Chris Pennock is a Working America member here in Minnesota, and he’s had a unique few months.
He agreed to sit on the Workforce Partnership Group, which was set up to examine how the city of Minneapolis can best make sure everyone has paid time off when they are sick. Business people, labor groups and workers served on the partnership, and Chris represented everyday working people like you and me.
After weeks of listening sessions, studies and testimony, the group recently released a strong set of proposals to tackle this urgent problem in our city. Now, it’s up to us to make sure the word gets out so that elected leaders on the City Council act with urgency to follow their lead.
Check out Chris’s video and share it with your friends to help make this happen.
“I am a low-wage worker who hasn’t had sick time in 10 years. Whatever it is — a foodborne illness, the flu — I have to decide what’s more important to me. I have to decide whether I want to pay my bills or take care of myself. And that is something we heard so many times from people.”
Right now, people are having to choose between paying the bills and taking care of themselves or their loved ones. That’s not who we are as Minnesotans, and by acting together, we can change this policy.
Members of more than 15 local organizations came together on the steps of City Hall today and called on the Pittsburgh City Council to pass a law granting all Pittsburgh workers the chance to earn paid sick days.
While labor groups that fight year-round for workers’ rights were well represented at today’s event, it wasn’t just the usual suspects calling on the City Council to take action. Groups as diverse as the Sierra Club, Planned Parenthood, Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network and the Women and Girls Foundation showed up to remind everyone this isn’t just a worker’s issue, it’s a public health issue.
Nearly 50,000 of our neighbors, friends and family members currently lack any paid sick time in Pittsburgh. That’s around 40 percent of our total workforce—50,000 people forced to make a choice between going to work sick or staying home and losing badly needed pay.
That’s a situation that definitely needs to change, according to Rachel, one of the attendees I met today. Rachel has worked in the service industry 22 years, the last 13 in Pittsburgh and the last eight at the same establishment. She is a member of the Restaurant Opportunity Coalition, an organization that is also supporting the paid sick days legislation.
No one wants to think about sick people handling their food. Food service workers don’t want to show up at work sick, either. In fact, it’s actually the rule at her restaurant that employees aren’t allowed to come to work sick. It says so right in the manual. But Rachel had this to say about her workplace: “Probably not a day goes by without at least one person showing up to work sick.”
So if no one wants it to happen and it’s even against the rules, why is it the case that people are showing up to work sick anyway?
Sadly, the answer is really simple. If you don’t have paid sick days, you can’t afford to take a day off work. So even though Rachel says her own boss is generally OK with people taking time off when they are sick, it doesn’t matter all that much when you have bills to pay at the end of the month.
Rachel related a time when she had an injured foot that required stitches. She was thankful her boss was OK with her taking some time off, but she went back to work a week earlier than she should have because she couldn’t afford not to.
No one should have to hobble around at a job that requires people to be on their feet for the entire shift because she has no other choice. No one should be required to stay home due to illness but left with no way to make up the lost pay. “It’s makes us feel like second class citizens who don’t matter. It’s like we’re expendable,” Rachel told me. Management has access to paid sick days. So do 60% of workers in Pittsburgh. So why shouldn’t everyone?
But even those who aren’t compelled by the moral argument to do the right thing to help someone else should take note of the fact that they’d really be helping themselves.
“I’d think everyone would like the peace of mind to go out to eat without being afraid of catching something,” Rachel says. She related instances where after one person came to work with the norovirus, a common stomach flu, almost every employee had gotten sick within a week. What are the odds that some customers got sick as well? At one past job, she even saw a sick line cook having to take regular breaks to run to the restroom due to illness, and being asked by the manager to stay and keep cooking despite the fact she was throwing up.
“Everyone deserves paid sick time,” Rachel says. “It’s even more critical for those working with food.”
Sadly, those working in the food service industry are among the least likely to have it. The same can be said for custodial workers, grocery workers and even home health care workers. These are the industries in which you least want someone showing up at work with a contagious illness. But the pressures of low wages and lack of paid sick time mean that these are the same industries in which you’re more likely to find it taking place.
And as Rachel told me, it’s time for all of that to change.
All Pittsburgh workers deserve the chance to earn paid sick time. We all stand to be happier and healthier as a result.
