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May 13, 2011

Healthy Families Act Builds on National Momentum for Paid Sick Days

Washington, DC – Focused on a strategy to help strengthen jobs and the economy while protecting public health and workers, Congresswoman DeLauro (D-CT) and Senator Harkin (D-IA) introduced the Healthy Families Act yesterday.  The Act, which was introduced with 83 House and 18 Senate co-sponsors, will allow workers to earn up to seven paid sick days a year to recover from illness, access preventive care or look after a sick child or family member.  The introduction of the national legislation comes as cities and states across the country consider similar bills to ensure workers are able to take time off when they’re sick.

In Philadelphia, a paid sick days bill is expected to come to a vote in City Council in early June, and in Connecticut, the state legislature is moving forward this month on a bill with bipartisan support. Paid sick days legislation in New York City has 35 City Council sponsors while diverse coalitions are supporting a bill in Seattle and preparing a ballot initiative in Denver. More than a dozen other states have coalitions advocating actively for paid sick days and paid family leave policies.  San Francisco and Washington, DC have already implemented paid sick days laws.

“The economy is changing, the workforce is changing and workers need policies like paid sick days to stay in their jobs and care for their families,” said Ellen Bravo, Executive Director of Family Values @ Work, a national consortium of state organizations advocating for paid sick days, paid family leave and other family-friendly workplace policies. “At a time when corporations are seeing record profits, no worker in America should have to choose between taking care of a loved one and losing a job or a paycheck.”

With more than 40 million Americans working without paid sick time to care for themselves or ill family members, many hard-working people are unable to take a day off without fear of losing needed income or even a job.  That means workers in jobs that require a high-level of interaction with the public often go to work sick.  During the H1N1 epidemic, 8 million Americans went to their jobs with the flu, in turn infecting another 7 million people with the virus.

“When all three of my young children caught the H1N1 virus, I stayed home to care for them,” said Desiree Rosado, a school bus driver from Connecticut.  “When the rent was due, my husband and I were short.  We’re trying to pay down our debts and get our family on steady financial ground, but taking unpaid time off when our kids are sick sets us back.”

In San Francisco and Washington, DC, where laws have already been enacted, studies show that workers are healthier and more productive when they have access to paid sick days.  The studies also refute the corporate lobbyists’ predictions that legislation negatively impacts job growth and the economy.  In fact, six in seven employers surveyed in San Francisco say that paid sick days have had no negative effect on profitability and two-thirds of employers support the law.  A growing body of academic research shows the costs of providing paid sick days are extremely small, while the benefits – for employees, employers, and the public – are substantial.

“My staff comes to work healthy and happy because they can take the day off when they or their children are sick,” said Dewetta Logan, owner of Smart Beginnings Early Learning Center, a child-care facility in West Philadelphia.  “But so many parents are dropping off sick kids at day-care because they can’t afford to stay home with them.  That’s not good for the kids or the parents.”

Economists are highlighting paid sick days as a policy that could help encourage continued declines in unemployment rates.  Job retention policies like paid sick days could help support the decline in unemployment, which recent figures show is related to a reduction in layoffs and firings, rather than job creation alone.

“Job retention policies that fight unemployment should be a top priority for Congress,” said Eileen Appelbaum, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.  “The Healthy Families Act would help deter unnecessary firings, and help keep hard-working people in their jobs.”