Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘sick days’

Chicago hotel strike enters sixth day, as workers demand year-round health insurance

Wednesday, September 12th, 2018

Thousands of Chicago hotel workers continued their strike for the sixth day Wednesday, primarily to demand a year-round health insurance guarantee. The union said workers also want higher wages, more sick days, and more manageable workloads, the Associated Press reported. Their contracts, which covered 6,000 employees, expired on August 30.

The number of hotel workers involved in the strike has only increased since then. On Monday, workers at Cambria Chicago Magnificent Mile joined the strike, which brought the count of hotels affected by the strike to 26. Before the strike, more than 3,000 UNITE HERE Local 1’s members voted on the issue and 97 percent voted to authorize it.

The union told the Chicago Tribune that it is the most widespread and coordinated hotel worker strike ever held in Chicago. It’s the first strike in the city to include all hotel workers, whether they’re dishwashers or housekeepers, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

As the Tribune reported, there are only four hotels that have expired contracts where hotel workers are not on strike: Hotel Raffaelo, Tremont Chicago at Magnificent Mile, Park Hyatt Chicago, and Fairmont Chicago.

Some fine dining restaurants, including the Ritz-Carlton Chicago’s fine-dining restaurant and Torali Italian-Steak, are closed or offering limited menus. Inside the Palmer House Hilton, long lines await check-in, dirty towels have been piling up, and beds have been left unmade, according to ABC7. One guest, Matt Lissack, told ABC7 that the line for check-in was “literally around the building.”

In the central business, there are 174 hotels, which means travelers could stay somewhere that is not dealing with contract negotiations, but the hotels in the midst of a strike are some of the biggest ones in Chicago, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

Q. Rivers, who works at Palmer House Hilton, said in a statement on the union website, “Hotels may slow down in the wintertime, but I still need my diabetes medication when I’m laid off. Nobody should lose their health benefits just because it’s cold out. Full-time jobs should have year-round benefits.”

Each hotel or hotel brand does its own negotiation with the union, so management at some hotels and brands could make agreements with the union before others. Hotel groups say it’s too early in the negotiation process for workers to go on strike, and say they have not yet reached an impasse with the union.

Thousands of workers have disagreed. A spokesperson for Hyatt sent a statement to ABC7 saying, “In fact, Hyatt has not received the union’s complete proposals. Colleague benefits and wages remain unchanged as we negotiate a new agreement … Many colleagues are working …”

A Hilton spokesperson told the outlet “More and more of our union Team Members are choosing to return to work and we welcome them to do so,” adding that “It is still early in the negotiations process and Hilton is committed to negotiating in good faith with UNITE HERE Local 1.”

UNITE HERE Local 1 recently helped workers by advocating for a Chicago ordinance that made the city the second in the country to require that hotels have panic buttons. These panic buttons allow hotel workers to request help if a guest is harassing or sexually assaulting them. In 2016, the union put out a survey that showed 58 percent of those surveyed were sexually harassed by guests.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on September 12, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress covering economic policy and civil rights issues. Her work has been published in The Establishment, The Atlantic, The Crime Report, and City Limits

When three days sick means losing a month's grocery budget

Monday, July 3rd, 2017

Nearly two-thirds of private-sector workers in the U.S. have access to paid sick leave, but as with so many labor and economic statistics, that masks serious inequality: 87 percent of the top 10 percent of earners have paid sick leave, while just 27 percent of the bottom 10 percent do. And what that means is that the people who can least afford to take a day off without pay are the ones who are forced to do so if they’re too sick to go to work. A new Economic Policy Institute analysis shows how devastating that choice can be:

Without the ability to earn paid sick days, workers must choose between going to work sick (or sending a child to school sick) and losing much-needed pay. For the average worker who does not have access to paid sick days, the costs of taking unpaid sick time can make a painful dent in the monthly budget for the worker’s household:

  • If the worker needs to take off even a half day due to illness, the lost wages are equivalent to the household’s monthly spending for fruits and vegetables; lost wages from taking off nearly three days equal their entire grocery budget for the month.
  • Two days of unpaid sick time are roughly the equivalent of a month’s worth of gas, making it difficult to get to work.
  • Three days of unpaid sick time translate into a household’s monthly utilities budget, preventing the worker from paying for electricity and heat.
  • In the event of a lengthier illness—say, seven and a half days of unpaid sick time—the worker would lose income equivalent to a monthly rent or mortgage payment.

