–by Linda Meric, Executive Director, 9to5, National Association of Working Women
The United States moved closer to establishing paid sick days as a national basic labor standard when the Healthy Families Act was re-introduced last week in the House of Representatives. Sponsored by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) the legislation would make it possible for workers to accrue up to seven paid sick days each year. HFA would also allow workers to utilize paid sick days to recover from domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault.
More than 50 million Americans lack a single paid sick day in which to care for themselves when episodic illnesses strike. In addition, nearly 100 million don’t have a paid sick day they can use to care for an ill child. If Congress passes the HFA, American workers will no longer have to make impossible choices; choices between caring for themselves in times of illness and losing a day’s pay – or worse – their jobs.
As we reflect on the H1N1 swine flu threat and the twists and turns of Wall Street, we know there is no better time to enact this legislation than now. We must provide paid sick days as one more step toward real recovery for real working families in the U.S.
A report released this month by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, “Contagion Nation,” shows the U.S. is the only country among 22 countries ranked highly in terms of economic and human development that does not guarantee paid sick days for all workers. As a result, each year millions of Americans go to work sick, lowering business profits and productivity and potentially spreading illness to coworkers and customers.
Most Americans, though, believe paid sick days should be a basic right guaranteed by law. Public opinion polls show that a majority consistently list paid sick days as “very important.” Allowing workers to take short breaks from their jobs when their health, or the health of their families, demands it, made sense to nearly 90% of people polled in 2007. This basic labor standard is feasible, affordable, and is good public and workplace policy.
Over the last three years, 9to5 has also collected the stories of workers from all over the country who have lost jobs or pay because of the lack of paid sick days. Next month 9to5 will release an updated version of “Ten Things That Can Happen If You Don’t Have Paid Sick Days,” the publication that contains those stories. For more information, visit www.9to5.org.