(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.

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.

‘More Sensible Tact’

The mayor of Seattle took a more sensible tact. In late September he proudly signed a paid sick days bill that will cover all but the smallest businesses in that city. The Seattle Coalition for a Healthy Workforce, which propelled the bill, was made up of more than 100 local organizations and small businesses. They included Jody Hall, owner of Cupcake Royale, who provided cupcakes for kids to decorate and hand out to council members the day of the vote.

The bill signing took place at Plum Bistro Restaurant, owned by Makini Howell, one of the first small business owners to support the proposed ordinance.

At the bill signing at her restaurant, Howell explained, when the mayor and coalition leaders came by, that: "Over the last year, I joined with a group of small business owners to work alongside with public health professionals, labor unions, community groups and elected leaders to craft this law."

She added that "by collaborating and working together, we produced a law that protects the health of our customers, increases the economic security of employees, provides flexibility for small businesses and strengthens the economy."

These legislative wins are happening because there is broad public support for paid sick days. Recent polls conducted by Anzalone Liszt Research in cities and states across the country show overwhelming support for the measure across party lines. Even the majority of Republicans don’t want to get the flu with their fries. And, support for paid sick days can energize low-turnout voters and propel them to go vote.

Support for paid sick days continues to grow. By getting involved, you can help ensure that workers don’t have to make the awful choice between their health and their families’ security.

Together, we can help prevent a real Contagion – and confine the headaches to those corporate lobbyists.

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Ellen Bravo is the executive director of Family Values "at" Work, a network of 16 state coalitions working for paid sick days, family leave insurance and other policies that value families at work. A lifelong social justice activist and feminist, Bravo was recently honored as a Visionary Leader by the Ford Foundation and with the Courage and Intelligence Award by the Frances Perkins Foundation. Bravo, who also teaches women’s studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is the author of "Taking on the Big Boys," and numerous other books, articles and reports on working women’s issues.

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