Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘swine flu’

Big Business's Skewed View on Paid Sick Leave

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

In the last couple of weeks, there’s been a rise in the debate over H1N1 and paid sick leave policy. Emergency H1N1 legislation has been introduced by Sen. Chris Dodd that would require employers with more than 15 workers to provide seven days of paid sick leave if they or their children come down with either H1N1 or seasonal flu.

Big business, however, appears to be completely in denial over the importance of the issue.

As the self-described “voice of business,” the U.S. Chamber of Commerce claims to represent the viewpoint of both large and small businesses on sick leave policy, and according to Mother Jones, insists that a global epidemic is not a good reason to start treating employees like human beings:

“The problem is not nearly as great as some people say,” said Chamber Vice President Randel K. Johnson. “Lots of employers work these things out on an ad hoc basis with their employees.”

President and CEO of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council Karen Kerrigan echoes this sentiment:

“Employers and their work force appear to be handling this challenge just fine without the federal government’s involvement. Unlike the problems that the government is having getting the flu vaccine out to Americans, employers and organizations are working through this national health emergency quite smoothly.”

Uh, we beg to differ, Randel and Karen. As a direct result of relying on voluntary employer policies to provide paid sick leave to employees, over fifty million U.S. workers have no paid sick days at all!

As the swine flu spreads across the nation — and the CDC continues to advocate for flu sufferers to stay at home until the fever goes away — the significant portion of the American workforce that faces a tough choice about whether to call in sick or go to work sick (and still get paid) has ramifications for us all. Lack of paid sick time for millions of American workers could increase the spread of this year’s flu pandemic and other infectious diseases. But the fact remains that many workers don’t even have the option of taking a paid flu vacation, as the Chamber advocates. They can’t risk losing their jobs, or their already too-small paychecks won’t allow a day (or more) of missed wages.

Paid sick leave not related to unemployment

When sick workers are on the job, it costs our national economy $180 billion annually in lost productivity.
When sick workers are on the job, it costs our national economy $180 billion annually in lost productivity.

Business groups like the National Federation of Independent Business and the National Small Business Association say the sick leave bills introduced in Congress come at a time when small businesses owners are struggling to keep afloat–and that covering the costs of mandated sick days could cause employers to have to lay off employees. Despite these frequent claims from some in the business community, a recent study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), a nonpartisan think tank, found no correlation between paid sick days and unemployment.

Another major new study by researchers at Harvard and McGill Universities — the largest ever to look at working conditions worldwide — finds that a week of paid sick leave would cost a business just 2 percent more in wage costs. The study’s authors also say the documented increase in productivity due to better working conditions would easily earn back the investment.

Paid sick days are critical to the ability of working Americans when they or their children are sick and to prevent the spread of the swine flu pandemic. Think about it this way: wouldn’t you prefer food service workers and restaurant workers did not work sick? How about care providers that look after your child while you’re at work, or the home care workers that help your parent with daily tasks so they can continue to live at home?

Sane public health policies increase quality of life in a cornucopia of settings–and maybe if we remind the U.S. Chamber of Commerce about this enough times, they’ll realize how absurd lobbying against legislation that would help with these issues is.

Not likely…but still worth a try. Tell the Chamber to cease lobbying against an emergency bill to give workers seven days of paid sick time per year: http://action.seiu.org/chamber.

*This post originally appeared in SEIU Blog on November 25, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the author.

About the Author: Kate Thomas is a blogger, web producer and new media coordinator at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a labor union with 2.1 million members in the healthcare, public and property service sectors. Kate’s passions include the progressive movement, the many wonders of the Internet and her job working for an organization that is helping to improve the lives of workers and fight for meaningful health care and labor law reform. Prior to working at SEIU, Katie worked for the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) as a communications/public relations coordinator and editor of AMSA’s newsletter appearing in The New Physician magazine.

Big Business And Republicans Downplay Threat Of H1N1 Spreading Due To Lack Of Paid Sick Leave

Thursday, November 19th, 2009

Image: Pat GarofaloYesterday, the House Education and Labor committee took a look at sick leave policies and their contribution to the spread of the H1N1 virus (swine flu). Public health experts have been voicing concerns that H1N1 is going to be transmitted by ill employees attending work, so Rep. George Miller (D-CA) has crafted a bill that would give employees five paid sick days if their employer sends them home due to H1N1.

