Boston Gets It: Paid Sick Days Should be a Basic Workplace Standard

08/13/2009 01:13 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I'm not saying we should start rooting for the Red Sox, but some people in Boston are starting to talk a lot of sense.

Let me explain. When the Swine Flu outbreak hit, public health officials and even President Obama stressed that if you felt sick, you should stay home to help stem the spread of the disease.

It was sound advice, but unfortunately for the tens of millions of Americans who have no paid sick time where they work, it simply isn't an option. With schools set to reopen in weeks and Flu season not far behind, the Boston Globe has put two and two together in an editorial today:

THE FIGHT against swine flu is putting the public back in public health. And Massachusetts's plan for the expected resurgence of the flu when schools reopen this fall will work only if parents, employers, and schools all do their part.

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised against the closings of schools that occurred in many areas last spring, but called for parents to keep sick children home until at least 24 hours after they no longer have signs of a fever....It is regrettable that Congress has yet to pass legislation requiring large employers to offer paid days off for workers who are sick or have to care for family members.

Without such legislation, a sense of shared commitment will have to suffice...If parents fear the consequences of missing work, they'll be more likely to ignore their children's symptoms and end up having them infect entire classrooms. [bold mine].

The Globe's editorial board aren't the only Bostonians who can see that the widespread lack of paid sick leave is a public health disaster just waiting to happen. Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, has called on Boston area businesses asking them to provide paid sick days to their employees. She told the Globe last week:

"It's much better for a handful of parents to be able to stay home with sick kids than to have me close a building with 1,200 kids and to now require all of those kids to stay at home."

That's public health advice we could use here in New York City, where according to a survey by the Community Service Society, as many as one million workers have no paid sick leave at all. It's obvious: when people go to work sick or send their sick kids to school for lack of better options, it isn't healthy for anyone.

That's why a growing coalition of advocates, small businesses, public health experts, and the Working Families Party is fighting to establish paid sick days as a basic workplace standard for all New Yorkers. It's good for workers and their families, and it's a simple, commonsense way to protect public health.

San Francisco, Washington, DC, and Milwaukee have passed universal paid sick days bills, and 13 states and Congress are considering paid sick days bills too. As a global city at the center of the Swine Flu outbreak where vast numbers of workers have no sick paid sick days whatsoever, New York City should be leading the charge.

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