Today, 43 million private-sector workers do not have access to paid sick days.
But there is a solution. And Washington State Senator Patty Murray is charging full speed ahead towards making that solution a reality in America. Senator Murray and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced a bill last week called the Healthy Families Act, which would allow workers with 15 or more employees to earn up to seven paid sick days per year.
At 11:00 AM today (Friday, February 20), Seattle’s Paramount Theater is hosting Senator Patty Murray for a press conference with Representative DelBene’s office to announce the introduction of the Healthy Families Act.
“It is unacceptable that for 43 million of our nation’s workers, catching the flu or needing to care for a sick family member means losing a day of pay, or even losing a job,” said Senator Murray. “No one should ever have to choose between their health, or a loved one’s health, and their economic security. Our outdated policies are forcing too many workers to make that kind of choice – that needs to change.”
Murray, a ranking member on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, has cosponsored the bill every year since 2004. Three Washington Representatives are original co-sponsors of the bill, including Suzan DelBene, Jim McDermott and Derek Kilmer.
Specifically, the Healthy Families Act would:
- Allow workers at businesses with 15 or more employees to earn up to seven paid sick days per year;
- Guarantee workers at businesses with fewer than 15 employees up to seven job-protected unpaid sick days per year;
- Allow workers to use their sick days to care for a child, parent, spouse, domestic partner or other individual related by blood or affinity; and
- Provide funding for outreach and education around the worker rights guaranteed in the law.
The Healthy Families Act comes in response to a growing national movement demanding paid sick days led by states and cities around the country. Three states and 17 cities, including Seattle and Tacoma in Washington have passed paid sick days bills. The Act also comes on the heels of President Obama’s call for paid sick days for workers in his State of the Union Address this past January.
What’s at stake?
Here in Washington, 1 million workers still lack access to a single paid sick day and the impact is disastrous.
The Center for Disease Control estimates that 60 percent of food borne illnesses are caused by sick restaurant workers. If workers have no access to paid sick days, they have to go to work sick, risking their own health and the health of their customers, their co-workers, and their co-workers’ families.
Makini Howell, owner of Seattle’s Plum Bistro and the Plum Burger food truck, has been a strong supporter of paid sick days from the beginning. “Simply put, I don’t want our employees coming to work sick and handling your food. I’m willing to spend a few pennies per meal to ensure that I’m not serving you H1N1 with your sweet potato fries.”
Without paid sick days, many parents end up having to send sick kids to school, which risks spreading infection to classmates and teachers. Research shows that children who aren’t allowed to stay home to heal don’t do as well in school as children who are able to stay home with a caregiver when they are sick. When teachers are exposed to sick kids, they may end up having to use substitute teachers frequently, which interrupts student learning and can cause behavior changes in children.
Enacting paid sick leave is a basic protection for public health. When healthcare workers can’t afford to stay home when ill, this puts our most vulnerable community members at risk, including the elderly and people with life threatening illnesses like cancer. When patients go to the doctor or hospital, they expect to be cared for by healthy people, not further endangered by people who are struggling to get well themselves.
Further, a lack of paid sick days means workers are punished for prioritizing their health or the health of their children. Frank, a Washington resident, was let go from his warehouse job after 4 years because he prioritized his son’s health needs over his job. “Without paid sick days, if you are not there, you won’t get paid. But I’d rather be with my son when he is sick.”
Guaranteeing paid sick days for all workers builds safe, healthy and resilient communities – and helps give families the opportunity to build economic security. As Alma, a restaurant worker in Tacoma says, “Workers are human. We are people too, and we have the right to get sick and be able to heal and get better at home. We have the right to care for our family when they get sick, too.”
Local Momentum Adds to National Movement
Workers around Washington are clamoring for the basic right of staying home when they are ill. Despite doomsday threats from corporate naysayers following the passage of Seattle’s paid sick days bill in 2012, the results have been overwhelmingly positive for workers and the overall economy. A study examining the success of the Seattle paid sick days bill found no negative impact on the local economy – and Seattle’s job growth has continued to outpace surrounding cities since the ordinance was implemented.
Tacoma workers gained spirit and inspiration from Seattle’s success – and just won their own paid sick days bill in January. Workers in Spokane are similarly fighting for the right to stay home when they’re sick. A local restaurant in Spokane, the Lantern Tap House, has enacted a paid sick leave policy for its 10 kitchen employees, prompting immediate gratitude from its cooks and dishwashers, as well as an upcoming visit from U.S. Sen. Patty Murray.
Paid sick days are supported by democrats, Republicans and independents. Sixty percent of voters say they are more likely to vote for candidates and elected officials who support these policies, with 74 percent of independents and 73 percent of Republicans supporting family friendly workplace policies such as paid sick days and a family leave insurance program.
Attend the Healthy Families Act press conference this Friday February 20 at 11:00 AM at Seattle’s Paramount Theater. Senator Patty Murray and Representative DelBene’s office will announce the introduction of the Healthy Families Act. The Theater is located at 911 Pine Street in Seattle, Washington.
By Sam Hatzenbeler, MPHc