Seattle Times op-ed: Paid sick days will mean a healthier Seattle

May 26, 2011 | Economic Opportunity Institute

Robin Fleming, School nurse

Vic-ee Olson, Grocery store deli worker

From the Seattle Times:
By Robin Fleming, and Vic-ee Olson

As a school nurse and a grocery store deli clerk, we know why paid sick days are needed.

Kids come to school sick — or stay at school sick — because their mom or dad has to go to work. And with or without kids, people go to work sick because they can’t afford to lose a day’s pay, and they don’t want to get hassled for calling in sick.

You may think workers should be able to stay at home when they or their kids are sick — without losing pay or getting disciplined? You are right. People should be able to, but there is no such law.

So here we are in Seattle, one of the country’s most progressive cities, with leaders who would like to be remembered for making the city a better place to live — and 190,000 people working here don’t have a single paid sick day on the job.

This is a significant problem. Having paid sick days would help prevent the spread of disease, help make our food safer (tens of thousands of restaurant and grocery workers are among those who do not have paid sick days), and help keep our kids and families healthy (many people working in local day-care centers and even health-care facilities don’t have paid sick days either). Most people get it. Most people think a person should be able to seek medical treatment, preventive care or care for a sick family member. Most people think it’s unjust to harass an employee for calling in sick, or to discipline them for staying home with a sick child.

Of course, there’s a smaller group of people who think paid sick days are a bad idea. They say it’s too expensive to make work places safer. They say it’s too costly to allow food service and restaurant workers to stay at home when they are contagious. They say it’s too burdensome for a parent to pick up a sick child at school without getting a negative performance review at work.

Is that the Seattle way? Is that really the city we want to live in? Or is there a way that we can allow for the few days a year people need to be home when sick, or to see their doctor, without taking a pay cut? Is there a way people can come to the school nurse’s office when called without hearing about it from their boss?

Yes, there is a way: The city of Seattle can pass a law that ensures every worker has paid sick days on the job. In the coming weeks, as this idea is considered by our city leaders, we say: Don’t wait. Introduce a proposal for paid sick days now, and get it passed into law. Be remembered for making Seattle a healthier place to live and work.

If any business wants to do this voluntarily now, there’s nothing stopping them. They don’t need a law to direct them to do something voluntarily. But for those employing the nearly 200,000 people who don’t have paid sick days, a new law is needed. For those 13,000 children in Seattle schools, who have both parents working without paid sick days, a new law is needed.

So let’s get it done. Let’s pass paid sick days for all workers in Seattle. It will be better for our kids, our co-workers, our customers and our community.

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Posted in A Fair Deal at Work, Column, Paid Sick Days

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