Family Values @ Work

Denver Initiative 300: A view from the field

November 1, 2011

By Wendy Chun-Hoon, Family Values @ Work’s D.C. Director

Today Denver voters have the chance to make history by ensuring that 107,000 more workers will be able to earn paid sick days. Right now these workers risk getting fired or at the very least losing wages if they are too sick to come into work, if they need to stay home to care for a sick loved one, or if they are dealing with domestic abuse or sexual assault.

These aren’t good reasons to lose a job or wages, and the people of Denver know it. I got to spend time with the campaign last week, talking to voters. Every person who opened their door or picked up their phone intuitively got it. Many were happy to report that they’d already mailed in their Yes vote on Initiative 300 for paid sick days. Some voters reported they were “still doing their research” but by the end of the conversation were chatting about how they couldn’t believe the U.S. is the only industrialized country to not have a policy on this basic workplace standard.

I didn’t encounter a single person who hadn’t heard about Initiative 300. For those still undecided, we talked about why they were on the fence. Here’s a run-down of their score sheets:
For Paid Sick Days

Protect my pre-schooler from bringing home germs
Make sure person helping me in my home doesn’t infect me
Ensure person serving me food doesn’t give me their cold
Don’t want people to lose their jobs in this economy due to no fault of their own
It’s just common sense!


Heard somewhere that it’s “bad for business”???

On the one hand, people spoke passionately about their own personal experiences needing paid sick days, and about all the reasons why in their everyday lives a policy providing paid sick days amounts to a public health necessity. Yet, they could only give one, vague and impersonal response about why they might not vote for paid sick days.

I knew exactly where they’d heard it. Big Business, led by the National Restaurant Association and huge national restaurant chains, is pouring over a million dollars into an anti-paid sick days campaign in Denver. What voters should know is that study after study show that paid sick days actually save businesses money by improving productivity and reducing turnover, save cities money by lowering emergency room costs, and protect every working families’ budget in these tough times.

My score sheet for the week came down to this:

On the positive side, I talked to hundreds of families who wanted to talk to a stranger to learn more about paid sick days. We delivered yard signs to neighborhoods filling up with Yes on 300 for a Healthy Denver signs! The Campaign for a Healthy Denver is a coalition of 160 organizations coming together to rally behind something basic and good for families, including nearly 50 businesses and over 50 faith leaders. Groups like 9to5, the Colorado Progressive Coalition, FRESC, Mi Familia Vota, Working America, Metro Organizations for People and the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights volunteer more than 450 staff hours each week because they believe workers deserve basic decency on the job. Above all, I met voters engaged in an issue that matters to them.

I had one moment of disappointment. After a delicious dinner in a local restaurant, after a long day of canvassing, our server dropped our check and with it a small handout from the Colorado Restaurant Association telling diners to vote against paid sick days. She was one of the 74 percent of Denver restaurant workers who don’t have a single paid sick day. We asked her about it. She seemed embarrassed, and said she didn’t know too much about Initiative 300 but that their manager had instructed staff to put it in their bill jackets. When we asked her for her opinion on the matter, she paused, and said she guessed paid sick days were a good thing after all.

I have a feeling Denver voters will speak up for what’s in their best interests, and not for the interests of Big Business.



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