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'When Workers Work Sick, It's Unhealthy for All of Us': New York's Battle for Paid Sick Leave

The U.S. is the only rich country in the world that fails to guarantee workers some form of paid sick leave.

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In New York, the PSL bill has been supported by small business owners such as Freddy Castiblanco, the owner of Terraza 7 Live Music in Queens, whose business depends on low-income workers’ patronage.

Myth: “Workers will abuse this policy.”

Reality: Workers tend to under-use the paid sick days provided to them.

Recent survey data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that full-time private industry workers who were provided with PSL did not use all the paid sick leave days provided. This is confirmed by IWPR’s survey, which shows that the median worker in San Francisco reported using just three days of PSL in 2010 — significantly less than the nine-day limit -- while more than one-quarter of workers did not use any PSL at all.

Despite Quinn’s expressed opposition, recent wins across the country — in Washington DC, Connecticut, Denver, and Seattle — have fueled momentum in New York. “We're optimistic about the campaign for paid sick days,” said Caicedo, “because this year, we’re seeing more and more groups, including small businesses and unions, sign on in support of the common sense idea that when workers have to go to work sick, it’s not healthy for any of us. It's time for New York to be a leader.”

Nationwide, Bravo sees New York and Massachusetts as two strong campaigns that have “similar ingredients” — that is “the broad coalition of labor unions, small business owners, everyone from school nurses, LGBT groups, to folks who care about seniors and children and ending poverty, and, obviously, women’s groups.”

This is encouraging, especially considering that the U.S. is the only rich country in the world that fails to guarantee workers some form of PSL. Like many other pieces of progressive legislation throughout history, change often starts with local grassroots efforts.

“This is an issue with great capacity for wins,” said Bravo. “In these tough times, people just cannot afford to lose their jobs for being a good parent or following doctor’s order, and at a time when budgets make it hard for legislators to do much for working people, here is something concrete they can do that is essentially budget neutral and that has a huge impact on people’s lives, even though it is a fairly small thing.”


Jin Zhao is a freelance journalist, multimedia producer and photographer. Her work has appeared in the Nation and on AlterNet. Follow her on twitter @jinealogy and visit her blog

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