October 20, 2011

The Paid Sick Days Movement; Creating a Safer World – Nathaniel Janowitz

I haven’t been sick in 10 years, for real. I remember it distinctly. It was winter vacation when I was in 11th grade and I caught the flu. Was bedridden for a week, couldn’t eat the holiday food, even missed the New Year’s eve party. That wasn’t a big deal for me though, it was 2001, the millennium had already happened and Y2k didn’t make the world explode. That being said my world felt like it was on the brink of armageddon. My date for the grade 11 semi-formal was a swan (whereas I was a crow) and was crushed I was going to miss it. I trooped on, chugged a bottle of cough syrup and partied to some Nelly. Besides the teenage hangover the next day I felt pretty good and luckily have ever sense. In the last 10 years the only work/school/event I missed was a personal choice to blow it off rather than forced upon me by an illness.

Unfortunately, I’m an exception, not a standard. Most people are lucky if they get through a winter without being sick, let alone 10. More than likely you’ve been sick recently (not to rub it in). And if not you, your partner, parents or children have been and what happens then. When a majority of Americans are sick it’s not an excuse to sit at home and watch Drew Carey make the price wrong. Instead , it’s drains them physically and fiscally.




In the web video, “Contagion: Not Just a Movie” produced by Family Values at Work, 5 workers are highlighted who are deeply affected by their inability to care fully for their families due to not having paid sick days.

One of these workers, Tasha, said “I cannot afford to lose a day’s pay.” She continues, “So if I have to choose between going to work sick and having money to keep the lights on and food in my fridge, then I have to go to work sick.” Baker, a grocery store cashier and single mom from Seattle had an upper respiratory infection that lasted three weeks because she couldn’t stay home to recover. During that three weeks she handled countless peoples food in the check-out line.

Situations like Tasha’s highlight not only the tough decision many have to face but also the implications of workers being forced to go to work sick, spreading illness to their co-workers and customers. Another, Terry, is a school bus driver who needs to decide between feeding her kids and being around other people’s children when she’s sick knowing she could be spreading illness to them.

The people in this video represent a large section of society that is highly affected by not having paid sick days. The folks at www.paidsickdays.org provide the following statistics.

– More than four in ten private-sector workers and more than eighty percent of low-wage workers do not have paid sick days to care for their own health.

– Forty million workers have no access to paid sick days at all and another 4.2 million haven’t been on the job long enough to be eligible for paid sick days.

– Adults without paid sick days are 1.5 times more likely than adults with paid sick days to report going to work with a contagious illness like the flu or a viral infection and risk infecting others. For example, more than three in four food service and hotel workers (78%) don’t have a single paid sick day and workers in child care centers and nursing homes overwhelmingly lack paid sick days. This threat to public health is clear!

– More than a third (37%) of working women, more than 13 million, in businesses with 15 or more employees are not able to take a paid sick day when they or a family member are ill.

– In establishments with 15 or more employees, the businesses that would be covered by the Healthy Families Act, nearly half (49%) of all Latino employees have no access to paid sick days.

Across the Country the Paid Sick Days movement has gained momentum. Already one state and 3 cities have passed legislation that guarantee workers this basic right.

Soon Denver could become the 4th city in America to accomplish this momentous feat. On November 1st, Denver voters will consider city ballot initiative 300 that would let workers earn paid sick days to use when they or a family member is ill. Currently, over 100,000 workers in Denver (40 percent of workers and 72 percent of food service workers) don’t have access to a single paid sick day. This could allow a huge portion of Denver’s workforce to not have to make these impossible decisions between their families and their health and the public’s health who interact with them.

Paid sick days create a safer, healthy environment for not just those who receive them, but their families and the entire community. Learn more at www.paidsickdays.org



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