Family Values @ Work

Here’s a Tip for Restaurant Week, D.C.: Paid Sick Days Mean Healthy Workers, Healthy Businesses and a Healthy District.

August 17, 2012

by Wendy Chun-Hoon

Ahh…Restaurant Week in D.C.  I’ve been dying to try this place!  Upscale.  Always packed.  Good food, good wine, and…ah, ah, aaaaa-chooooo!

Unfortunately, this week, as you’re dining out at the hippest, new restaurant in Washington, D.C., you could pick up the flu with your tab.  That’s because the restaurant owner isn’t required to allow your server to earn something nearly all other D.C. workers do – paid sick days.

That’s right.  The person serving your dinner may have to choose between coming to work sick and losing wages and, in many cases, their job.

Though Washington D.C. – thanks to the work of a broad and diverse coalition — had the public health smarts to pass a paid sick days law in 2008, the restaurant lobby succeeded in denying 40,000 restaurant workers the right to earn paid sick days.  Imagine…Washington, D.C.’s restaurants cater to over 16 million visitors each year yet, by law, don’t allow the people serving and handling the food to stay home when they’re sick.

Paid Sick Days for All canvass

This week, the Paid Sick Days for All campaign, led by the Restaurant Opportunities Center-D.C., the D.C. Employment Justice Center, and Jews United for Justice, is educating diners about this public health risk.  Eighty percent of restaurant workers in D.C. don’t earn a single paid sick day.  As a result, 60% report having to prepare, cook or serve customers their food while sick.

Woong Chang, a local bartender who spent yesterday talking to diners on U Street, recalled having to serve drinks to customers while sick with the swine flu.  He said he was the sickest he’d ever been in his life.  Eventually he had no choice but to take unpaid time off to recover.  When he was able to return to work he described what happened this way:  “They’d given my job to someone else.  They told me I just didn’t have a job there anymore.”

Woong Chang talking to a paid sick days supporter

Research shows that missing just three days’ pay for low-wage workers can wipe out a family’s entire grocery budget for the month.  No one should have to choose between their own health or their family’s well-being and their job.   Nationwide, nearly one in four adults have reported losing a job or being threatened with job loss for needing to take time off to deal with a personal or family illness.Workers and customers aren’t the only ones who will benefit from allowing restaurant servers the right to earn paid sick days.  Expanding the policy will help the District limit the spread of illness and reduce health costs, and help businesses increase productivity and reduce employee turnover.

Here’s a tip, Washington, D.C.:  Healthy workers. Healthy Businesses. Healthy District.



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