Paid Sick Days

As I sit here on week four of my paid medical leave, I am grateful.  I am grateful for work that I enjoy and which challenges me, grateful for the support of family and friends, and (last but not least) grateful for being able to maintain my income while I recover from major surgery.   As a full-time, salaried employee of a mid-size company, I not only have a comprehensive health plan, I also have been able to accrue enough sick time to cover my planned leave.

I don’t take this for granted, because there are many people who do not have the “luxury” of staying home when they are sick.  There are over a million people in New York City alone who do not get paid if they don’t work. This disproportionately affects women, low wage workers, and African-American and Latino/a workers.

I don’t take this for granted because all over New York City, all over the country, there are people who must choose between their health and their jobs.  Have a cold?  Sneezing and coughing and feverish?  Everyone knows you should stay home, rest, and let your body kick the virus.  “Everyone” knows this, except for employers in service and restaurant business, and their employees who must work through an illness.  (The idea of restaurant staff members who are “working sick” is not one that inspires me to eat out any time soon.)

In an interesting coincidence, while I am home on extended leave (grateful for FMLA also) Elisa Batista of MotherTalkers asked me to sit in on a recent conference call of feminist bloggers and activists related to a bill that has been presented in the NYC City Council.   This bill would compel companies who have more than 5 employees to allow their employees to accrue 5 paid sick days a year, and has 36 sponsors on the City Council (out of a total of 51 members).  This is enough support to over-ride an anticipated veto by Mayor Mike Bloomberg.  Despite broad and bipartisan support for this bill, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn has refused to bring the bill to the whole council for a vote.  Speaker Quinn is widely regarded as a mayoral candidate.  Businesses and business advocacy groups have pressured Quinn to block this bill.  Small businesses are concerned that workers will abuse their sick days, and that the overall effect will be negative for businesses.  In an effort to keep the business community behind her in an upcoming run for Mayor, Speaker Quinn has bent to this pressure, and has kept the Paid Sick Leave bill off of the City Council’s agenda.

It seems odd to argue “business benefit” over the humanity of letting someone stay home when he or she is ill, but that is how the discussion is often framed.  A few states and cities have put “paid sick days” legislation in place, so there is actually somewhere to look, to see if, in fact, this type of law has a negative impact on business.  San Francisco introduced paid sick leave (a very similar bill to the one proposed in NYC) in 2007.  Since then, job growth in SF County has been consistently better than surrounding counties, and business leaders have reported largely positive outcomes.  The Governor of Connecticut (Dannel Malloy) has similarly asserted that the paid sick leave law in that state (effective 1/1/12) has led to increased jobs in the state, not fewer.

There are other, less direct, benefits of paid sick leave.   Paid sick leave promotes workers’ long-term health, supports worker loyalty, and enhances staffing stability.  People who go to work when they are sick are more likely to spread disease to co-workers and customers.  A city-wide paid leave standard would even the playing field for small businesses, as well.  The cost of a handful of paid days off would be equal to all employers, decreasing the posited negative impact of paying people when they don’t work.

One last twist…..the bill currently proposed for New York City allows sick time to be used for “Care of a family member with a mental or physical illness …… or who needs preventive medical care”.  What a great thing to have!  Not only can a working parent stay home when s/he is sick, s/he can also take a day to care for a sick child or take a child to a doctor’s visit.  Not only is the Paid Sick Leave great for workers and employers, it will have a tremendous impact on the New York City Public Schools.  When parents have the option to stay home, they won’t have to send their children to school when they are sick.  When children come to school sick, the illnesses spread to classmates and teachers, creating a public health hazard as illnesses cycle in and out of the classroom.  The simple addition of paid sick leave for parents can be expected to lead to a decrease in the spread of all sorts of childhood illnesses!

Two-thirds of Democratic voters polled support paid sick leave (are you paying attention to that statistic, Speaker Quinn?).  There have been no documented short or long-term effects on businesses.  And, it seems like a basically humane thing to do.   Let’s do what we can to encourage Speaker Quinn to move forward on this bill.  We can let her know that she will be more likely to have our support in her bid for Mayor with this on her agenda.  Here are a few things you can do right now to help:

  • Re-post this article.  The more visibility, and the broader the audience, that this issue has, the harder it will be for Quinn to ignore it.
  • If you live in New York City, contact your City Council member.  You can either thank him/her for supporting this bill (that’s us in Forest Hills – thanks to Karen Koslowitz) or encourage him/her to sign on.
  • Read more about the pending bill here:  http://nycforpaidsickdays.org
  • Tweet.  I am not a big user of Twitter, but if you are, please tweet about this and let everyone know how important it is.  Include Speaker Quinn in your twitter audience (@chriscquinn) and use the hashtag paidsickdays.
  • Sign the petition here:  bit.ly/paidsickdays

Join Gloria Steinem, Susan Sarandon, the editorial page writers of the New York Times, the citizens of San Francisco and the state of Connecticut, and a broad spectrum of feminist and labor bloggers and activists in encouraging the leadership of the City of New York to pass this legislation.

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