State-level paid sick leave laws are starting to make a difference—in 2012, when the first such law was passed, in Connecticut, just 18 percent of low-wage private-sector workers had paid sick days. But workers outside of the five states with such laws need the federal government to act, and that’s not going to happen under Republican control.

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on July 1, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

Paid sick leave coming to a fifth state: Vermont

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

Vermont is about to become the fifth state in the U.S. with a paid sick leave law. The state House, which had previously passed a sick leave bill, this week passed the state Senate’s version of the bill, described as “somewhat more business-friendly.” That usually means “somewhat less worker-friendly,” but it’s still a major advance:

The measure calls for employers to provide workers three paid sick days a year for the first two years that the law would be in effect and five thereafter.

It does not cover employees working fewer than 18 hours a week or 21 weeks a year.

The bill is headed to the desk of Gov. Peter Shumlin, who supports it. Vermont will join Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, and Oregon as states with paid sick leave laws. A number of other American cities and towns—many of them in New Jersey—have similar laws. And, of course, most other countries in the world have this basic, common-sense policy.

This blog originally appeared in dailykos.com on February 18, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006 and Labor editor since 2011.

 

 

Lawmakers Unanimously Approve Country’s Most Robust Paid Sick Leave Law

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

Bryce CovertThe Montgomery County, Maryland council voted unanimously to pass a paid sick leave bill on Tuesday, making the town the 23rd place in the country to enact such a requirement.

The law is one of the most robust to be passed at the city or state level so far. “The Montgomery County paid sick days laws is one of the strongest yet, and it should serve as a model for the state of Maryland and the nation,” said Charly Carter, director of Maryland Working Families.

Once it goes into effect in October 2016, around 90,000 people will get the right to a day off when they get sick that they currently don’t have. Employees at businesses with five or more workers will be able to earn up to seven days off a year, while those at companies with fewer workers can earn four paid days and three unpaid. Many current laws in other places exempt smaller businesses completely. Amendments to exempt people under the age of 18, people who work fewer than 16 hours a week, and smaller employers all failed.

Montgomery County’s leave can also be used for a wide variety of purposes beyond taking a day off for a worker’s own illness: to care for a sick family member, to deal with a public health emergency, or to deal with domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

A statewide bill in Maryland has been introduced but not yet passed, although it will be re-introduced next session, according to Working Matters, the group organizing support for paid sick leave in the state. While the country still doesn’t have a national requirement that employers offer their workers paid sick leave, unlike all other developed nations, many local governments have taken action on their own. With Montgomery County, four states and 19 cities have passed laws.

paid-sickleave-infographic-june

CREDIT: Andrew Breiner, ThinkProgress

Without a federal law, however, about 40 percent of America workers don’t have the ability to take paid time off when they or their family members get sick, the majority of them low-income workers who may not be able to afford an unpaid day. President Obama has called to change that, and Democratic lawmakers have introduced bills that would require all of the country’s to offer sick leave, but they haven’t moved forward.

While businesses often claim that they can’t afford to offer paid sick leave, the evidence from many of the places that have passed requirements is that the laws don’t represent an economic burden. In Connecticut, Jersey City, and Washington, D.C., employers don’t report that the laws have been costly or difficult to comply with, while some have seen benefits like decreased turnover and increased productivity. Meanwhile, job growth in Connecticut, San Francisco, and Seattle has been stronger after their laws took effect, and a majority of employers in many of these places now support the laws.

