Family Values @ Work

Tough Choices: Keeping a Job vs Caring for Your Body

Tough Choices: Keeping a Job vs Caring for Your Body

January 17, 2017

Felix Trinidad was a hardworking, devoted husband. He was a grocery store worker and union organizer who knew he should get his intense stomach pain checked out but couldn’t take unpaid time off to see a doctor. When he finally went to the emergency room, his employer docked his pay. The diagnosis: late-term stomach cancer. Just a short time later, Felix Trinidad died, leaving behind a wife and two young children.

We cannot forget this tragic story that made headlines in 2012 – before paid sick days became the law in New York City.  It’s a glaring reminder of the role that government should play in protecting all of its citizens. When President Obama signed Executive Order (EO) 13706 establishing seven paid sick days for federal contractors, he put in place this key to a healthy work place in the one area he controlled, by requiring it of federal contractors. In addition to benefiting an estimated 1.15 million employees, this executive order sends a powerful message that our nation values the health and wellbeing of all its citizens.

The paid sick days executive order went into effect on January 1, 2017.

What will happen to this rule under a Trump Administration?   There are two real concerns. One is that Trump will keep his promise to nullify all of President Obama’s executive orders even though they benefit millions of workers and their families: expanding overtime pay, reducing wage theft, establishing a $10.10 minimum wage, equal pay and paid sick days for federal employees, among others. The other prospect is that Andrew Puzder, nominee for the Secretary of Labor and documented opponent of workers rights, will use regulatory tactics to eliminate them — assuming he is confirmed.

Without paid sick days, people will continue to go to work sick. According to the Center on Disease Controls, sick food workers cause hundreds of food borne illness outbreaks. Almost half the workers said they worked ill out of fear of losing their wages; many also feared being fired.

The executive order on paid sick days requires contractors to allow employees working on or in connection with a covered contract to accrue up to 56 hours of paid sick time annually to care for their own or a family member’s medical needs, or for purposes related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. With this rule, a significant segment of our society will be able to take the time they need to care for a sick family member, keep a sick child home from school and if needed, recover from their own illness. These workers no longer have to choose between the jobs they need and their health or the health of a loved one.

In the United States, nearly 38 million people still lack a single paid sick day. This reality is seen in the parents who can’t pick up their sick children from school because they’ll lose pay or the restaurant employee who must show up to work sick only to infect patrons and colleagues. Mr. Trinidad’s family and many others pay the heartbreaking price when workers can’t get check-ups, and preventative health care screenings simply because it takes too much time away from work.

Approximately 600,000 employees of federal contractors – including many who work in concessions — lack even one paid sick day. Their fate is tied up with that of Mr. Trinidad’s as they make tough choices between keeping their job and caring for their bodies. This executive order is particularly important for low wage-workers and workers of color who are most likely to work in jobs without paid sick leave. Less than half of Hispanic workers (46 percent) have access to paid sick days and currently, 3.9 million African Americans also lack paid sick leave.

There is so much at stake. Please join the fight to protect workplace rights that benefit our families, public health and the economy.