Earlier this month, the Chamber of Commerce downplayed the extent to which lack of guaranteed paid sick leave could spread disease, saying that “the problem is not nearly as great as some people say.” And now the rest of the big business community is piling on:

Testifying on behalf of the National Association of Manufacturers Tuesday, A. Bruce Clarke, who runs his own 1,000-member business lobby in North Carolina, told Miller’s committee that most businesses already have comparable or more generous paid leave programs, so why bother? “While some employers may not have taken specific action in response to the H1N1 outbreak, these employers are clearly the exception to the widespread practices taking place today,” Clarke said in his prepared testimony.

And its not only business downplaying the extent of the problem. Rep. John Kline (R-MN), the ranking member on the Ed. and Labor committee, also tried to claim that the “vast majority” of workers have paid sick leave:

“With so many workers already having access to a variety of sick leave options, we need to look very carefully at proposals to add a new layer of federal leave mandates,” the 2nd District Republican said in a prepared statement during a House Education and Labor Committee hearing…According to Kline, the vast majority of workers in the United States already have access to paid sick leave.

Actually, nearly half of private sector workers have no paid sick leave. This includes 78 percent of hotel workers and 85 percent of food service workers, even though they are among the most likely to come in contact with other individuals. 68 percent of workers not eligible for paid sick days say that they have gone to work with a contagious illness.

*This post originally appeared in The Wonk Room on November 18, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

**For more information on H1N1 and swine flu visit this Workplace Fairness resource page.

About the Author: Pat Garofalo is the Economics Researcher/Blogger for WonkRoom.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. His writing has also appeared in The Nation, The Guardian, the Washington Examiner, and at New Deal 2.0.

House Democrats Introduce H1N1 Economic Vaccine

Friday, November 6th, 2009

Image: Brett BrownellDuring this year’s flu season, concerns about getting sick and missing work will be compounded. Not only will we have to take precautions against the common flu, but now we’ll have to add H1N1 to our list of concerns as well. Thankfully, vaccines are now available for both types of flu. However, many Americans will still be stricken with a contagious illness that will force them to miss work this flu season. Therefore, House Democrats have introduced a sort of economic vaccine which will guarantee up to five paid sick days to a worker sent home or directed to stay home by their employer because of a contagious illness.

The legislation, called the Emergency Influenza Containment Act was introduced by Rep. George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, and Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), chair of the Workforce Protections Subcommittee.

Rep. George Miller

Rep. Lynn Woolsey

Rep. Woolsey said, “This bill will ensure that workers who are directed to stay home by their employers can do so without paying a financial penalty.”

The Emergency Influenza Containment Act would take effect 15 days after being signed into law, sunset after two years, and cover full-time and part-time workers in businesses with 15 or more workers.

This should be a relief to the 72% of part-time workers, 37% of non-union workers, 18% of union workers who receive zero paid sick leave.

An employer can end the sick leave if they believe the employee is well enough to return to work and the employer informs the employee of the decision. Meanwhile, the bill would allow employees to continue on unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act or other existing sick leave policies.

The Centers for Disease Control estimates that a sick worker will infect one in ten co-workers. As a result, the CDC and other public health officials have advised employers to be flexible when dealing with sick employees and to develop leave policies that will not punish workers for being ill. Plus, according to the EICA, employees who follow their employer’s direction to stay home because of contagious illness cannot be fired, disciplined or made subject to retaliation for following directions.

H1N1 is still thriving in this tough economic climate. But for the rest of us, an economic vaccine may be on the way.

The House Education and Labor Committee will hold a hearing on the legislation the week of November 16.

About the Author: Brett Brownell is a new media fellow at the New Organizing Institute where he manages the Today’s Workplace blog and new media for Workplace Fairness. Brett served as deputy director of new media & videographer for the Obama campaign in Pennsylvania. He is also the founder of Worldwide Moment (an international photography project for peace) and the son of a 40-year veteran of the Association of Professional Flight Attendants union.

Nurses Rally for Strong Swine Flu Protection

Monday, August 10th, 2009

More than 100 nurses, wearing surgical masks and carrying signs that read “Nurses and Patients Demand Swine Flu Protection,” rallied Wednesday at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center to spotlight unsafe practices in treating H1N1 (swine) flu patients and protecting health care workers and other patients.

The nurses, members of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee (CNA/NNOC), also protested the recent firing by UCSF of an RN who blew the whistle on unsafe patient care involving swine flu at the facility.