But the opposition has gained ground in other places. Ten states have passed laws that ban cities and counties from passing their own paid sick leave laws, and others are considering the same move.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on June 24, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Bryce Covert. Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

Cheating Workers Out Of Rights, Benefits

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

Image: IBEWLawmakers Go After Employers Who Misclassify Workers as Contractors

Nearly three years ago, Warren, Ohio, Local 573 Business Manager Mark Catello found out the hard way how rampant is the illegal practice of misclassifying workers as independent contractors to circumvent labor law and cheat on taxes.

The local tried organizing cable workers at Baker Communications, a subcontractor for Time Warner Cable. Organizers got the majority of the 40-person unit to sign union authorization cards, but the National Labor Relations Board killed the unionization drive after agreeing with the company that most of its employees were independent contractors, making them exempt from the right to collectively bargain. “It’s a scam,” Catello said. “All the employees had to follow the company’s manual, wear the company’s uniform with the Baker Communications logo on it and follow their work schedule.”

San Francisco labor activists protest a construction contractor found guilty of cheating its employees out of wages and benefits.

San Francisco labor activists protest a construction contractor found guilty of cheating its employees out of wages and benefits.

Federal and state officials are now starting to aggressively crack down on employers who mislabel their employees as independent contractors—an act that cheats both taxpayers and workers out of billions of dollars.

According to Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times, more than two dozen states are stepping up their enforcement of employment laws by increasing penalties for employers who misclassify workers as contractors. And Congress recently introduced tougher legislation to punish lawbreakers.

‘Widespread Practice’

The practice is extensive, says James Parrott, chief economist of the Fiscal Policy Institute in New York. He testified earlier this year before the state Senate that an estimated 10 percent of the state’s workers are misclassified as independent contractors.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that number has been estimated to be as high as 30 percent in some states. Lax enforcement of the rules has only encouraged the practice.

In 2007, the Government Accountability Office reported that 10 million workers were classified as independent contractors, an increase of more than 2 million in just six years.

Misclassification ends up costing federal and state authorities billions in lost revenue. Companies that report employees as independent contractors avoid paying Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance taxes.

But misclassifying workers also cheats workers out of their rights and benefits. Laws regarding overtime, workers’ compensation, sick days and minimum wage don’t apply to independent contractors.

“This denies many workers their basic rights and protections and means less revenues to the Treasury and competitive advantage for employers who misclassify,” Jared Bernstein told the New York Times. Bernstein is a noted economist and aide to Vice President Joseph Biden. “The last thing you want is to give a competitive advantage to employers who are breaking the rules.”

The practice is particularly common in trucking and some sectors of the construction industry. It is also found in the telecommunications industry, particularly in satellite dish and cable installation.

And it’s not just fly-by-night operations that are guilty. Corporate giants FedEx, Target and Comcast have all been sued for misclassifying workers.

Counting their workers as contractors has also proven to be an easy way for employers to prevent unionization.

‘Keeps Them From Joining a Union’

For Eighth District Organizer Bob Brock, a crackdown on industry violators is long overdue.

Brock has been trying to organize workers who install home satellite dishes for more than a year. Many of these workers—located mostly in Idaho, Montana and Colorado—endure long hours, low pay, draconian work rules and unsafe working conditions. But according to their employers—including Direct TV and Star West Satellite—they are their own bosses.

“Most of these (satellite) companies operate a whole separate wing, which they staff with what they call independent contractors,” Brock said. “But they have to follow the companies’ regulations, their work hours and use their equipment. What kind of boss is that?”

Brock says that the IBEW has been successful in getting many of these workers to talk with organizers, but until their job status is changed, they can’t legally form a union.

He says he has seen workplaces where two different workers are doing the exact same job, but one is labeled an employee while the other is an independent contractor. “It’s a selective way for the company to get out of paying benefits and taxes and to keep them from joining a union.”

