Giving Paid Sick Days to Workers is Good for Everyone
Long ago in a former life, when I worked in the pink collar ghetto, I sat in very close quarters with about eight office workers in which the same cold cycled around through the group for more than six months. It was miserable. We were either getting it, had it or were just getting over it. None of us had adequate sick leave so we didn't use what little we had it for fear it would be gone when we got "really sick." On another job working in a restaurant, I saw sick people pass around germs so liberally that it made me learn to cook so I could eat at home. Again, no sick leave and wages so low that we couldn't afford to lose a days pay.
Activists for working people (and general decency), like the Working Families Party in New York are trying to change this:
Advocates are turning up the heat on City Council Speaker Christine Quinn over a bill mandating paid sick days for employees — attempting to turn her opposition into a political liability as she runs for mayor.
More than a dozen groups backing the measure will target half a million New Yorkers by e-mail Monday, asking them to push Quinn to allow a vote on it. They’re also planning to hit 100,000 “prime” Democratic voters with door-knocks and literature highlighting her position. The Working Families Party is pushing the effort along with liberal groups like MoveOn.org.
Quinn says the bill, which requires that a worker get at least five paid sick days a year, would hurt small businesses. “With the current state of the economy, and so many businesses struggling to stay alive, I do not believe it would be wise to implement this policy ... at this time,” she said.
A poll earlier this year found 62% of Democratic voters were less likely to vote for a mayoral candidate who opposed the plan.
I'm getting so tired of hearing politicians evoke the name of "small business" to justify horrible working conditions. I know the economy is tough. But they've got to stop taking it out of the hides of the working poor.
This informational web-site lists all the good reasons for businesses to provide sick days, including the fact that it's not a budget buster and actually increases productivity. (Believe me, a sick employee is not working to full potential. Duh.) But I have to say that this one reason that should make every New Yorker back this measure:
Workers without paid sick days are heavily concentrated in jobs that require a high level of interaction with the public — the people who serve and prepare our food, look after our children and care for the elderly. When those workers feel compelled to come to work sick, it’s not just their health that’s at risk — it’s all of us.
One in eight food service workers reports having come to work sick twice in the last year, with symptoms including vomiting and diarrhea.
In nursing homes with paid sick days, patients are 60% less likely to contract infections from the staff.
During the H1N1 epidemic, 8 million Americans came to work while infected with the swine flue virus, and infected another 7 million people.
According to the Center for Disease Control, out of 21 million ‘norovirus’ outbreaks (a common food-borne virus) annually, roughly half are caused by ill food workers.
This is a public health issue and the public should be concerned.
We should have a national policy, but that's obviously impossible. I'm sure there are states in which it's a "cultural tradition" for people to get poisoned in restaurants, stores and nursing homes and we wouldn't want to inflict our competing "values" on them. But New York is the most populous city in the nation and people from all over the country and the world come there to work and enjoy its culture. It's a good idea to pass a practical measure such as this to ensure that illnesses aren't passed around to workers and customers alike. And who knows? Maybe it will start a trend and someday we'll all care about worker's rights and public health.
If you'd like to add your name to those who are trying to persuade the Speaker of the New York City Council to allow this to come to a vote, you can go here.