The poster in the front of the Senate briefing room June 15 heralded a decade of wins paving the way for a national paid sick days standard. And an array of voices demonstrated the pain and the determination behind those wins.
Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, chief sponsors of the Healthy Families Act, invited their colleagues to hear worker and business activists from the Family Values @ Work network talk about the benefits of paid sick days and the need for a federal law.
Together with the Labor Project for Working Families and more than three dozen partners, FV@W brought local leaders to the Capitol to share their stories and call for Congressional action. Joining them were Sen. Al Franken, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici and Rep. Ruben Gallego.
One powerful driver of activism for these speakers was memories of a mother who’d struggled because of lack of paid sick days. Maleni Mendoza Garcia’s mom in Minneapolis had no pay in her janitor job when she needed time to have surgery. Liz Fredette from New Bedford, MA, who helped win a statewide ballot initiative for a million people in her state, recalled how her mother lost her job for taking a five-year-old Liz to the ER with a broken finger. Caleb Mooney, owner of Power Play Sports and a member of VT Main Street Alliance, began to embrace the need for a paid sick days law when he remembered what his own mother had gone through. Rep. Gallego referenced his single mother and said, “It’s personal for me. We all need to be able to have the honor to heal and care for sick family members.”
The packed room heard Caitlin Mooney from Philadelphia describe the time her mother got a virus and wept from pain. “No child should have to hear parents cry because they can’t afford pain medication after losing pay for being sick,” said Caitlin.
Robin Williams from UFCW told the flip side of this story: the way mothers save any time they have for when a child might be sick, and the many times Robin went to a retail job ill. As Mothering Justice activist Staci Lowery put it, “We feel guilty when we can’t be with our sick child.” But Staci and the other speakers described how inspired they felt by all the wins represented in that room. Their comments were echoed by Sen. Patty Murray. “It’s exciting to see the progress you’re making,” she said.
Alona Del Rosario, a domestic violence activist in Arizona, applauded that the bills we fight for are called sick and safe days, so that those who experience violence can use the time to seek shelter or take legal action. And Jerame Davis from Pride @ Work pointed to the importance of having the broadest definition of family. “Many of those wounded in Orlando have loved ones who can’t take time to care for them,’ he said.
The program had a second common thread: speakers were glad to have won paid sick days where they live but have loved ones elsewhere who don’t, or belong to groups like Mi Familia Vota and MomsRising who have many members in places being blocked from passing such a policy. They all want to see a national standard.
Molly Moon Neitzel, owner of Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream in Seattle and a leader in Main Street Alliance, said she wanted to start a small business only if she could incorporate all her values. She comes from Boise, Idaho, a place she describes as beautiful but not forward-thinking. “The same policies that aim to protect customers in Seattle will work in Boise too,” she said, “but we can’t wait for their legislature to draw that conclusion and start the conversation. That is why I support the Healthy Families Act.”
Rep. Bonamici hailed the passage of paid sick days in Oregon and Sen. Franken in Minneapolis. But they acknowledged the point made by Rep. DeLauro: “When a worker in my home state of Connecticut has paid sick days but her sister in Florida doesn’t, we need a national standard. Keep making as much noise as you can.”