Monday, October 26, 2009

Speaking Out for Paid Sick Days: My First Lobbying Experience

By Caitlin McCannon

When I arrived at the office of Sen. Saxby Chambliss, I didn’t know what to expect from the experience of lobbying. I knew that I was no high-priced lobbyist. I knew I wasn’t well-connected to the Washington beltway or even the Georgia State Capitol.

Still, I had a story to tell; one that the Senator needed to hear.

My story is about the lack of paid sick days and the need to pass the Healthy Families Act, federal legislation that would guarantee every American worker the opportunity to earn paid sick days.

Currently, nearly 57 million workers lack paid sick days. And, 100 million workers don’t even have a single paid sick day they can use to care for an ill child. That leaves folks with some awful decisions; especially low-wage workers like me. But no one should have to choose between keeping a job or income and caring for themselves or a loved one in times of occasional illness.

That’s what I told the Senator.

I told him I work at a movie theater on nights and weekends. The schedule each week came to mean the difference between making the rent payment, paying the utilities, having dinner each evening . . . or not.

At the theater, if you cannot not work the hours you are scheduled -- for any reason, including being sick -- those hours got to another employee who CAN work them. Or, those hours go to a new hire that can come in and take your place on the rotation. Not only will you lose that night's pay but you’ll lose the next week’s pay as well. Being sick is a liability that most of the employees just cannot afford. And, having a sick child could mean that you can’t feed that child. What kind of a choice is that?

The concession worker behind the counter scooping the popcorn and filling the drinks, the usher tearing tickets, even the box office cashier handing you your change, all of us have come in to work at one time or another, knowing we’re sick, knowing that we may pass along disease, but needing the shift, needing that pay.

We have not only endangered ourselves, but the public as well. Think about that the next time you’re snuggling down into that movie theater seat with your jumbo popcorn and extra large fountain drink. You might be getting a little swine flu with that extra squirt of butter. How many restaurant employees, fast food workers, child care aides, nursing home aides, how many other low-wage workers go into work sick because they can’t afford to take the time off? It boggles the mind to think about how many of us are working when we should be home in bed or going to see a doctor.

If Congress passes the Healthy Families Act, working while sick would not be a necessity. Employees could earn paid time off to recuperate at home during bouts of occasional illness. Children could stay home with a parent by their bedside when they are ill. With swine flu spreading, passage of the HFA is critical. We’d all be a lot better off and families wouldn’t be faced with such tough choices in these tough economic times.

That’s what I told the Senator the day I became a 9to5 lobbyist.

Caitlin McCannon, the Technology Intern in the 9to5 Atlanta Office, is a senior Cultural Anthropology major at Kennesaw State University. Reach her at