Dear President Obama,
We are already seeing news stories about how easily the flu spreads and instructions from public health officials to stay home when you’re contagious. But for workers in low-wage jobs like mine in the restaurant industry, it is a bigger worry than for many of the professionals we serve day in and day out. That’s because workers like me don’t have access to paid sick days. So when we get the flu, we have to deal with conflicting demands. Do we listen to medical professionals and stay home, losing a day’s wages and maybe even our job, or do we listen to the boss who tells us to come into work no matter what?
Recently when I got sick, I called the Chicago deli where I worked and told them I would not be able to come in for my next shift because I had the flu and was still contagious. I knew that would mean going without the day’s wages, but I also knew that I would not be very productive at work and would risk infecting my coworkers and the customers.
Instead of asking another deli worker to cover my shift, my manager told me I could be fired if I didn’t show up for work. I needed this job to pay for rent, food and other bills. I couldn’t afford to lose income and look for a new job. Threatened with termination, I went in later that day, making sandwiches for numerous Chicagoans despite a fever, aches and chills.
A few days later, one of my co-workers came down with the flu. I knew she had fallen ill because I had to work sick. So now we had two sick workers who weren’t all that productive and infecting who knows how many customers.
Unfortunately, this is not an unusual or unique case. The United States is the only developed country with no guaranteed paid sick days when a worker or his family member is sick. In fact, about 40 percent of American workers have no access to paid sick days – and that number is much higher in jobs like mine in the food service industry, where we have a lot of interaction with others. In Chicago, more than 70% of workers in personal care and service occupations lack access to a single paid sick day.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Workers are increasingly winning paid sick days in states and cities, and there is an active campaign in Chicago and other cities and states across the country. I am asking you President Obama to support the federal Healthy Families Act, and to urge Mayor Emanuel to push to pass the Chicago Earned Sick Time Ordinance.
This policy just makes sense for business, health and our economy. Imagine going to a restaurant and seeing your waitress sneeze or seeing the cook coughing while preparing your food. That’s not good for business or public health. Research shows that access to paid sick days could reduce workplace flu infections by up to 40 percent.
Workers should never be forced to choose between the conflicting demands of doctors and bosses. We should all have access to paid sick days to ensure we can take care of our health without sacrificing our paycheck. Thank you.