“Pittsburghers want French fries with their sandwich, not the flu.”

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.

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Working While Sick in Pittsburgh?

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.

Check, please?

“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.

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Retail Working America Members Win Changes by Standing Together

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Minnesota has made a name for itself as a major hub of the retail industry – look no further than Target and Best Buy, both headquartered in the state. Yet, even as big retail stores reap billions in profits from eager shoppers, retail workers haven’t shared in those gains.

Now, that’s changing. By joining Working America, retail workers are gaining a stronger voice on the job and demanding corporate accountability. In 2014, workers took action to raise the state’s minimum wage, a low $6.15 an hour, and won. The new $9.50 base hourly wage takes the state from having one of the lowest minimum wages in the country to one of the highest when it fully kicks in by 2016, giving more than 325,000 Minnesotans a much-needed raise.

Retail workers from Working America are also joining together to work directly with their co-workers to change their specific workplaces and solve problems on the job.

Last fall, workers from a Twin Cities mall started talking about how they could win changes at their job.  Associates faced low wages, and those working part time lacked health care. Workers faced racial discrimination, no paid sick days and safety challenges. One worker was assaulted by a customer and sustained a concussion while at work. Despite all this, managers had done little to address workers’ concerns, and morale on the job was low.

The workers wanted to do something about it.

The associates met regularly to set priorities and strategize about how to make things better. They circulated a petition calling for paid sick days and distributed surveys to see what co-workers wanted in a better workplace. After building support throughout the store, the members brought their concerns directly to management. They talked with supervisors and directors about the problems they and their co-workers faced and how they were coming together to address these challenges.

By standing united, they saw results.

Management announced shortly after the meeting that workers would be receiving wage increases, paid sick days and that benefits would be added for part-time workers.

Workers at this mall in Minnesota made it happen. They won needed improvements and gained a newfound confidence by talking with one another and uniting for a collective voice. We still have much to do. Workers at the mall continue to face low wages, safety concerns and other problems, but the group showed that by coming together, workers can create a better workplace.

The fight continues to give all retail workers the kinds of initial gains made at one Twin Cities mall. Retail workers are talking with state lawmakers about the need for paid sick days, and they’re leading the call for fair scheduling policies at the state and local level, testifying at a recent hearing.

To get involved in the fight for a better Minnesota for retail workers, contact Working America Minnesota.

Like Retail Working America on Facebook

Image via mo1229 on Flickr

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Philadelphia Joins the Growing List of State/Local Governments Passing Paid Sick Days Laws

The city of Philadelphia is set to become the 17th city (along with three states) that requires paid sick leave after Mayor Michael Nutter (D) signed legislation passed yesterday by the City Council. Philadelphia is the second city, after Tacoma, Wash., to pass paid sick days this year so far. Nutter previously vetoed similar laws because he said the economy couldn’t handle the change during a recession.

Councilman William K. Greenlee, who sponsored the bill, said:

The people who do not have paid sick leave are the people who need it the most. They’re low-income workers, single mothers; they’re college students or people just starting in the workforce.

The law goes into effect in 90 days, when businesses with 10 or more employees will be required to give workers a paid hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked, up to five days a year. The sick time can be used for personal illness or that of a family member, or in seeking support after domestic violence or sexual assault.  While 200,000 Philadelphia residents will benefit from the new law, it still excludes independent contractors, seasonal workers, adjunct professors, interns, government employees and workers covered by collective bargaining agreements. Businesses that already offer comparable or better paid sick leave to their employees will not have to change their rules. Violations of the law can be punished with fines, penalties and restitution.

As Think Progress notes, dire warnings of the negative effects of paid sick leave laws have failed to materialize elsewhere:

Despite the concern from business that paid sick leave requirements will be too costly, the evidence from places that already have them backs up the idea that they won’t be harmful. The vastmajority of employers have come to support these laws, while they haven’t hurt local economies and, in fact, many cities have outperformed after their laws were enacted.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Healthy Families Act Would Let Workers Earn Paid Sick Days

There are at least 43 million U.S. workers who cannot earn a single paid sick day and have to decide between losing wages or even risking their jobs to take care of their own illness or a sick family member. On Thursday, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) introduced the Healthy Families Act that would give workers the opportunity to earn up to seven paid sick days they could use for personal illnesses or to take care of sick family members.

In related news (see below), the Philadelphia City Council passed a new paid sick days law on Thursday.

Responding to the Healthy Families Act, AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Elizabeth Shuler said:

Too many people are still being forced to choose between getting a paycheck and taking care of a loved one. Let’s pass the Healthy Families Act and make sure no worker has to make that choice again.

Nationally more than four in 10 private-sector workers and 81% of low-wage workers do not have paid sick days. A 2014 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research shows that Latinos and those who make less than $20,000 a year are the workers least likely to have paid sick days. Only 47% of Latino workers get paid sick days.

