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Erica Sommers Headshot

Would You Like a Splash of Typhoid Fever With Your Cocktail Drink?

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Nine out of ten Miami restaurant workers have no access to earned paid sick days. If you asked the average bartender, waiter or dishwasher at a restaurant if they have paid sick days, they would probably laugh in your face and then cry. That is because, paid sick days or not, the majority have probably gone to work when they were extremely sick. I know, I am one of those people. However nearly 90 percent of restaurant workers nationwide have no access to paid sick days.

I grew up in Georgia and moved to Miami when I was 17 to go to college. I went to the University of Miami and studied business and marketing. I also studied classical music, became a singer and songwriter and tried to pursue a job in the music business. I eventually landed a job as a bartender, and have been bar-tending for a decade. I am also a member of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Miami, "ROC Miami" and am the instructor for their Introduction to Fine Dining and Bartending class.

I first started off in small mom and pop bars. I eventually started working for larger hotels because I thought that the benefits would be better. I am asthmatic and have tons of allergies that require a lot of medical attention. I have no doubt that some of it is probably from working in smoky rooms for so long.

Fortunately for me, the hotel I work in now allows us to take off when we are sick. But it wasn't always like that for me. The last hotel I worked at technically offered sick days, but really didn't want you to use them. In a lot of these bigger hotels, the reaction your bosses give you when you try to take off because you are sick is enough for you to just keep working when you should be seeing a doctor. Which is completely ridiculous and dangerous for: co-workers, customers, the employee, and the employer. Over a quarter of workers in the restaurant industry in Miami-Dade who worked while sick reported coughing or sneezing while handling food. Over 10 percent reported infecting co-workers.

I know that I worked on several occasions when I shouldn't have. The scariest time was last year, when I went to work with a really high fever. I felt a lot of pressure to keep working and ride it out instead of taking care of it. It wasn't until after my temperature reached 103 degrees that I was able to get help. I found out it was Typhoid fever.

My managers were well aware that I wasn't feeling good, but they didn't seem to care. I don't think some big bosses in the service industry get that when you get sick, not only can you pass it along to other workers, but to customers as well. In a city like Miami, where tons of tourists are from other countries, the effects have the potential to be devastating.

In my opinion, the right to not get your co-workers and customers sick should be a basic one. That is why we should be fighting for the right to paid sick days for everyone. But some businesses just don't realize that jeopardizing everyone's health just to save a buck doesn't make much sense. I hope that they come to their senses before it is too late. Too many face unnecessary hardships making minimum wage, while worrying about having to work while sick. We need change. And we need it now.