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Jenny Davies-Schley

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Latinos, African Americans Lag in Paid Sick Leave

Posted: 08/ 1/2011 1:26 pm

The Institute for Women's Policy Research just issued a study finding that access to paid sick days in Denver varies widely based on ethnicity and race. Only 33 percent of White women and 35 percent of White men have jobs that do not provide sick leave while Latinos and African Americans lag far behind -- 64% of Hispanic men, 50% of Hispanic women, 46% of African-American men and 44% of African-American women receive no paid sick leave at their workplace.

Most of the jobs without paid sick time are in service industries like restaurants, childcare, home healthcare and construction, where workers have a great deal of interaction with public. Sick lower-wage workers are faced with the decision whether to go to work sick and expose the public to illness or stay home and recover but risk not making ends meet at the end of the month.

"Latinos make up the majority of workers in service industries like food service and childcare, where they interact with diners and small children," Grace López Ramírez, Colorado State Director of Mi Familia Vota points out. "When they, their child or a family member gets sick, those workers have to decide whether they must go to work sick and possibly spread their illness or stay home to recover but risk not being able to pay the rent or maybe even losing their job. It's an impossible situation for Latino workers and families."

The Campaign for a Healthy Denver -- a coalition of more than 90 community organizations, labor groups, faith leaders and organizations, public health groups, elected officials and businesses -- seeks to pass a Denver ballot initiative to protect public health by guaranteeing a basic standard of paid sick days for employees in all Denver workplaces. If the initiative passes, all workers in Denver will be able to earn one hour of paid sick and safe time for every 30 hours they work, up to nine days annually for full time workers and pro-rated for part-time employees. Smaller businesses with fewer than 10 employees would be able to cap paid sick and safe time to five days per year.

Paid sick leave laws have benefitted cities where they have been enacted. Six in seven employers surveyed in San Francisco, where a paid sick days law has been in effect since 2007, say that paid sick days have had no negative effect on profitability, and nearly 70 percent of employers in that city support the law. Not only are workers healthier and more productive; they don't expose customers, clients and patients to illness.

"Lack of paid sick days is a serious problem for 100,000 employees in Denver, but this data shows that the problem is even greater in the African-American community. No employee wants to have to make the choice to come into work sick, possibly making their co-workers and others sick, too. It's an economic reality that virtually all of these workers need every day's pay to make ends meet," says Ruthie Johnson of the A. Phillip Randolph Institute. "A paid sick and safe days policy will make sure workers can take the time to get well and maintain their economic security."