New York City Workers Deserve Paid Sick Days

Friday, January 20, 2012

One and a half million New Yorkers face a terrible dilemma when they or their child become ill. That's because they have no paid sick days. Sherry Leiwant says we need a law to lift a burden that's particularly hard on low-income single moms.

(WOMENSENEWS)--Your 2-year-old wakes up with 104 degree fever and trouble breathing. You are due at work at 9 a.m. but you know you must get your child to the doctor or an emergency room immediately. What do you do?

Or you have stomach cramps and are vomiting but your bartender shift is about to start. What do you do?

For the fortunate among us, there isn't any question.

You call your employer, explain the situation and take your child to the doctor, or you call your employer and say you'll be in as soon as you recover from your stomach flu.

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But for about one and a half million working New Yorkers--and 40 million workers nationwide--the choice is not so easy, because they do not have a single hour of paid sick time to use when they or a family member is sick.

The burden falls especially hard on low-income working moms, who often work in job sectors with the least paid sick time--retail and food service.

With women making up half of today's work force, few of us can be home to take care of a sick child. Yet in many families mothers are the ones responsible for caring for a sick child, and for single mothers, who are raising a third of the children in New York City, the choices are especially limited.

In New York City over half of public-school parents have no paid sick time, and the situation is even worse for low-income parents, 65 percent of whom have no paid sick days.

When the Department of Health or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tell you to keep a child with the flu home, how are you supposed to do that when you have no paid sick time?

Nationwide Work

Around the country, cities and states are acting to do something about a situation that is bad for workers, bad for parents and bad for the public's health.

San Francisco, Washington, D.C., Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Seattle and the state of Connecticut have all passed paid-sick-day laws and there are proposals pending in 22 states and localities.

In the meantime, here in New York City, a paid sick time bill was proposed in 2009 and 2010 with a veto-proof majority of 35 council members as co-sponsors.

To date, Christine Quinn, speaker of the City Council and a mayoral candidate, has not brought the bill to a vote.

But the coalition behind the bill--consisting of women's rights groups, civil rights groups, labor unions, public health organizations, nurses, doctors, restaurant workers and retail workers--met on the steps of City Hall on Wednesday to relaunch efforts to make this bill a reality.

Council co-sponsors alongside representatives from this broad coalition called for passage of the Earned Paid Sick Time Act, which provides five paid sick days for workers in smaller businesses and nine days for employees of large businesses.

In an effort to make the bill easier for businesses to implement, the bill's prime sponsors, Gale Brewer and Julissa Ferraras, are working on an amended version.

That new version will exempt the smallest "mom and pop" businesses from having to pay workers for sick time while insuring job protection for their workers so they don't have to worry about choosing between staying home with an illness or sick child or keeping their job.

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