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Why We Need Paid Sick Leave Now

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Have you ever had to choose between going to work sick and paying for groceries? Lisa, a food service worker from Kissimmee, Florida, has. When she developed a bad gum infection, she came down with a fever, terrible pain, and inflammation so bad that her right eye was swollen shut. After a trip to the emergency room, she couldn't afford to stay home and recover. "As a single mother and sole provider in my house, getting sick was not an option for me," she said.

Lisa is far from alone. Nearly 40 million people in the U.S. aren't eligible for even one paid sick day. It's a big problem for individuals, families and our economy as a whole. For workers without access to paid sick leave, 3.5 days without wages is the equivalent of losing a month's worth of grocery money. No one should be forced to make the impossible choice between recovering from an illness and having to report to work because they simply can't afford not to.

Thankfully, in places around the country, these untenable arrangements are starting to change.

Today the White House is convening its first-ever Summit on Working Families, where they will explore paid sick leave and other strategies to build a better 21st century workplace. The Administration deserves credit for recognizing that addressing these issues is critical to building strong, competitive businesses, a thriving economy -- and, of course, a healthier populace.

The Summit comes in response to successful efforts to advance this issue at the state and local levels. As they have done on issues like the minimum wage, cities and states are stepping up to ensure workers receive paid sick leave while obstruction by Republicans in Congress has thwarted improvements on the federal level.

In the past year alone, we've seen paid sick day laws pass in New York City, Jersey City, Newark and Portland. Campaigns for paid sick days are also gaining momentum in Chicago, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, California, Colorado, New York, New Jersey and Washington State. All across the country, broad, grassroots coalitions like Family Values @ Work are bringing together working parents, policy experts, labor advocates, members of the faith community and others to advance these measures.

This is happening because people are realizing that allowing workers to stay home when they are sick is good for everyone. It's good for public health, for obvious reasons; wouldn't you prefer that your waiter not have the flu? It's good for our economy as well, which relies significantly on consumer spending that declines when workers' pay is docked for getting sick. And, despite misguided opposition from corporate lobbyists like the National Restaurant Association, it's also good for businesses.

At Amalgamated Bank, we've seen the advantages of paid sick leave in action. All our employees are eligible for paid sick time; full-time employees can take 10 paid sick days per year if they need to. Workers like to know that they can stay home if necessary without losing pay or infecting customers or fellow employees, and that helps us retain good workers. And we get 100 percent from our employees when they are at work because they are healthy rather than battling an illness. That's why we've been proud to be outspoken on this issue; I testified on the bank's behalf in favor of paid sick days in front of the Washington, D.C., City Council last year about that city's bill, which was ultimately successful.

Some have issued dire warnings about how implementing paid sick leave legislation will be disastrous for businesses and economic activity. In places that have adopted such policies, however, that simply hasn't been true. Since San Francisco passed a paid sick days law in 2007, for instance, six in seven employers there have reported no negative impact on profitability. In fact, the city experienced better job growth than 5 surrounding counties where their employers have no paid sick leave requirements. And in Connecticut, the Department of Labor reported that since paid sick leave regulations were passed in 2011, employment has grown in the Leisure and Hospitality and Education and Health Services sectors -- the two areas most impacted by the new policy.

But despite the clear benefits for all, too many corporate lobbyists are still digging in their heels. So state and local governments need to continue to step up and take the issue on -- and it's time for Congress to follow suit.

Elected officials at every level should take note: The public overwhelmingly supports these policies. Fully 86 percent of voters -- including 96 percent of Democrats and 73 percent of Republicans -- believe it is important for Congress to consider implementing legislation that would provide paid sick leave and other policies that help balance the demands of work and family.

Let's make sure our elected officials get the message -- for the long-term health of families, businesses and our economy.