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Working While Sick: ROC-Miami Report Shows Dangerous Mix of Low Wages and No Paid Sick Days

August 8, 2012

Erica Sommer, a bartender in Miami, Florida, worked three days with highly-contagious typhoid fever and a temperature of 103.7 degrees not because she’s a daredevil, but because she couldn’t afford to miss work.

“No one should have to work sick, particularly restaurant workers serving the public,” Erica said. “It puts everyone in danger, and it feels terrible.”

Turns out Erica is not alone. A new report released today by the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Miami (ROC-Miami) and the Miami-Dade Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces finds that nine in ten restaurant workers in Miami-Dade do not have access to a single paid sick day.

According to the report, “Backed Into the Corner,” nearly half reported working while sick – and of those, 74% said they couldn’t afford to take the day off without pay.

Over the last three decades, the restaurant industry has grown to employ 72,700 workers and is the third largest industry in the Miami-Dade region. With the median wage for a restaurant worker in Miami-Dade less than $10 an hour, it’s not surprising that so many restaurant workers are forced to work sick, putting their own health and the health of their co-workers and customers at risk.  Restaurant workers in low-wage positions are also the least likely to have access to paid sick time.

“As the restaurant industry in Miami-Dade County continues to show strong growth, it is critical that restaurants seek to protect the health of their workers and customers by providing earned sick time,” said Jean Souffrant, Policy Coordinator for ROC-Miami. “While hardworking people are struggling to make ends meet, no worker should have to choose between their health and their job.”

Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara Jordan (District 1), who had to deal with a family illness, sent a statement about the need to pass countywide earned sick day legislation. “When people are ill, they should remain home,” said Commissioner Jordan. “When I look at the food services industry, I am especially troubled by the thought of employees who deal with meat, fruits and vegetables handling these foods while they are ill. This could result in the spread of viruses and other illnesses throughout Miami-Dade County.”

Earned sick days has drawn the support of religious leaders as well.  “We recognize the need to care for the well-being of our brothers and sisters,” said Jeanette Smith, Executive Director, South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice. “Earned sick days is a practical measure that we must pass to keep our communities healthy and to provide relief for families who are living paycheck to paycheck.”

The Miami-Dade Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces is a broad and diverse coalition of community, labor and faith-based advocates that pledged to “educate, organize and mobilize the public to take action” on this issue.

“It is unconscionable that in the nation’s fastest-growing industry, workers are forced to be on the job sick just to make ends meet,” said Fred Frost, Director of Governmental Affairs for South Florida Jobs with Justice. “We will fight to get earned sick days passed this year so workers can stay home and recover from their own illness or care for a sick loved one.”

In addition to countywide legislation providing workers with access to paid sick days, the report’s recommendations include support for legislation that ensures that the healthcare needs of Miami-Dade restaurant workers are met, therefore providing customers with safer eating environments; and support for outreach to employers so they may better understand how paid sick days can increase their profitability.




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