It may be one of the deepest, yet least-known, economic divides in our society. So often, doctors, teachers, union members and others with benefit packages are amazed to learn that millions of workers in this country are without paid sick days. I hear gasps when I talk about it to certain audiences.
But it's true, and it's a huge, widespread problem. Two-thirds of low-income workers in this nation, and 57 million private sector workers, do not have even one paid sick day. 94 million workers don't have a paid sick day they can use to care for a sick child.
For them, illness or injury means making a terrible choice. Either miss a day's pay, or go to work sick. Either send a sick child to school, or risk losing your job.
That's because, right now, no federal or state law ensures that workers have the paid sick days they need. The Healthy Families Act would change that by giving workers up to seven paid sick days a year to recover from illness or care for a sick family member.
But it's languishing in Congress, and that will continue to be the case unless we press our senators and representatives to take action on this legislation.
There's good reason. Passage of this bill would offer a huge boost to workers by establishing a minimum labor standard for paid sick days. But it would also help everyone who has ever sat next to someone on a bus or subway who seemed contagious, or worried that the restaurant or cafeteria worker handling their food wasn't well.
In fact, workers in health care, food preparation and child care disproportionately lack paid sick days. When they are forced to report to work sick, they can spread infections to sick and elderly patients, restaurant and cafeteria patrons, babies and toddlers in daycare centers.
Moreover, workers without paid sick days miss the chance to get mammograms and flu shots, and take their kids for immunizations and check-ups - prevention that can save health care dollars down the road.
The Healthy Families Act also would help our economy. Studies show that if workers had just seven paid sick days a year, our nation's economy would experience a net savings of $8.1 billion because healthy workers are productive workers, and workers who are forced to be on the job when they are sick recover more slowly and can spread disease.
Right now, the United States is the only one of the 20 most competitive countries that does not guarantee workers some paid sick days.
We can change that. Please, join the Online Rally for Healthy Families to support this legislation, and ask your friends to do the same.
When you log onto www.EveryOneGetsSick.org, you will find personal stories, view photos of other supporters, and have the chance to post stories and photos of your own. You can learn about state and local actions on paid sick days, and see if your state or city is on the map. You can urge your Members of Congress to support the Healthy Families Act.
We're forcing people to choose between a paycheck and getting well. That's not compassionate. It's not family-friendly. And it's not right.
Join the Online Rally for Healthy Families today at www.EveryOneGetsSick.org.
Everyone gets sick. Everyone needs time to get better.
A Peaceful Revolution is a weekly blog about work/life satisfaction done in collaboration with MomsRising.org. Read a post by a leading thinker in the field every week.