When you hear a conservative argument as to why we can’t pass a policy that helps working families, you are pretty safe in assuming that it won’t stand up to closer examination. In today’s example, the topic is paid sick days. Extremist pro-business groups that oppose requiring that paid sick days be offered to employees often make the cynical argument that if paid sick days are offered, workers will exploit and abuse them and that will hurt businesses. The real-world evidence, not surprisingly, says otherwise.
The largest real-world sample of data we have on paid sick days is the state of Connecticut, which required businesses to provide paid sick days in 2011. A recent examination of what has happened in the state since then shatters numerous right-wing myths about paid sick leave, particularly the claim that the policy will be abused by workers. The new policy in Connecticut made the number of available paid sick days for the average worker rise from 6.9 days to 7.7 days. Of those workers who have taken paid sick leave, the average worker has used only four of those days. And about one-third of workers used no paid sick days at all.
As Alan Barber of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) concludes:
[The evidence] stands in direct opposition to the idea that workers would abuse the policy and take as many days off as possible, even when not sick. This suggests that employees view paid sick days as a form of insurance, to be used only as needed. Even when additional days are available to them, employees, in reality, only take the time off from work that they require when they are ill or need to care for a family member.
Once again, real-world evidence rejects a conservative claim used to oppose a policy to help working families. This has happened so many times now, it’d be safe for us to assume these extremist arguments are faulty, at best, and just go ahead and help workers instead.
The bill would allow workers to earn an hour of paid sick leave for every 30 they worked, requiring employers to provide up to five paid sick days a year for their employees, who could use the time for their own illnesses or that of their family members.
Advocates estimate that 38,000 Newark workers don’t have access to a single paid sick day. That’s a lot of potential people who are, for instance, preparing or serving food while sick, simply because they had no other option.
Newark is following the lead of Jersey City, whose mayor Steve Fulop signed a paid sick time ordinance into law in October.
In the past year, New York City and Portland, Oregon have also enacted paid sick days laws. Massachusetts is likely to send a paid sick days measure to the 2014 ballot. Legislatures in Oregon and Vermont expect to take up the issue in earnest when they return early next year.
Of course, there are so-called “pro-business” groups who oppose these laws. But they voices of workers like Derick Swaby, a cabin cleaner at Newark Airport, cut through the noise:
“For me and for all the workers, we need paid sick days,” said Swaby, 55, of Newark. “You need days to recover when you’re sick without having to worry about losing money. Right now, I’m compelled to go to work when I’m sick, because if I don’t go, I don’t get no pay.”
A Newark victory early in 2014 would lend momentum to efforts in Massachusetts, Vermont, Oregon, and nationwide.
When young women can’t stay home to get their sleep and soup on, they venture out into the world where they touch handrails with contaminated hands and sneeze on things. This is the sick, sad world Daria warned us about.
For example, more than three in four food service and hotel workers (78%) don’t have a single paid sick day—and workers in child care centers and nursing homes overwhelmingly lack paid sick days. This threat to public health is clear.
On Thursday morning, the New York City Council overrode a veto by Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) to pass a new paid sick days requirement for businesses with more than 15 employees. Employees at those businesses will earn five paid sick days each year. The law will be implemented in 2014 and initially it will apply to companies with 20 or more employees; after a year and a half it will apply to businesses with 15 or more workers. Smaller businesses will be required to provide their employees with five unpaid sick days.
The victory for both workers and consumers makes New York the fifth city and the largest with a paid sick days requirement. More than 1 million New York City workers will gain access to paid sick leave, joining workers in Portland, Ore., Seattle, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. The state of Connecticut also requires paid sick days.
Vincent Alvarez, president of the New York City Central Labor Council, said:
For far too long, the notion of taking a day off to care for a sick child or tend to personal health issues was financially unfeasible for many New Yorkers. In a time when so many are living paycheck to paycheck, the thought of losing a day’s pay, or the threat of being fired, was enough to make them go to work regardless of whether or not they were well enough to be there.
This legislation will help the sales associate who can now take a sick day, instead of helping customers while battling a long-term illness. This legislation will help the barista fighting the flu to stay home and recuperate, instead of showing up to work sick, for fear of losing wages.
A healthier workforce is a more productive workforce, and I commend the City Council for its decision to allow New Yorkers to protect public safety by protecting their health.