Educating Workers on Their Rights

But the IBEW hasn’t given up on organizing the satellite sector. The Eighth District has started an organization—Satellite Techs Allied for a New Direction—which brings together satellite workers to improve their working conditions. Organizers help workers document what’s going on in their workplace so they have evidence to back up their claims that they are full-time employees.

STAND also helps misclassified workers with tax advice and how to avoid being preyed on by unscrupulous insurance agents who try to sell them overpriced liability policies. It’s a long-term strategy, Brock says, but the campaign is starting to pick up steam. “The word is spreading throughout the industry. A lot of them don’t know about their rights and they are hungry to find out.”

The campaign is now moving into lobbying mode, with organizers talking to state leaders about rampant abuses in the satellite installation industry. “This is a good time, because with the budget shortfalls, politicians are more eager to crack down on tax cheats,” Brock said.

Rampant Abuse

Broadcasting is another industry where the practice has become widespread. “Many broadcast technicians will work for one of the big networks, be considered an employee, but then go work for another network, do the exact same job, and all of a sudden they become contractors,” said Broadcasting Department Director Ro Wratschko.

Many smaller production companies are also notorious for misclassifying employees to give them unfair advantage over local signatory companies. “They are bidding for the same work as our union shops but they are illegally getting out of paying the same taxes we do, so they have a leg up,” he said.

While not as rampant in the electrical construction industry as it is in other trades, many inside locals have confronted nonunion contractors trying to pass off their employees as contractors. Last fall, Dublin, Calif., Local 595 helped bring to light one Bay Area contractor who cost the state and her employees millions of dollars by illegally misclassifying them.

“It’s the primary means for nonunion contractors to get out of their responsibilities to their employees and try to cut into our market share,” said Kirk Groenendaal, Special Assistant to the International President for Membership Development.

Federal prosecution of companies that misclassify their workers as contractors was nonexistent under the Bush administration, says Political and Legislative Department International Representative Dan Gardner, but the tide is turning.

President Obama has promised to hire an additional 100 investigators to look at companies accused of misclassifying workers and the Internal Revenue Service announced in February that it was launching a three-year nationwide investigation of the practice.

On Capitol Hill, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry (D) has introduced the Taxpayer Responsibility, Accountability, and Consistency Act of 2009—with Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) sponsoring a House version—which beefs up enforcement of worker classification regulations and closes tax loopholes used by unscrupulous employers.

In April, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown (D) introduced a similar bill—the Employee Misclassification Act—that focuses on tougher enforcement of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The Department of Labor also recently announced tougher regulations of worker classification regulations, calling on employers to disclose to their employees their work status.

State authorities are also intensifying their crackdown. In Iowa, a six-month investigation by the labor department recently found more than 100 companies guilty of misclassifying employees, while in California, Attorney General Jerry Brown is aggressively going after lawbreakers, recently filing a $4.3 million lawsuit against a construction company with several public works contracts that he says cheated workers out of wages.

In Nebraska, a bill is under serious consideration that would target trucking and construction companies that abuse the independent contractor label.

Gardner said that the IBEW is working closely with NECA contractors and other businesses to push Congress to endorse Sens. Kerry’s and Brown’s legislation to crack down on lawbreakers. “It’s wrong for workers, wrong for taxpayers and wrong for the businesses that play by the rules and follow the law.”

This post originally appeared in IBEW.org on June 2, 2010. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Alexander Hogan is Communications Specialist for the IBEW.

Can Americans Care for Their Families Without Losing Their Jobs?

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Image: Gloria PanDid you see the announcement? Fem2.0 is kicking off the New Year with Wake Up, This Is the Reality!, a campaign to help change the way Americans talk and think about work and to begin shifting the national narrative away from privileged “balance” and corporate perspectives to one that reflects the reality on the ground for millions of Americans and American families.

On January 25, we will launch a two-week blog radio series on how work policies impact specific communities. That will be followed by a week-long blog carnival (Feb. 6-13) that will flood the public space with articles, opinions and personal stories about what it’s like to work in America today.

