In The News
Rejected in Wisconsin, reborn across US: Paid sick days
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press
Posted September 16, 2011
The concept of paid sick days – a specific help to working mothers and part time employees torn between nurturing their children or being fired if they don’t want to sneeze germs into a customer’s soup – was firmly championed by Milwaukee voters in 2008, fiercely attacked by political hires at the MMAC and resisted by Mayor Tom Barrett who could only see the injury to the city from surrounding communities able to undermine the city’s higher workforce standards – as opposed to standing up proudly to create an oasis of caring amid a sea of suburban corporate pettiness.
Given the lemming majority makeup of the state legislature, the concept of communities setting higher standards for worker citizenship than the state through sick leave policy was outlawed. The voices of the Milwaukee majority were left high and dry in courts despite the efforts of the 9to5 organization and its lawyers.
But all that history hardly killed the paid sick day movement for low income workers. It may actually have fueled it. More and more cities and states are picking up the shambles Milwaukee and then Gov. Walker made of the idea, fueled by evidence that the MMAC’s business objections were not only demeaning to business ethics but frankly nuts in financial terms.
Turns out to be good business to give workers paid time off for illness or to help children in their care get healthy or stay strong in school. Studies from San Francisco and Washington, D.C., after they implemented similar paid sick day policies, suggest profits for businesses and good will from customers, just like nearly 70% of Milwaukee voters wanted to see but were robbed of in the lengthy legal battles.
Remember, the attack on the vote by the MMAC demeaned Milwaukee voters as in effect agreeing to a free lunch, that paid sick days used to keep sick workers from coughing in your noodles or taking earned time to care for a sick child was the workers seeking something for nothing, the undeserving would-be welfare queens of legend running amuck. Better, said the MMAC, to give the boss the power to fire anyone who brought up concerns about their children or their own wheezing.
Aside from the ethical issues, it also turns out the business lobbyists had the financial results wrong. Again.
Crunching the numbers as well as understanding the human values, Connecticut in June passed the first statewide paid sick days law. Currently the city councils of Seattle just approved sick days legislation and are waiting for the mayor to sign it, and Philadelphia’s council supports the same. Voters in Denver will be able to support paid sick days on a ballot initiative this November. Massachusetts leaders from the governor on down are pushing a similar law in that state legislature, and in New York City, 35 members of the city council back such legislation. Not all of these may succeed, but note that. even in Georgia, a bipartisan group of state legislators led by five Republicans is supporting a bill that would ensure workers could use sick time they’ve earned to care for their children and loved ones.
Now comes a powerful Internet tool to pound the lesson home even harder, inspired by the No. 1 movie in the nation. Called “Contagion: Not Just a Movie,” the web film, produced by Family Values @ Work, shows the stories of five American workers who have been forced to go into work when they are sick because they weren’t allowed to take time off or couldn’t afford going without pay.
The video can be found in the Take Action section of this website as well as directly on YouTube at www.youtube.com/embed/0L1YTkQGF1Y.
These workers are some of the 44 million Americans without paid sick days who risk their families’ financial security or their jobs if they stay home when they are ill, notes
Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the Boston Public Health Commission, who introduces the film by calling to mind the fictional hit “Contagion” and then warning: “What’s most frightening is that flu epidemics are real, and they can spread quickly. As a public health official, I know the best thing to do when you’re ill is to stay home. In our country, everyone has the right to stay home when they’re sick; they just don’t have the right to get paid, or to keep their job.”
The Family Values film features a grocery cashier, a coffee barista, restaurant workers and a school bus driver who have all gone to work sick because of the financial responsibilities to their families. Only 19% of low-wage workers have paid sick days. Three in four food service workers, three in five personal health care workers and three in four child care workers, all of whom have significant interaction with others, do not have paid sick days.
“Our country’s health and families’ financial stability should not be undermined by a lack of paid sick days,” said Ellen Bravo, founder of Milwaukee 9to5 and now executive director of Family Values @ Work, the national network of state coalitions working for paid sick days and paid family leave policies.
So Milwaukee, take notice and some satisfaction. Even if short-sighted leaders here blocked the will of a people, the concept is on the march. In addition to the above cited accomplishments, more than a dozen states have coalitions actively organizing. It’s like a healthy contagion.