave, or that allow immediate relatives of a current member of the armed forces up to 26 weeks of leave “for each armed forces’ member per serious injury.”
The legislature’s Labor & Public Employees Committee has approved the bills, and now they head to the Appropriations Committee. The Waterbury chamber and our members urge legislators to vote against this family-leave legislation or, at the least, we hope legislators will modify them to limit the size of businesses required to participate to those with 50 or more workers; limit compensation to 60 percent of weekly pay, and limit the number of employees who can take leave at any time.
We also urge business owners to call or email their legislators to let them know how these bills will affect businesses. For help with that, contact Chamber Public Policy Director Dave Krechevsky at dkrechevsky@waterburychamber. com or 203-757-0701.
Here is contact information for each legislator in Waterbury, followed by other towns:
Rep. Larry Butler, D-72nd District (which includes the eastern & northern sections of Waterbury): Larry.Butler@cga.ct.gov; 860-245-8585
Rep. Stephanie Cummings, R-74th District (which includes the East Mountain area): Stephanie.Cummings@housegop.ct.gov; 860-240-8700
Rep. Anthony D'Amelio, R-71st District (which includes the Town Plot area and a portion of Middlebury): firstname.lastname@example.org; 860-240-8700
Rep. Ron Napoli Jr., D-73rd District (which includes the Bunker Hill area and western portion of Waterbury): email@example.com; 860-240-8585
Rep. Geraldo Reyes Jr., D-75th District (which includes the Central Business District):
Sen. Joan Hartley, D-15th District (Waterbury, Naugatuck, Prospect): Hartley@senatedems.ct.gov; 860-240-0006
Sen. Rob Sampson, D-16th District (Cheshire, Prospect, Southington, Waterbury, Wolcott); Rob.Sampson@housegop.ct.gov; 860-240-8800
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Rep. David Labriola, R-131st District (Naugatuck, Oxford, Southbury): David.Labriola@housegop.ct.gov; 860-240-8700
Sen. George Logan, R-17th District (Ansonia, Beacon Falls, Bethany, Derby, Hamden, Naugatuck, Woodbridge): George.Logan@cga.ct.gov; 860-240-8800
Rep. Nicole Klarides-Ditria, R-105th District (Beacon Falls, Derby, Seymour):
Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-70th District (Naugatuck): Rosa.Rebimbas@housegop.ct.gov; 860-240-8700
Sen. Eric Berthel, R-32nd District (Watertown, Bethlehem, Bridgewater, Middlebury, Oxford, Roxbury, Seymour, Southbury, Washington, Woodbury): Eric.Berthel@cga.ct.gov; 860-240-8800
Rep. Joe Polletta, R-68th District (Watertown, Woodbury): firstname.lastname@example.org; 860-240-8700
Sen. Mary Abrams, D-13th District (Cheshire, Meriden, Middlefield, Mddletown):
Rep. Craig Fishbein, R-90th District (Cheshire, Wallingford): Craig.Fishbein@housegop.ct.gov; 860-240-8700
Rep. Liz Linehan, D-103rd District (Cheshire, Southington, Wallingford): liz.Linehan@cga.ct.gov;
Rep. Gale Mastrofrancesco, R-80th District (Southington, Wolcott):
Rep. Lezlye Zupkus, R-89th District (Bethany, Cheshire, Prospect): Lezlye.Zupkus@housegop.ct.gov;
Sen. Henri Martin, R-31st District (Bristol, Harwinton, Plainville, Plymouth, Thomaston):
Rep. Arthur O'Neill, R-69th District (Bridgewater, Roxbury, Southbury, Washington):
Rep. John Piscopo, R-76th District (Burlington, Harwinton, Litchfield and Thomaston):
Rep. David Wilson, R-66th District (Bethlehem, Litchfield, Morris, Warren, Woodbury):