Family Values @ Work


September 13, 2011

New Online Video Highlights True Stories of Workers Forced to Go to Work Sick


Seattle Becomes Third City with Paid Sick Days, Vote in Philly this Week


NEW YORK–As the new blockbuster film Contagion, a thriller about a global flu pandemic, finishes its first weekend at the box office, activists from across the country are releasing an online video called Contagion: Not Just a Movie. The web film, produced by Family Values @ Work, shows the stories of five American workers who have been forced to go into work when they are sick because they weren’t allowed to take off or couldn’t afford going without pay.  Working sick in restaurants, grocery stores, coffee shops and on the school bus, they worry about passing on their illness to co-workers, clients, customers and riders.  These workers are some of the 44 million Americans without paid sick days who risk their families’ financial security or their jobs if they stay home when they are ill.


The web film is being released as support builds for paid sick days.  Monday, Seattle City Council voted 8-1 on a paid sick days bill, and Philadelphia City Council is expected to pass a bill later this week.  This would make the third win for the movement this summer, following the first statewide law which passed in Connecticut in June.  Meanwhile, polling in cities and states across the country shows overwhelming bipartisan support for paid sick days as a modest reform that promotes a healthier workforce and strengthens the economy.

In the introduction to Contagion: Not Just a Movie, Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the Boston Public Health Commission, warns: “What’s most frightening about this film is that flu epidemics are real, and they can spread quickly.”

“As a public health official, I know the best thing to do when you’re ill is to stay home,” she says. “In our country, everyone has the right to stay home when they’re sick; they just don’t have the right to get paid, or to keep their job.” Dr. Ferrer points to paid sick days policies as a way to help prevent a real contagion.

With working families across the country struggling to make ends meet, taking unpaid time off is not an option for too many hard-working Americans, even when they are sick.  Evidence of this came during the recent H1N1 outbreak, when seven million people caught the flu from their co-workers.


“Raising a family of five with one income, we’re always really strapped,” says Tasha, a grocery worker from Seattle.  Tasha is active in the Seattle Coalition for a Healthy Workforce which is on the verge of winning paid sick days in that city.  “I cannot afford to lose a day’s pay, so if I have to choose between going to work sick and having money to keep the lights on and food in my fridge, then I have to go to work sick.”


The film also features a coffee barista, restaurant workers and a school bus driver who have all gone to work sick because of the financial responsibilities to their families.  Only 19 percent of low-wage workers, like those featured in the film, have paid sick days. Three in four food service workers, three in five personal health care workers and three in four child care workers, all of whom have significant interaction with others, do not have paid sick days.


“Our country’s health and families’ financial stability should not be undermined by a lack of paid sick days,” said Ellen Bravo, Executive Director of Family Values @ Work, a national network of state coalitions all working for paid sick days and paid family leave policies.  “Support for paid sick days is growing across the country as a common sense, cost-effective policy that protects the public health, supports our families and helps our economy.”

Along with the win in Seattle, expected vote in Philadelphia and statewide win in Connecticut this June, paid sick days legislation has been gaining momentum across the country.  Voters in Denver will be able to support paid sick days on a ballot initiative this fall.  The Governor and Secretary of Labor in Massachusetts are supporting a bill in the state legislature, and in New York City, 35 City Council members are sponsoring legislation.  In Georgia, a bi-partisan group of state legislators led by five Republicans is supporting a bill that would ensure workers could use sick time they’ve earned to care for their children and loved ones.

More than a dozen other states have coalitions actively organizing in support of paid sick days and paid family leave policies. San Francisco and Washington, DC have already implemented paid sick days laws, and Milwaukee passed a paid sick days ordinance through a voter referendum which received nearly 70 percent support.

To view the video, Contagion:  Not Just a Movie, visit:

Family Values @ Work is a national network of state coalitions fighting for paid sick days and paid family leave.