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Miami-Dade Restaurants Filled With Sick Workers Who Can't Take Time Off: ROC Study

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That sneeze guard over the salad bar isn't enough -- but neither are the paychecks.

A new study from advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Centers-United Miami says 40 percent of Miami-Dade restaurant employees who worked sick admitted coughing or sneezing while handling food, an alarming statistic made worse because 74 percent of those who did work sick said they could not afford to take the day off without pay.

The study, called "Backed Into A Corner," is at the center of a push by ROC, the Miami-Dade Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces, County Commissioner Barbara Jordan, South Florida Jobs with Justice, and other advocates for county-wide legislation that would provide earned sick days to low-wage workers.

"The workers who can least afford to call in sick and take a day without pay are the most likely to endanger others due to their high interaction with the public," states the report, embedded below, which notes that the county's restaurant industry has become its 3rd largest private sector employer with some 72,700 workers. Among other notable findings, according to the survey:

  • Nine out of ten Miami restaurant workers have no access to earned paid sick days.
  • Nearly half report having worked while sick.
  • Among those, two-fifths had illnesses worsened as a result of going to work, increasing negative consequences for themselves and their families.
  • More than 10 percent reported infecting people they worked with.
  • Five percent admitted serving potentially contaminated food (whether expired, dirty or leftover) to customers.
  • 63.6 percent said they had no access to health insurance; 46.1 percent of those respondants reported never having seen a doctor.

“While hardworking people are struggling to make ends meet, no worker should have to choose between their health and their job,” ROC's policy coordinator Jean Souffrant said in a statement.

The issue of course, is nationwide. A recent survey indicated even more than half of resident doctors work while sick, though they presumably earn far more -- and have more access to healthcare -- than Miami-Dade restaurant workers, who notch a median wage of less than $10 an hour. Bloomberg recently released statistics indicating that strapped Americans are using fewer sick days overall than before the recession began, and a University of Pittsburgh study even found that mandated paid sick leave might have prevented about 5 million fewer cases in the U.S. of the H1N1 virus, commonly called swine flu, during the 2009 pandemic.

New York City has also seen a push for legislated paid sick days, which has been required in San Francisco since 2007, Washington, D.C. (2008), Seattle (2011) and Connecticut (2012). According to the New York Times, at least 36 of 50 city council members were behind requiring paid sick leave for over 1.2 million workers in the city. Speaker Christine Quinn, however, has refused to bring the bill to the floor citing the poor economy.

(Billionaire Rupert Murdoch shortly agreed with Quinn, though supporter Susan Sarandon broke rank with a link to a San Francisco study showing six of seven employers reported paid sick leave had no negative effect on profitability).

The ROC study doesn't offer language for proposed Miami-Dade legislation in terms of hours or days, but does recommend any compensation be given at the rate employees would typically earn by working their shift -- with tipped workers paid at a rate commensurate with their total average daily wage.

View the study below:

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Filed by Janie Campbell