Monday, June 6, 2011

It's time now for workers to be able to earn paid sick days in Philly and across the country

Crossposted from The Custom-Fit Workplace

Millions of Americans working without paid sick days face the impossible choice between caring for their health and that of their family, and keeping their paycheck or job. At a time when many families are worried about their financial security, the threat of losing a job or needed wages forces many workers to go to work even though they are ill.

The lack of paid sick days poses a risk to public health. Many of the workers without paid sick days are in food service and health care jobs where illness can be spread to those they work with and serve.

Laura, a coffeeshop barista, says her employer does not offer her paid sick leave. She says that puts others at risk because she is forced to go to work sick in order to make enough money to cover rent.

“We exchange cash with you, make your latte, hand you your pastry, and yes, we sneeze,” Laura says. “So if an employee had to come to work with the flu because she couldn’t afford to miss work, you might be walking out of the store with your double latte and the flu.”

But the lack of paid sick days is more than just a public health crisis – it is an economic crisis. As hard-working Americans are fired for being sick, they add to the growing unemployment rates and keep our economic recovery from moving forward.

“My daughter, who was eight months pregnant, had an asthma attack at work,” says Rhonda. “She’d been on the job five months, but she didn’t qualify for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. When she returned to work three days later with a medical statement, she was fired. No one would hire her at eight months pregnant. She became homeless. If she’d had paid sick days, my daughter would have kept her job and her income.”

There is a solution.

Policymakers at every level, and voters, can and must take steps to allow workers to earn paid sick days to recover from illness, access preventive care or look after a sick child or other family members.

San Francisco, Washington DC and Milwaukee have already passed paid sick days laws. The Healthy Families Act was re-introduced at the federal level last week by Congresswoman DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Harkin (D-IA). City Councils, state legislatures and voters are considering paid sick days measures across the country. IT’S TIME FOR PHILLY TO TAKE ACTION!

Providing a way for workers to earn a modest amount of paid sick leave will have a huge impact on millions of workers, allowing them to take care of themselves and their loved ones when they are sick – without the fear of losing their jobs or needed wages.

And paid sick days will help workers without hurting business. In San Francisco and Washington, DC, where laws have already been implemented, studies have shown that workers are not only healthier but more productive when they have access to paid sick days. Six in seven employers surveyed in San Francisco say that paid sick days have had no negative effect on profitability, and two-thirds of employers support the law.

Paid sick day policies are good for public health, for families, for workers and for businesses, too. In order to strengthen jobs and the economy, safeguard public health and protect working families, we need paid sick days – in Philly and across the country.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Young Women Need Paid Sick Days (Too)

Crossposted from the Institute for Women's Policy Research blog.

While some workers lacking paid sick leave can take time off without losing pay, many lose pay when they are out sick and cannot afford to take a single day off. This is particularly the case for young women. At an early stage in their careers, many younger women workers are living day to day and others juggle multiple jobs to make ends meet. With limited wealth and savings, a large debt from college or even a steady income, younger women often find themselves between a rock and a hard place when illness strikes. Younger women are often not in a position to take lower pay when sick, especially when medical expenses are involved.

While part-time and low-income workers’ concerns are widely discussed, the needs of younger workers are almost unheard of, as it is usually assumed that their health status—without the burdens of chronic health conditions and age—is excellent, and that they don’t yet have care giving responsibilities.

Data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), however, shows that young workers need paid sick days just like everyone else. In fact, of those private sector workers that reported having fair or poor health, 30 percent were 35 years or younger and a larger portion were young women (18 percent compared to 12 percent for young men). The same data show that a majority of young workers lack paid sick days; only 37 percent have paid sick days, compared to 58 percent of all workers.

Across the board, younger workers have limited access to paid sick days, no matter what they do for living, what their schedule looks like, or the size of the business they work for. For instance, whether young workers are employed in high-end jobs like legal occupations or in lower paying occupations like health support, data from the NHIS show that only one out of five workers with paid sick days in those occupations are between 18 and 35 years old.

For younger workers concentrated in traditionally low-income occupations or small businesses, the picture is even grimmer. Along with part-timers, these workers are most often afflicted, and women are overrepresented in this type of work arrangement. The outlook is especially challenging for young women with care giving responsibilities on top of lower earnings: paid sick days are even more essential for them to to stay afloat. For single mothers, usually with limited resources and often living in poverty, having paid sick days can make a big difference when medical problems arise.

Paid sick days are essential to all workers, but even more so to those with limited resources, including younger workers who are more vulnerable and have fewer resources than many of their older counterparts.

Claudia Williams is a Research Analyst with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.