Fem2pt0In the inaugural show, Elisa Camahort Page, co-founder of BlogHer, will interview Joan Williams, director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California – Hastings, and Heather Boushey, senior economist at the Center for American Progress, about their new report, The Three Faces of Work/Family Conflict: Can Americans Care For Their Families Without Losing Their Jobs? To be released later this month, the report considers the impact of work policies on American workers and families at different income levels, revealing the all-too-common, gut-wrenching choices Americans face between being able to care for loved ones and being able to pay the bills.

On January 29, we’ll focus on Work Policies and Single Women: An Examination of the Work Issues Facing Single Women, With or Without Children. Lisa Matz, AAUW’s director of public policy and government relations, Melanie Notkin, founder of Savvy Auntie, and Page Gardner, founder of Women’s Voices, Women Vote, join moderator Marcia G. Yerman of the Huffington Post to discuss how the continuum of single women are challenged by work policy issues. Topics will include:

+ The challenges faced by women in the workplace without children (50% of American women)

+ The challenges faced by never married women with children (19%-20%)

+ Reframing the family structure as horizontal (acknowledging that not all family responsibilities are “parental”)

+ Legislation to implement change (family and medical leave, Social Security, care giving credits, pay equity, retirement benefits)

+ Is the workload being left to single women without children?

+ Validating single women as heads of their own households

The blog radio series will also be looking at the impact of today’s work environment on men, seniors, businesses, and on the military, LGBT, Latino, and African-American communities. See entire series here.

Please forward this email to friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, and anyone else who might be interested. Find out other ways you can get involved, here.

If you have any questions or comments, please let us know!

*Cross-posted from Feminism2.0 with permission. Check out the 2010 Wake Up! This is the Reality! Campaign happening now, and submit your pieces for the ongoing blog carnival.

No More Delay on Paid Sick Days in NYC

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Continued anxiety over swine flu is a poignant reminder that only some New York City residents can afford to stay home if they or their children fall ill. Most lower-income residents do not have the right to get sick; they are not guaranteed paid sick days. But when workers are not allowed time off for illness, they are more likely to spread disease in confined spaces, worsening their own condition and putting others at risk. City government must enact a paid sick leave policy that will serve everyone equally.

New York City has a lot to learn from San Francisco, the first city in the country to mandate paid sick days for public and private sector employees, including part-timers and temps, who accrue the days over time. The business groups originally opposed to the San Francisco law have called it “successful”. The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce even admitted: “we really have not heard much about it being a major issue for a lot of businesses.”

That’s because paid sick leave is cost-effective and actually boosts the productivity of workers. New York City cannot afford any further delay of this crucial legislation.

The economic and health reasons for City Hall to move forward on this important issue transcend the politics of the moment. Long before swine flu appeared, the people who most needed paid sick days—low-wage workers, especially women, immigrants, and people of color—were the least likely to have them. That need hasn’t diminished.

Last year, the Drum Major Institute convened a Marketplace of Ideas panel on paid sick leave that showed how and why New York City should replicate San Francisco’s policy. Participants included Councilwoman Gale Brewer, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, David Jones of the Community Service Society, and Sara Flocks from Young Workers United, the San Francisco organization that developed the law and mobilized grassroots support for it.

The full transcript is available here and YouTube clips can be watched here.

About the Author: Dan Morris joined the staff of the Drum Major Institute in September 2008. A communications strategist with a policy, research, and editorial background, he specializes in issue-based media campaigns. His high-impact story placements have appeared in such outlets as The Associated Press, Reuters, New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, and The New York Daily News. Before joining DMI, he was the head of public relations at eChalk, an organization that empowers schools with web-based technology, where he built a new communications operation focused on message development, press cultivation, thought leadership, and issue advocacy. An experienced educator, he has taught literature to junior high students in New Jersey, and philosophy to college students in New York City.