Even worse, less than 28% of workers who make under $20,000 a year have paid sick days and many of those are food service workers, and only 24% of food preparation and service workers have access to paid sick days, despite the fact that most health departments recommend that these workers not go to work sick. Said Debra L. Ness, president of National Partnership for Women & Families:

The Healthy Families Act is about allowing moms to stay home to care for children with strep, without having their pay docked. It’s about adult sons being able to miss a day of work to take an aging parent for medical tests, without losing their jobs. It’s about child care and nursing home staff being able to stay home when they have the flu, instead of infecting the people they care for. It’s about restaurant workers not being forced to report to work, and handle food, when they are infectious. It’s about being able to see a doctor for an eye infection before it becomes severe. It’s about common sense, public health and family economic security. It’s about dignity.

There also is a growing move across the nation, from Congress to statehouses to city halls, to pass paid family leave and paid sick days legislation. Twenty jurisdictions across the country now have paid sick days standards in place.

The new Philadelphia paid sick leave will require employers with 10 or more employees to allow their full-time and part-time workers to accrue at least five days of paid sick leave a year. Marianne Bellasorte of the group Pathways PA said:

We are the 17th city to pass paid sick days. So far, there have been no bad reports, nothing has gone wrong. Businesses are thriving, workers are thriving. There’s no reason to believe Philadelphia will be any different.

California, Connecticut and Massachusetts have state-paid sick day laws.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Happy Birthday, FMLA. Now Let’s Go for Paid Leave

Today is the 22nd anniversary of the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that allows workers to take unpaid leave to care for an ill family member or themselves without fear of losing their jobs or health insurance.

The FMLA’s unpaid leave with job protections was a good first step. But today, there are millions of workers who can’t afford to take time off for their own or a loved one’s illnesses. Forty percent of all private-sector workers don’t have any paid sick days and that doubles to 80% for low-wage workers.

Next week, the U.S. Senate will take up the Healthy Families Act, introduced by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.). It would give workers the opportunity to earn up to seven paid sick days they could use for personal illnesses or to take care of sick family members.

There also is a growing move across the nation, from Congress to statehouses to city halls, to pass paid family leave and paid sick days legislation. In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama said:

Forty-three million workers have no paid sick leave—43 million.  Think about that.  And that forces too many parents to make the gut-wrenching choice between a paycheck and a sick kid at home.  So I’ll be taking new action to help states adopt paid leave laws of their own.  And since paid sick leave won where it was on the ballot last November, let’s put it to a vote right here in Washington.   Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave.  It’s the right thing to do.  It’s the right thing to do.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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Philadelphia Could Finally Get Paid Sick Days, If Comcast Doesn’t Block It

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In the past, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter has made his position on a paid sick days law very clear. In 2011 and 2013, he vetoed paid sick days bills passed by a majority of the City Council, turning a deaf ear to the nearly 35 percent of Philly’s workforce that doesn’t have access to a single paid sick day.

But third time might be the charm for Mayor Nutter. The Mayor’s Task Force on Paid Sick Leave produced a report this week formally recommending that businesses with more than 15 employees allow all workers to accrue one hour of sick leave for every 40 hours worked. And Nutter indicated he would support such a bill if it came to his desk:

“A healthy worker is a happy worker, and it’s a person that’s ultimately going to be more productive and just spreading a lot less stuff around the workplace,” Mr. Nutter said after accepting the report of a 14-member mayoral task force formed to study the issue.

In 2013, Working America drove hundreds of calls and emails to the Philadelphia City Council and Mayor Nutter’s office urging support for a paid sick days law. After Nutter’s veto, the Council was one vote short of an override.

The fight this time might be over the details. Councilman William Greenlee, who introduced the 2013 bill and is expected to do so again, thinks “15 employees is a little high” for an exemption. He supports exempting businesses with 10 employees or more.

Another player to watch? Comcast, the Philadelphia-based cable giant that lobbied hard against paid sick days in 2013. “Almost all of the $108,429.25 Comcast spent on lobbying in 2011 was in opposition to paid sick days,” reported PRWatch.org last year, “It also is a major contributor to Mayor Nutter, contributing $7,500 to his campaign in 2011 and an additional $8,500 in 2012.”

We’re hoping that Mayor Nutter, who leaves office next year, will side with Philadelphia workers over the corporations that have funded his previous campaigns.

Photo by PhillyCam on Flickr

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Five Reasons Why Tom Foley Is One of the Worst Candidates for Working Families in the 2014 Elections

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It’s an election year and we are quickly approaching the time when working families will have the opportunity to go to the polls and vote against a whole host of extreme candidates who support policies that limit rights, make it even harder to afford a middle-class life and pad the pockets of their corporate buddies. One of the “Worst Candidates for Working Families in the 2014 Elections” is Tom Foley, who is running for governor in Connecticut.

