Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A wrong time to push

Exploiting the swine flu outbreak is like asking the widow at a funeral if the deceased’s season tickets are up for grabs. Yet two camps of interest to restaurants aren’t hesitating to capitalize on the situation.  And that should make the industry feel a little queasy.  

Yesterday an advocacy group in Oregon used an update on the swine flu situation to push unabashedly on its website for paid sick leave within the state. It noted the recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that anyone who feels ill should stay home from work. Yet, it continued, fewer than half the state’s employers pay their workers for sick time. How can they afford to stay home?

“Will the Oregon legislature join San Francisco, Milwaukee and Washington, DC, in guaranteeing paid sick leave to all workers?” wrote Chuck Sheketoff, the leader of a public advocacy group in the state. “If not, why not?”

The plea was accompanied by what looked like a poster showing a young woman sneezing into a tissue. “She’ll be your server tonight,” it read, “and she’s pretty sure it’s contagious.”  

A similar message was issued Tuesday by a group called the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. It, too, asserted that some employees with swine flu may not be able to stay home because of the wages they’ll lose. That, it suggested, also poses a pronounced risk for school-age children. “Parents who cannot stay home with a sick child are more likely to send sick children to school or day care,” said the statement.

Those and other advocates for paid sick leave make a powerful argument. Indeed, I think the industry will eventually have to find a way to offer the benefit in some shape or form, as I’ve stressed before in this space. There are public health implications that the trade will have a tough time in countering. Public safety, after all, trumps economics.  

But, with so many restaurants struggling to survive even without a pandemic, is now really the time to push the measure? And aren’t these defenders of the average citizen being a little hypocritical in using the dire ailments of some to push a political agenda? It just doesn’t seem right. 

 Then again, at least they’re acting on a worthy principle. Not so the yahoos who are using the flu outbreak to justify their xenophobia. 

They’re pointing to the disease’s origination in Mexico as proof that the people of that nation are barely a step up from animals. It’s the ultimate argument, they smugly assert, as to why we shouldn’t let them immigrate here, and why we should ship back the ones who’ve slipped in. You know how Mexicans are, they say with a wink and a sneer. They’re constantly visiting people from the old country. Now they’re bringing killer germs with them.  

You wouldn’t wish swine flu on anyone. But I confess to feeling the temptation. 

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