Opponents of the new law say it puts too large a burden upon businesses, but in places where the laws already exist, the opposite has proven to be true:
Down with big government, cry Michigan Republicans!
Except when it comes to workers’ rights.
Yesterday the Michigan Senate voted 25-13 to pass a sick leave “preemption bill,” SB 173, which bans cities and towns from passing their own laws regarding earned sick leave. 25 Republicans voted in favor, while all 12 Democrats and one Republican (Sen. Tory Rocca of Sterling Heights) voted against.
Now, this might seem like a strange law for Michigan to pass, since no city or town in Michigan has a sick leave ordinance on the books, and no city or town in Michigan is currently considering such an ordinance.
But this isn’t about Michigan. This is about ALEC and its nationwide efforts to quash the momentum behind paid sick days, using politicians like bill sponsor Sen. Mark Jansen (R-Grand Rapids) merely as delivery systems.
This is a law modeled after one Gov. Scott Walker passed in Wisconsin in May 2011, which overrode the will of Milwaukee voters who had overwhelmingly passed a paid sick days ordinance three years earlier.
At the ALEC national conference in 2011, attendees were given copies of Walker’s paid sick days preemption law. As PRWatch blogger Brendan Fischer describes, legislators were also handed a “target list” and “a map of state and local paid sick leave policies prepared by ALEC member the National Restaurant Association.”
Having passed the Senate, SB 173 is now on a fast track through the House. Seems like legislators can be super efficient when they want to restrict workers’ rights, and when ALEC has already written out a bill for them.
The bills in the House and Senate are ALEC model bills, inspired by none other than Wisconsin union-buster Gov. Scott Walker. Quick story: In early 2011, Walker pushed and passed a preemption law in Wisconsin, completely invalidating the will of Milwaukee voters who had just passed a sick days ordinance.
All workers deserve the opportunity to earn paid sick days, so that not another person has to make their choice between going to work sick and not making rent, or not being able to eat, or not being able to care for their child.
But even the threat of workers in a few cities and towns having this basic right has the restaurant lobby and ALEC running scared, using their politician pawns to introduce ridiculously undemocratic preemption bills that won’t create a single job. Since when did these “small-government” obsessives get into the business of telling cities and towns how to conduct their business?
When someone tries to raise the minimum wage, improve our health care system, or generally try to fix anything, a chorus of conservative anti-worker bigwigs cries foul about big government intruding in their lives.
But when a state passes a law to preempt cities and towns from making their own decisions about allowing workers to earn sick days, those same voices are silent.
Legislation recently approved by committees in the Republican-controlled House and Senate would prohibit counties, townships and cities from adopting policies that requires employers to provide paid or unpaid leave not required under federal or state law.
The bill is HB 4249 in the House, sponsored by Rep. Earl Poleski (R-Jackson), and SB 173 in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Mark Jansen (R-Grand Rapids). Both bills have been passed by their respective committees.
If you look closely at the bills, you’ll notice they are startlingly similar to bills introduced in Florida, Arizona, Indiana, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Washington.
Meeting attendees were given complete copies of Wisconsin’s 2011 Senate Bill 23 (now Wisconsin Act 16) as a model for state override. ALEC’s Labor and Business Regulation Subcommittee at the time was co-chaired by YUM! Brands, Inc., which owns Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell.
As one Republican operative put it, these bills “deliver the kills shot” to efforts to allow workers to earn sick days. In addition to Wisconsin, such laws are already on the books in Louisiana and Mississippi.
The bill had been amended to be more amenable to Mayor Nutter’s corporate sensibilities. It would allow workers to earn one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked. It would also exempt small businesses with up to five employees.
But it was still not enough. In rejecting this pro-worker measure, Nutter repeated the same claptrap that politicians have used to oppose the minimum wage, worker safety measures, and child labor laws throughout history.
Mayor Nutter, in his veto message, said mandatory paid sick leave would result in job cuts that would hurt “the very workers this bill is intended to help.” And he said it would hurt the city’s ability to attract new businesses.
But there’s something different in 2013. We are only one vote away from overriding this veto in the Philadelphia City Council.
Councilman Dennis O’Brien is a swing vote on the sick days bill. He voted no the first time, but moving him to a “yes” could provide this crucial worker protection that so many Philly workers have lacked.