Councilman Corey O’Connor, author of a new bill that would mandate paid sick days for all workers in the city, held nothing back at a gathering held outside of the Pittsburgh City Council chambers today in support of the legislation. More than 150 people from more than 15 allied groups packed the lobby to champion the bill’s introduction, and I was proud to be there representing Working America and our members who overwhelmingly support this legislation.
“No worker should have to make the choice between going to work sick or staying home without badly needed pay, and right now there are 50,000 Pittsburgh workers without paid sick time,” said Barney Oursler of Pittsburgh United, underlining why so many diverse groups have come together to support paid sick days.
Councilwomen Deborah Gross and Natalia Rudiak, who co-sponsored the bill and garnered support from all four women on the City Council, highlighted the disproportionate impact lack of paid sick days has on women in the workforce, many of whom are often the primary caregivers for their families and struggle to care for sick family members.
Several workers shared personal stories at the event, detailing the difficulties they face on their jobs when they get sick. I was struck by how similar their stories were to stories I often hear from Working America members when I canvass neighborhoods around Pittsburgh.
One worker—a waitress named Taylor—shared testimony that echoed Rachel’s story, another server I met recently. Like 77 percent of all service workers, she currently has no paid sick time. Too often, she has had to choose between serving food to the public while sick or staying home and losing wages that she needs to pay her rent. Lack of paid sick leave is particularly challenging for service workers, many of whom currently are only compensated at the hourly tipped minimum wage of $2.13 an hour.
Lack of access doesn’t just affect workers; it’s a public health concern with implications for the entire community. One parent in Greenfield told me how her child became ill because another child’s parent did not have paid sick days and was forced to send their child to school with the flu. The new proposed law would stipulate that paid sick days can be used to care for an ill family member, as well.
The proposed bill would also protect workers who already have paid sick leave from retaliation. Theresa, a career nurse, spoke during the event about a time she got sick and needed to take paid time off to protect ill patients with compromised immune systems in her unit. Even though she had accumulated the time, her employer tried to discipline her for missing too many consecutive days of work. Though Theresa fought back and was eventually cleared of wrongdoing, the message she received from her employer was clear: Don’t get sick when you’re scheduled to work. Her story is not unique. One of our members in the Brookline area once told me how her company had written her up for not giving at least 24 hours’ notice before using a paid sick day. That’s why the current bill before the Council would set the right tone and allow workers to use their earned sick time without fear of reprisal.
Today’s rally reminded me that, in the end, it’s the stories of people like Theresa and Taylor and Rachel—who face these difficult choices far too often—that drive home why we need to pass paid sick days in Pittsburgh. Everybody gets sick, and it’s not easy to simply lose a day or two of pay and still come out ahead at the end of the month. This bill is an important step in the right direction for Pittsburgh, and our members will continue to mobilize to make sure the City Council does the right thing by Pittsburgh’s working people.