Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

Washington citizens push Congress to take action on paid leave

From left to right: Chio Saeteurn, EOI Intern; Hilda Solis, U.S. Secretary of Labor; Megan Sacks, Healthy Tacoma Coalition.

A group of Washington citizens are just back from a jam-packed 2-day trip to “the other Washington” led by the Economic Opportunity Institute’s Marilyn Watkins, where they urged members of the state’s Congressional delegation to take action on paid family leave and paid sick days.

One of those who made the trip was Megan Sacks, whose story makes it clear why paid sick days are so important to public health and family economic security:

After trying to call in sick with the flu several years ago, 23-year-old Megan Sacks of Tacoma, Wash., was told she would have to be “on her deathbed” in order to miss her lunchtime shift as a waitress. After she showed up visibly ill, however, a customer contacted the health department to complain. Sacks, who didn’t have paid sick leave, was kept off the schedule for three weeks and later fired because her boss thought that she’d called the health officials. (Tacoma News Tribune)

In meetings with with their legislators, Megan and other “citizen delegates” urged their representatives to: 1) approve the Healthy Families Act, which would guarantee seven paid sick days per year for workers at businesses with 15 or more employees, and 2) pass new federal funding proposed in President Obama’s budget to cover state paid family leave program start-up costs — while ensuring that Washington State is eligible to receive those funds, up to $10 million per year for three years.

Sharon Ness, a Tacoma nurse, shared her story with staff from the office of Rep. Norm Dicks:

“As the eldest of two children and a registered nurse, I took on many added responsibilities when my father began his battle with cancer in 2007. I never expected my employer of 19 years, a Tacoma-area hospital, to be anything less than supportive. But despite my 19-year employment history with the hospital, and lots of support from coworkers, I was warned numerous times by my employer to decrease my ‘excessive absenteeism’. During my January 2009 evaluation, my supervisor raised the issue for the third time. My total: 10 sick days over a 16 month period. I could only reply, ‘it was when my dad was dying.’”

The trip, part of a national effort sponsored by the National Partnership for Women and Families and the Family Values at Work Multi-state Consortium, brought citizens from across the country to Washington, DC to speak with their representatives about the importance of paid sick days and paid family leave for American working families.

Attendees from Washington State met with Rep. Jay Inslee and Rep. Brian Baird, as well as staff from the offices of Sen. Patty Murray, Sen. Maria Cantwell, Rep. Norm Dicks, Rep. Adam Smith, and Rep. Jim McDermott. They also participated in a series of forums and workshops designed to share ideas and experiences for broadening coalitions, engaging citizens and business leaders in campaigns, telling effective stories, and other keys to successfully advancing new workplace policies.

Participants included: Megan Sacks (Healthy Tacoma Coalition), Sharon Ness (United Food and Commercial Workers Union), Nathe Lawver (Pierce County Central Labor Council, Healthy Tacoma Coalition), Lily Wilson-Codega (Seattle Coalition for a Healthy Workforce), Marilyn Watkins (Economic Opportunity Institute), Joshua Welter (Washington CAN, Main Street Alliance), Janet Chung (Legal Voice), Masha Burina (Seattle Womens’ Commission), Chio Saeteurn (Economic Opportunity Institute), and Selena Allen (Washington Family Leave Coalition).

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