Paid Sick Days Can Prevent a Real 'Contagion'

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The blockbuster movie "Contagion" reminds the public how quickly germs can spread. While the film is fictional, a lack of paid sick days can contribute to similar scenarios, says Ellen Bravo. A short web video exemplifies the risks.

(WOMENSENEWS)--Without paid sick days, 44 million hard-working Americans are forced to choose between the job they need and the family they love when they or a family member gets sick.

For working women without paid sick days, taking even one day off can put their jobs at risk or have a dramatic impact on the family's financial stability. That's why female workers and female business owners across the country are getting involved in the movement to support paid sick days.

And together, with a broad range of partners, we're winning.

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Leaders of this movement include workers like Tasha West-Baker, a grocery store cashier and single mom from Seattle whose upper respiratory infection lasted three weeks because she couldn't stay home to recover.

"I cannot afford to lose a day's pay," she says. "So if I have to choose between going to work sick and having money to keep the lights on and food in my fridge, then I have to go to work sick."

West-Baker is one of five workers featured in the web video, "Contagion: Not Just a Movie," produced by Family Values "at" Work consortium. The video underscores the main message of the blockbuster film, "Contagion," which, while fictional, reminds the public how quickly germs can spread. The web video shows how a lack of paid sick days can contribute to the spreading of such illnesses.

Even those of us who are allowed to stay home when we're sick are surrounded by workers who aren't – serving our food, scanning our lettuce, driving our kids to school. So we all have a stake in winning paid sick days.

Contagious Conditions

All of the workers in this video have had to work with contagious conditions. All are active in the fight for paid sick days.

Terry, a member of the coalition in Massachusetts, also appears in the video. She took a job as a school bus driver because she likes working with kids and likes knowing she has delivered them safe and sound to school or back home.

What she doesn't like is having to go to work sick and risk infecting those same children because she has no paid sick time. Even worse, she hates the fact that she's never been able to stay home with her own son when he's sick with a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition.

Most working families are counting every dollar right now. For many of us, taking unpaid time off, even when we're sick, means falling short on rent or not having enough to put food on the table. Losing even three days of pay for many families amounts to a month's worth of groceries, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Female business owners are getting involved too – and giving corporate lobbyists a run for their money in the process. Three times in the last three months, legislative bodies approved paid sick days bills despite the corporate lobbyists' unfounded claims that the measure would force the sky to fall. Denver voters are preparing to vote this month on a ballot initiative enabling workers to earn paid sick days. And campaigns are percolating across the country.

The string of wins began in June, when Connecticut became the first state to enact this common-sense, cost-effective policy. Two weeks later, Philadelphia's City Council voted to join them. A mayoral veto has temporarily delayed the matter, but this month the City Council is expected to pass a requirement that businesses who receive contracts or public subsidies from the city have to provide their workers with paid sick days. The full measure is likely to come up again with new council members in January.

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