Celebrating our Movement: National Summit on Paid Sick Days and Paid Family Leave

by Ellen Bravo

“Inspired.”

“Energized.”

“Proud.”

“Honored.”

These were the comments we heard from the more than 200 activists from around the country who gathered in D.C. July 8-10 to celebrate the movement to win paid sick days and paid family leave. The summit was co-hosted by Family Values @ Work and the National Partnership for Women & Families.

We heard national leaders like Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, call our movement “the tip of the spear in a broader fight for what everyone in the nation deserves.” National Domestic Workers Alliance director Aijen Poo praised those in attendance for “representing one of the most progressive, authentic, bold movements across the country.”

Economist Jared Bernstein gave a pithy answer to those who argue this isn’t the right time:  “We need to make ‘it’s the wrong time’ sound as crazy as saying child labor laws are killing the economy.” And pollster Celinda Lake reinforced our belief that if executives get paid sick days, so should those who work for them.

Dignitaries showed up to thank us and urge us on:  Latifa Lyles, Acting Director of the Women’s Bureau spoke at lunch; Rep. Rosa DeLauro, lead sponsor of the Healthy Families Act, added spark at the high-powered labor reception Monday night at SEIU where we also heard from AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer Liz Shuler and other labor leaders; Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Tom Harkin jazzed us Tuesday morning before groups went to meet with their own elected officials and deliver petitions in support of paid family leave.

We drank in lessons from other successful campaigns, learning about the marriage equality win in Maryland from Equality Maryland Executive Director Carrie Evans; the campaign to peel support from ALEC from Color of Change Executive Director Rashad Robinson; and the successful fight against wage theft described by Florida Immigrant Coalition Founding Director Maria Rodriguez.

But above all, we learned from each other – from personal stories and tales from the trenches. Everyone will remember Ms. Caroline Pinkston from Atlanta, GA, who had just a simple request: to have her two adult daughters at her side when she woke from brain surgery. The daughters have paid sick days, but their employers wouldn’t let them use the time to care for their mother. Now Ms. Pinkston and her daughters are part of a campaign to change the law in their state.

We’ll remember union workers like Natasha West-Baker, a grocery store clerk from Seattle, Washington who became a leader in the successful paid sick days campaign there and who recounted the times before the win when she had to work sick because, “as the sole income earner in household, I simply cannot afford to lose a day’s pay.”

Sonya Jimmons, a nurse from SEIU 121 in Pasadena, CA, told us how she stands up to employers who try to discipline nurses for following doctor’s orders and staying home when they’re sick. “Healthy employees are productive employees,” she says. “Sick employees jeopardize the work force through the spread of infectious disease.  Which would you rather?”

And we’ll remember business owners like Makini Howell, owner of Plum Bistro in Seattle, who said, “I want to be the kind of business I would like to work for.” Tony Fuentes owns Milagros Boutique in Portland, OR and described his support for paid sick days as support for fundamental American values of “equality, fairness and justice.”

I was deeply moved at the power in the room when I welcomed everyone the first morning and reminded them why the 1 percent, with all their money and power, fear us. “We show that by standing up together, change is possible,” I said. “This room is what democracy looks like. We will be on the side of the dreamers and the domestic workers and the people winning marriage equality. And when we win, we will redefine work and redefine family. We will change the world.”

For more on the Summit, go to our Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/FamilyValuesAtWork.

 

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