This article originally appeared in the DMI Blog on June 3, 2009. Re-printed with permission by the author.

Trying Times Call for Healthy Families Act

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

These are challenging times for America’s families. One in 4 Americans, or about 23 percent of those surveyed in a recent Gallup Poll, report that they are “very worried” about keeping up with their monthly bills over the next six months. That’s up from 19 percent a year ago and 15 percent in March 2007.

And while many of us are working harder than ever to keep pace under the current economic pressure, workplace duties are not the only duties we have.

Family responsibilities await us at home. That is why we must pass the Healthy Families Act, introduced in the 111th Congress on May 18 by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut, and Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, also a Democrat.

Workers still get sick. Children still get fevers and runny noses. Mom or Dad still needs to take them to the doctor or just stay by their bedside to nurse them back to health. No matter how dedicated workers are to hanging on to their jobs at all cost, the need to occasionally take time away from work never goes away–not even in a tough recession, not even when jobs are this hard to come by.

Unfortunately, nearly half of private sector workers in the United States don’t have a single paid sick day to care for themselves. Additionally, nearly 100 million Americans get no paid time off to care for an ailing child or an aging parent.

Fewer “Wives” at Home

While this is an issue for all workers, the reality is that women, or “wives,” have historically been tasked with the family care-giving responsibilities–and most families do not have a “wife” at home these days.

The numbers speak for themselves. According to a 2007 report by the Multi-State Working Families Consortium, “Valuing Families: It’s About Time,” less than 6 percent of all women in the U.S. were in the work force at the turn of the century. By 1950, that number had climbed to 24 percent; by 2000 to 60 percent.

Meanwhile, the number of single parents–mostly women–has also mushroomed and single mothers are working many more hours than they have in past years. Why? The Valuing Families report attributes this to pent-up demand among women for career opportunity and economic independence–and economic necessity. Simply put, over the last 35 years women’s increased work and earnings has been the only avenue for many families to attain or maintain economic self-sufficiency.

Though the flood of women into the work force has been beneficial, it has raised an obvious question for families: how to provide all the care, support and supervision that children need without jeopardizing family economic self-sufficiency. For working women without paid sick days, occasionally staying home when a child is ill could mean the loss of a day’s pay, or worse, the loss of a job.

It’s a terrible choice that strikes fear in the hearts of all workers; a fear grounded in workplace reality.

Consequences of Time Off

In a 2006 survey, conducted by the Center on Work Life Law at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law, 1 in 6 workers said they or a family member had been fired, suspended, punished or threatened by an employer for taking time off to care for themselves or a family member when ill.

This is all highly counterproductive.

Healthy workers are key to a healthy national economy.

Paid sick days reduce the business costs of turnover, absenteeism and lack of productivity when workers are sick on the job. In fact, if workers were provided just seven paid sick days annually, according to information released by the National Partnership for Women and Families in 2008, our national economy would enjoy an annual net savings of more than $8 billion.

Healthy workers also contribute to a healthy public. As public health experts and our own government have repeatedly warned as we contend with H1N1 swine flu, sick workers can protect public health by staying home. But they shouldn’t have to pay the awful price of job loss and family financial instability to do so.

For all these reasons we need to pass the Healthy Families Act.

It would allow workers to earn up to seven paid sick days a year to recover from their own illness, to care for a sick family member, or for diagnostic and preventative care. Equally important, it would allow workers time to recover from domestic violence or sexual assault. Just as no worker should have to choose between pay and health, no worker should have to choose between pay and safety.

Need for Federal Policy

In the last three years, paid sick days legislation has passed in three cities: San Francisco, the District of Columbia and Milwaukee, where implementation is being held up by legal challenges.

This year, there are 15 active paid sick-days state campaigns. But what America needs most in these tough economic times is federal policy like the Healthy Families Act.

A broad coalition of women’s, civil rights, health, children’s, faith-based and labor organizations supports the act. It has more than 100 co-sponsors in the U.S. House, strong leadership from Ted Kennedy in the Senate and the steadfast support of the White House.

