(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.

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.

A Year to Comply

paid sick day protest signsThe bill gives small new businesses a year before they need to comply with the law and makes clear that record-keeping requirements are minimal. It also emphasizes that any type of time off that a business currently provides can be counted as sick time for purposes of the law.

And in case you’re wondering what happened to those people mentioned at the start, the ones in the bind about what to do, they shared their stories at hearings already held by the City Council:

The mother of the 2-year-old took her child to the emergency room and stayed with her when she was admitted to the hospital. Although she called her employer and explained the situation, when she went to work the next day armed with a letter from the hospital, she was fired from her job as a bank teller for missing a day of work.

The bartender, fearing she might lose her job, went to work sick despite the threat to her own health and that of the bar’s patrons.

The New York City Earned Paid Sick Time Act would insure that no parent ever has to lose her or his job in order to care for a sick child.

It would also insure that workers who are sick need not risk their jobs or a day’s pay or spread illness to the general public.

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Sherry Leiwant is co-president and co-founder of a Better Balance: The Work and Family Legal Center, which is helping to lead the coalition pushing for the passage of the New York City Earned Paid Sick Time Act.