Family Values @ Work

Earned sick days — the right thing to do

November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving gives us the opportunity to celebrate the many blessings in our lives, but it’s also a time to reflect on how we’re giving back to the community — a time to remember the importance of treating others the way we want to be treated. And this holiday season, we have a chance to do just that for Miami-Dade’s working families.

Our faith traditions teach us to respect the dignity of workers and to affirm their right to proper treatment. As we approach this holiday, we must heed the words of Deuteronomy Chapter 24 which command us in effect to not abuse a needy and destitute laborer.

County Commissioner Barbara Jordan has introduced an ordinance to guarantee earned sick time for the hardworking women and men who serve our community and power our economy. (The first reading is scheduled for Tuesday.) The basic premise of the initiative is simple: No one should have to choose between their health and their job, and no working parent should be fired for taking time off to care for a sick child.

This isn’t just an issue for employees and their families. Many of the workers who cannot earn sick time are employed in caregiving or service professions with a high level of personal contact with the public, especially seniors and children. In our booming restaurant industry alone, 90 percent of workers can’t afford to take time off when they’re sick, needlessly endangering the health of customers and co-workers. This is no way to treat the workers who keep our economy moving every day.

Meanwhile, communities suffer when the common cold becomes an economic crisis for working families struggling to make ends meet, who can no longer afford basic goods when forced to take time off work for their health.

From both a moral and economic standpoint, we must act now to address these challenges. Fortunately, the earned-sick-time initiative before the County Commission offers a quick and commonsense solution.

By guaranteeing earned sick time for workers, this ordinance would pave the way for a healthier future for employees, their family members, and the customers they serve. In addition to the immediate public health benefits, earned sick time also helps create economic security for families living paycheck-to-paycheck, generating greater economic stability for the entire community.

That’s not just speculation. Numerous studies show the positive impact that earned sick time has on businesses and the economy. In fact, in 2011, PricewaterhouseCoopers rated San Francisco, which passed earned sick time into law four years ago, as one of the top cities in the world to do business. Six out of seven San Francisco business owners support the law.

So there’s no question that earned sick time is not only the smart thing to do., but is also the right thing to do.

As a faith leader, I applaud Barbara Jordan for her leadership and urge the County Commission to pass this ordinance at the earliest opportunity. This holiday season, let us give back by strengthening economic security for working families, making workplaces healthier and more productive, and protecting public health.

Miami-Dade families can’t afford to wait — and as people of faith, neither should we.

Rabbi Solomon Schiff is president of South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice. He has also served as chairman of the Miami-Dade County Community Relations Board and is vice chairman of the Miami Dade Homeless Trust.