In accepting his party’s nomination last August, President Obama said, “We measure the strength of our economy by whether the waitress who lives on tips can take a day off and look after a sick kid without losing her job.” Later he reiterated, “Now is the time to help families with paid sick days, because nobody in America should have to choose between keeping their job and caring for a sick child or an ailing parent.”

Congress must pass the Healthy Families Act. The President must sign it.

We must ensure that all families have the tools to be as healthy and as economically self-sufficient as possible as we move toward recovery in the days ahead.

About the Author: Linda Meric is a nationally-known speaker on family-friendly workplace policy and executive director of 9to5, National Association of Women. A diverse, grassroots, membership-based nonprofit that helps strengthen women’s ability to win economic justice, 9to5 has staffed offices in Milwaukee, Denver, Atlanta, Los Angeles and San Jose.

This article originally appeared in Women’s eNews on June 8, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the author.

Would You Like a Side of Swine Flu with Your Order?

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

In President Obama’s “first 100 days” news conference, he gave good, common-sense advice:

– “Stay home from work if you’re sick; and keep your children home from school if they’re sick.”

But this advice is about as helpful as being told to eat an apple a day to keep the doctor away when nearly 50 percent of private-sector workers have no paid sick days. This statistic jumps to four out of every five low-income worker going without paid sick days. Overall, 57 million private-sector workers in this country have no paid sick days, and 94 million cannot use their paid sick days to care for a sick child [Source: Public Welfare Foundation]. There is a bad joke somewhere in there about the 48 million Americans going without health insurance not needing the sick days to go to the doctor, but the punch line is tragically unfunny.

The survey, conducted by the National Opinion Research Center of the University of Chicago, found that when workers took time off for illness or to care for a sick family member, one in six say they were fired, disciplined or threatened by their employer. Another study done by Harvard and McGill University researchers finds the United States ranks at the bottom of 21 high-income nations in providing paid parental leave for workers.

In fact, 145 countries guarantee paid sick days; the United States, the wealthiest nation in the world with the most productive workers, is not one of them. We can do better.

Bottom line – employment law and policy have consequences far beyond the relationship of employees and their employers. If we want our co-workers to take time off to recover from illness and not jeopardize exposure to colleagues, if we want the ability to strategically close a few schools when flu cases are identified and keep children at home, then we need a policy to support it or else being told to ‘stay home from work’ becomes meaningless.

Preparing for pandemic illness requires stocking up on vaccines, improving access to health care and tracking cases, as well as giving people the ability to take sick days. The Healthy Families Act is a federal bill that will let workers accrue up to seven paid sick days a year that they could use to recover from illness or care for a sick family member.

Disappointingly, but not surprisingly, Corporate America considers the right to seven paid sick days a year as “paid vacation.” These are some of the same folks that are ‘championing’ workers’ rights’ to a management ordered secret ballot election for union representation. In case I’m being too subtle – workers’ advocates are championing the Employee Free Choice Act so that employees may collectively bargain for benefits such as paid sick days. Corporate America is threatened by a more unionized work force because it jeopardizes unchecked greed; and is fighting the legislation making it easier to form unions under the guise of protecting workers’ rights just as they are lobbying against the Healthy Families Act. This is a side point to the one I’m making about sick days, but I think worthy of consideration.

Paid sick days are a basic workplace standard. Or, more accurately, should be a basic workplace standard. And to make the point personal, do you want your restaurant food handler working on the day he has the flu? How about your child’s daycare worker?

It’s time to pass the Healthy Families Act. You can get involved with a number of groups. I recommend the National Partnership for Women & Families as well as the Everyone Gets Sick online rally.

Eileen Toback is a political strategist and labor relations expert. To read more of Eileen’s commentary on labor issues check out unionmaiden.wordpress.com. If you have a question for Eileen, contact her via eileentoback@gmail.com.

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