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Dan Cantor

Dan Cantor

Posted: September 1, 2009 02:03 PM

Stopping Swine Flu: Paid Sick Days for All New Yorkers


When the Swine Flu outbreak hit New York City, public health officials and even President Obama told us to stay home if we felt sick.

It’s sound advice for preventing the spread of germs, but for the more than one million New Yorkers who do not have a single day of paid sick leave where they work, staying home may not be an option.

Today, Mayor Michael Bloomberg briefed city officials on important Swine Flu prevention measures.  Here’s another: making paid sick days a basic workplace standard for all New Yorkers.

It’s simple: if you can’t afford to go to stay home when you get sick, you end up putting yourself and others at risk. As Victor W. Sidel, MD, a distinguished public health expert put it in a statement today:

“Going to work sick is not good for you, your co-workers, or anyone else you come into contact with during the workday.  Unfortunately, more than one million people in New York City do not have paid sick days where they work. As we prepare for a return of H1N1, making sure people who are sick can stay home and rest when they need to should be a top priority.”

New York City would not be the first to guarantee paid sick days for everyone in its borders (San Francisco, Milwaukee, and Washington, DC have already passed paid sick days laws), but it might be the city with the most to gain.

Nearly two-thirds of low-wage workers in New York City have no paid sick days - and many of them work in the places where disease is most likely to spread. A survey of restaurant workers by the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York found that 84% don't have paid sick days, and a majority report coming to work sick.

Everyday, all around us - in the subway, in fast food restaurants, in beauty shops and grocery stores - residents of the Big Apple interact with people who simply can't afford to stay home when they're sick.

As a global center of commerce and travel, New York City is bound to catch whatever colds are traveling the world.  It’s not a cause for panic, but it means our healthcare system and our public policy need to be ready.

The Working Families Party and a broad coalition led by New York State Paid Family Leave Coalition, Make the Road New York, the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York, and A Better Balance: The Work and Family Legal Center are working to pass a universal paid sick days law for New York City.  Last month, our paid sick days bill was introduced in the City Council by Councilmember Gale Brewer and 35 other co-sponsors. 

But to make sure City Hall acts fast, we need regular New Yorkers to speak up.  Yesterday, we launched an online petition in support of the paid sick days bill – and there’s already over 1,300 signers in less than 24 hours. Add your name, and join our campaign.

Follow Dan Cantor on Twitter: www.twitter.com/workingfamilies