A recent study by CNA/NNOC of California hospitals uncovered widespread problems, including systemic trouble with safety gear for nurses and infection control procedures for patients, as well as an emerging pattern of retribution against nurses who speak out about unsafe care.

In April, a report by the AFL-CIO and several unions revealed that health care workers are at risk because many of the nation’s health care facilities are not prepared to deal with a pandemic.

Last week, a U.S. Government Accountability Office report to Congress warned the United States is still not adequately prepared for a potentially large outbreak of H1N1 this fall. The action came just weeks after a nurse at Mercy San Juan Medical Center in Carmichael died of the H1N1 flu. Says CNA/NNOC co-President Deborah Burger, RN:

Hospitals across California—and possibly the entire country—are putting registered nurses and other front-line caregivers at risk by inadequately preparing for this pandemic.

If hospitals do not take urgent precautions to reverse this lack of preparation, we may see our health care facilities become vectors for infections. That is especially worrisome for hospital patients who already have compromised immune systems, and our nurses who may be unable to respond because of their own sickness.

The nurse who was fired for speaking out, says CNA/NNOC, recently started working at the facility when she was exposed to the virus in June.

While still suffering from the infection, she protested to management about inadequate hospital safety standards that she felt contributed to her illness.

Ultimately, the RN was fired in, what CNA/NNOC calls, retaliation against a swine flu whistle-blower.

Earlier this summer, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the virus a Phase-6 pandemic, its highest level of warning. WHO reported the death toll at 1,154, in data published this week.

Don’t forget to check out the AFL-CIO’s pandemic flu site, which includes vital resources for health care workers, firefighters, educators and more. Recently added to the site are five updated fact sheets:

  • Basic Facts About Pandemic Flu and the H1N1 (Swine) Flu;
  • Protecting Workers During Pandemic Flu;
  • Protecting Health Care Workers During Pandemic Flu;
  • Respirators: One Way to Protect Workers Against Pandemic Flu; and
  • What the Union Can Do: Preparing the Workplace for Pandemic Flu.

Mike Hall: I’m a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. I came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When my collar was still blue, I carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. I’ve also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold my blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen me at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. I was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still have the shirts, lost the hair.

This article originally appeared on the AFL-CIO Blog on August 7, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

Now Labeled a Pandemic, Swine Flu Poses Threat to Health Care Workers

Friday, June 19th, 2009

The H1N1 (swine flu) virus is now the first global flu pandemic in 41 years. The World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday declared the virus a Phase-6 pandemic, its highest level of warning.

The declaration means the virus has circled the globe and poses a threat to spread more rapidly among populations. So far, there have been 27,737 cases of swine flu and 141 deaths in 74 countries. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says there have been 13,000 cases of the flu and at least 27 deaths.

WHO classifies the reported cases as mild to moderate. But two other factors are causes for concern. About half of those who have died from the H1N1 virus were young and healthy people not normally susceptible to flu. Second, the virus continues to spread in the warm summer months in the Northern Hemisphere, a time when flu viruses normally disappear.

When the virus was found to have spread to the United States earlier this year, the CDC and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommended that employers follow recently issued guidelines for protecting workers from pandemic flu, and CDC issued new interim guidelines to protect health care workers from the H1N1 infection

But studies showed that numerous states and health care facilities were not following the guidelines. Last month, the AFL-CIO and several unions urged OSHA to protect health care workers and other front-line employees by issuing a hazard alert and/or compliance directive that makes clear that exposure to the H1N1 virus poses a recognized hazard to workers and requires protective measures.  OSHA is currently evaluating the unions’ request.

In April, a report by the AFL-CIO and several unions revealed that health care workers are at risk because many of the nation’s health care facilities are not prepared to deal with a pandemic.

Don’t forget to check out the AFL-CIO’s pandemic flu site, which includes vital resources for health care workers, firefighters, educators and more. Recently added to the site are five updated fact sheets:

  • Basic Facts About Pandemic Flu and the H1N1 (Swine) Flu
  • Protecting Workers During Pandemic Flu
  • Protecting Health Care Workers During Pandemic Flu
  • Respirators: One Way to Protect Workers Against Pandemic Flu
  • What the Union Can Do: Preparing the Workplace for Pandemic Flu

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL-CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. He carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He’s also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold blood plasma, and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen him at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. He was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still has the shirts, lost the hair.

This article originally appeared in the AFL-CIO Now Blog on June 12, 2009. Re-printed with permission by the author.

 

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