Ali Cochran – Denver, Colorado
Two servers, a barista and a bartender recounted personal experiences of themselves and co-workers reporting to work sick at Denver restaurants today at an event on the west end of Larimer Square to highlight the public health risks connected with workers’ lack of paid sick days. Afterward, the Campaign for a Healthy Denver introduced “Sick Rick,” a six-foot tall germ who will educate Denver restaurant diners about these risks over the next three weeks until Election Day.
“I interact with hundreds of people every day—and when I’m sick at work, you better believe that my coworkers and our customers are going to get sick too,” said Eric Love, a bartender at a popular Denver restaurant and bar. “I wash my hands constantly, but if I’ve mixed your cocktail while I have a bad cold, you just might get more than that margarita you ordered.”
Compared to other Colorado counties, Denver County has had a high rate of food-borne disease outbreaks in the last decade. Last year, 24 “disease outbreaks” were reported in Denver, including five in food establishments. Outbreaks tend to be underreported, so the real number of disease outbreaks in Denver was likely higher. Sick workers are often the source of disease outbreaks in restaurants.
“I feel bad about showing up for work sick because the customers who come in for coffee are going to be exposed to whatever illness I have but I don’t have much choice if I’m going to pay my bills,” said Laura, a barista at a coffee shop with outlets across the city. “Not that long ago, a coworker came to work with pinkeye and served coffee all day because he couldn’t afford to miss a shift. I just know that some of our customers caught pinkeye from him.”
Restaurant employees go to work sick because their wages are very low and they simply cannot afford to take the hit from their paycheck and still pay the bills at the end of the month.
“What am I supposed to do?,” asked single mother and waitress Stasia. “I might not be able to pay the rent, put gas in the car or put food on the table for my three kids if I miss even one shift’s pay.”
Initiative 300 would not prevent “shift swapping.” “I’m still losing money by staying home if I’m too sick to get on the phone and swap a shift because most of my money comes from tips,” said Joel, a server at a hip central-Denver restaurant. “I’d only be paid the tipped minimum wage when I’m sick but at least it’s something to help pay my bills.”
After the restaurant employees spoke, the Campaign for a Healthy Denver introduced Sick Rick, a six-foot tall germ who visited Larimer Square restaurant lunchtime diners to tell them about the risks of sick restaurant workers and the need for Initiative 300 to protect the public health.
The Campaign for a Healthy Denver – a coalition of more than 120 community organizations, labor groups, faith leaders and organizations, public health groups, elected officials and businesses – seeks to pass Initiative 300, the Denver ballot initiative to protect public health by guaranteeing a basic standard of paid sick days for employees in all Denver workplaces.