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Sick Days for All Workers

October 4, 2010

New coalition aims for a healthier Seattle through paid sick days for all workers

By Alex Stone

It should be as fundamental a standard as the minimum wage and the 40-hour work week. Yet one million Washington workers can’t take a single paid day off from work when they – or their children or their elderly parents – get sick.

Among them is Amber, a 22 year old Seattle-area mother with a 3 year old son. Amber’s current job as a kitchen staffer doesn’t offer her paid time off to care for her son when he gets sick. “When my son was sick, I had to call in sick because he couldn’t go to daycare,” Amber says. “I had to take two days off without pay and I regretted it because I have bills to pay and now I am behind”.

Amber’s story is commonplace in the food service industry, where just 16% of employers offer full-time workers paid sick days, and only 2% offer them to part-time employees. It’s no wonder nearly half of “stomach flu” related outbreaks are linked to ill food service workers.

According to the most recent national data, 38% of all workers and two-thirds of the lowest-paid 25% have no paid sick leave. And some grocery and hospital workers – who in theory get sick leave – have to be out two or three days without pay before they can take it.

In 2006, San Francisco became the first U.S. city to adopt minimum paid sick days standards. The law allows all workers in the city to accrue paid sick days – up to 5 days in businesses with fewer than 10 employees and 9 days in larger companies. Since then, both Washington, D.C. and Milwaukee, WI have adopted, but not yet fully implemented, similar measures. New York City and Philadelphia have active campaigns, and a paid sick days bill is before Congress.

The Seattle Coalition for a Healthy Workforce is laying the groundwork for paid sick days legislation here by organizing a broad coalition of businesses, community organizations and individuals who support paid sick days for Seattle workers.

A citywide paid sick days standard will benefit public health, allowing workers like Amber to stay home when she or her son get sick. It will promote family economic security by ensuring workers and their families can care for basic health care needs without jeopardizing a day’s wages. It will create healthier workplaces, hospitals, and childcare facilities by limiting the spread of disease. It will lower health care costs by enabling workers to seek preventive care for themselves and their loved ones. Business owners who provide paid sick leave have found that morale, productivity, and customer satisfaction all go up.

There are millions of stories just like Amber’s. Do you have one? Please share it on the Seattle Healthy Workforce website, Help Seattle join other cities in caring for working families. Visit http://seattlehealthyworkforce.org to learn more.

Alex Stone is Communication Manager for the Economic Opportunity Institute

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