1. Foley wants to repeal the state’s law that requires employers to allow workers to earn paid sick days. He’s using the same tired arguments against paid sick days that already have failed to come true in Connecticut. [The Associated Press, 7/4/14]

2. He opposes raising the state’s minimum wage. [The Connecticut Mirror, 3/7/14]

3. Foley favors policies that will outsource jobs from the state. “There are probably big opportunities to save money by outsourcing,” he said. [The Connecticut Mirror, 6/14/10]

4. He would end other benefits for workers, including some health care coverage requirements and existing benefits for retirees. [The Connecticut Mirror, 2/2/10; 6/14/10]

5. Foley says he should be governor because of his business experience, but his experience is laying off thousands of workers and making millions in profits off of doing so. He even went as far as to tell workers to their faces that it was their fault he closed a plant, saying “you have lost these jobs” (see video). [Forbes, 9/5/88; New Haven Register, 8/20/14; Businessweek, 7/21/86; Hartford Courant, 5/21/10; NFN, 5/22/95; Hartford Courant, 5/21/10; The New York Times, 1/14/97; The Associated Press, 4/12/98; Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, 10/31/08 and 3/24/98; Norwich Bulletin, 7/29/14]

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Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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California Passes Paid Sick Days Law but Home Health Care Workers Left Out

Six and a half million California workers will now have access to paid sick days, thanks to a new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Workers will be able to earn three paid sick days a year. Unfortunately, home care workers were excluded from the final bill.

California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski said in a statement:

While this law is a historic step forward, California’s unions won’t rest until every single worker in our state receives equal access to paid sick days. Home care workers, like all workers, deserve the opportunity to earn paid sick days on the job. We’ll continue to fight for In-Home Supportive Services workers to ensure that California treats all workers with fairness and dignity.

California has become only the second state in the United States to offer guaranteed earned paid sick days (cities and municipalities across the country have been taking the lead in this area).

Read more about the legislation and the home care worker exclusion from Ellen Bravo, director at Family Values@Work.

Reposted from AFL-CIO NOW

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12 Recent Victories for Workers in Raising Wages and Collective Bargaining

While it certainly seems that far-right extremists are waging an all-out war on working families and their rights, workers aren’t just defending themselves; they are fighting to expand their rights and achieving some significant gains. Here are 12 recent victories we should celebrate while continuing to push for even more wins.

1. AFSCME Sets Organizing Goal, Almost Doubles It: AFSCME President Lee Saunders announced that the union has organized more than 90,000 workers this year, nearly doubling its 2014 goal of 50,000.

2. Tennessee Auto Workers to Create New Local Union at VW PlantAuto workers at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, Tenn., announced the formation of UAW Local 42, a new local that will give workers an increased voice in the operation of the German carmaker’s U.S. facility. UAW organizers continue to gain momentum, as the union has the support of nearly half of the plant’s 1,500 workers, which would make the union the facility’s exclusive collective bargaining agent.

3. California Casino Workers Organize: Workers at the new Graton Resort & Casino voted to join UNITE HERE Local 2850 of Oakland, providing job security for 600 gambling, maintenance, and food and beverage workers.

4. Virgin America Flight Attendants Vote to Join TWU: Flight attendants at Virgin America voted to join the Transport Workers, citing the success of TWU in bargaining fair contracts for Southwest Airlines flight attendants.

5. Maryland Cab Drivers Join National Taxi Workers Alliance: Cab drivers in Montgomery County, Md., announced their affiliation with the National Taxi Workers Alliance, citing low wages and unethical behavior by employers among their reasons to affiliate with the national union.

6. Retail and Restaurant Workers Win Big, Organize Small: Small groups of workers made big strides as over a dozen employees at a Subway restaurant in Bloomsbury, N.J., voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. Meanwhile, cosmetics and fragrance workers at a Macy’s store in Massachusetts won an NLRB ruling that will allow them to vote on forming a union.

7. Minnesota Home Care Workers Take Key Step to Organize: Home health care workers in Minnesota presented a petition to state officials that would allow a vote on forming a union for more than 26,000 eligible workers.

8. New York Television Writers-Producers Join Writers Guild: Writers and producers from Original Media, a New York City-based production company, voted to join the Writers Guild of America, East, citing low wages, long work schedules and no health care.

9.  Fast-Food Workers Win in New NLRB Ruling: The National Labor Relations Board ruled that McDonald’s could be held jointly responsible with its franchisees for labor violations and wage disputes. The NLRB ruling makes it easier for workers to organize individual McDonald’s locations, and could result in better pay and conditions for workers.

10. Workers Increasingly Have Access to Paid Sick Leave: Cities such as San Diego and Eugene, Ore., have passed measures mandating paid sick leave, providing workers with needed flexibility and making workplaces safer for all.

11. Student-Athletes See Success, Improved Conditions: College athletic programs are strengtheningfinancial security measures for student-athletes in the wake of organizing efforts by Northwestern University football players. In addition, the future is bright as the majority of incoming college football players support forming a union.

12. San Diego Approves Minimum Wage Hike; Portland, Maine, Starts Process: Even as Congress has failed to raise the minimum wage, municipalities across the country have taken action. San Diego will raise the minimum wage to $11.50 an hour by 2017, and the Portland, Maine, Minimum Wage Advisory Committee will consider an increase that would take effect in 2015.

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