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Freshman GOP Senator: I’m Okay With Not Forcing Restaurant Workers to Wash Up

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He might have won the most expensive legislative campaign in US history, but that doesn’t mean he should manage your local Arby’s.

Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) said Monday that he’s okay with the idea of service industry workers returning to work without washing their hands after touching their unmentionables, as long as customers are made aware of the situation.

Tillis made the declaration at to the Bipartisan Policy Center, at the end of a question and answer with the audience. He was relaying a 2010 anecdote about his “bias when it comes to regulatory reform.”

“I was having a discussion with someone, and we were at a Starbucks in my district, and we were talking about certain regulations where I felt like ‘maybe you should allow businesses to opt out,’” he said, “as long as they indicate through proper disclosure, through advertising, through employment literature, or whatever else.”

Tillis was, at the time, the minority whip of the North Carolina House of Representatives.

“She said, ‘I can’t believe that,’” he continued in retelling the story. “And at that time we were sitting back at a table that was near the restrooms and one of the employees just came out. She said: ‘For example, don’t you believe that this regulation that requires this gentleman to wash his hands before he serves your food is important and should be on the books?’”

“I said: ‘As a matter of fact, I think it’s one that I can [use to] illustrate the point,’” he remarked. “I said: ‘I don’t have any problem with Starbucks if they choose to opt out of this policy as long as they post a sign that says “We don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restroom,”’” he recalled, as the audience chuckled. “The market will take care of that.’”

“That’s the sort of mentality that we need to have to reduce the regulatory burden on this country,” he added. “We’re one of the most regulated nations in the history of the planet.”

Bipartisan Policy Center President Jason Grumet joked that he was “not sure” he would shake Sen. Tillis’ hand when the discussion was over, causing the lawmaker and members of the audience to laugh.

Tillis did not explicitly mention if he is in favor of restaurants being forced to offer sick leave unless they disclose opting out of it. North Carolina’s state legislature did not pass any such measure while he led the body.

He does, however, oppose a federal minimum wage and was against raising the minimum wage for North Carolina.

The policies likely led to restaurant workers in the Tar Heel State turning up for shifts while sick.

A March 2012 Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention study of over 400 restaurants throughout the US found that “12 percent of food workers said they had worked when they were sick with vomiting or diarrhea.” The ill workers turned up to work, the CDC found, because of “pressure to do so,” and, possibly, due to a “need for income.”

In a separate September 2014 CDC survey, 60 percent of restaurant managers said they could recall at least one worker showing up to work while sick, and 70 percent of restaurant managers said they themselves had worked while sick. Almost half of the managers surveyed–45 percent–said that workers showed up for their shift when sick because of “no paid sick leave or no sick leave policy.”

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Since 2010, Sam Knight's work has appeared in Truthout, Washington Monthly, Salon, Mondoweiss, Alternet, In These Times, The Reykjavik Grapevine and The Nation. In 2012, he worked as a producer for The Alyona Show on RT. He has written extensively about political movements that emerged in Iceland after the 2008 financial collapse, and is currently working on a book about the subject.

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