THE BLOG

Paid Sick Days Movement Heats Up

04/12/2013 10:29 am ET | Updated Jun 12, 2013

Patricia, a home health care aide from Colorado, attended to a man who is quadriplegic. When Patricia came down with food poisoning, her life unraveled. Her condition progressed to pneumonia caused from the vomit that spilled into her lungs. When her temperature spiked to 104 degrees, she took three days of unpaid leave -- the equivalent to a week's worth of earnings.

After three days, still weak and unable to lift her 170 pound patient, Patricia called in sick for one more day. She was fired. And with the loss of her income she was evicted from her home.

Patricia is one of more than 40 million working Americans in this country without access to paid sick days -- that is 40 percent of the private workforce and 81 percent of low-wage workers. Those who can least afford to take unpaid leave are hurt the most from not having earned sick leave.

These workers, often invisible to the world, provide essential services in our communities -- they clean our homes and offices, cook and serve us our food, and care for our children and elderly parents. And because they can't afford to lose a day's wages, they often work sick, spreading their illness to their customers or to the children, elderly or patients in their care. It is unequivocally wrong to deny working women and men earned paid time off to care for themselves or a family member when they are sick.

There is good news. Momentum is building across the nation to offer paid sick days, both locally and at the federal level. Portland, Philadelphia and New York City recently joined Connecticut, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. in passing paid sick days legislation. And at the federal level, the Healthy Families Act was recently re-introduced.

The progress we are making at the local level is based on hard work, sound arguments, a clear need and strong support from both Republican and Democratic voters. But because of our hard-won victories, corporate opposition is preparing to go to war against low-wage working women and men with the 'kill shot.'

In 2008, 9to5 Milwaukee and its allies passed a city ordinance guaranteeing paid sick leave. The referendum won with 70 percent of the popular vote. But in 2011, Governor Scott Walker repealed the law. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative public policy group with strong ties to corporations and trade associations, has been behind a preemption effort or 'kill shot', based on Gov. Walker's bill, to override the will of local communities.

The opposition relies on the faulty argument that paid sick days are bad for business. But the truth is that earned leave promotes productivity and saves businesses money. If workers earned seven paid sick days a year, our national economy would experience a net savings of $160 billion a year due to increased productivity and reduced turnover. Small businesses also depend on an employed workforce because low-wage families spend their money in their local economies.

We will continue to build on these victories because we owe Patricia and other hardworking Americans the opportunity to live and work with dignity.