By Washington State Representative Roger Freeman
Last year, I was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. Here’s the thing you think about when you have stage four cancer — there is no stage five.
I was concerned. Not only for myself, but for my family.
Fighting cancer means treatment and surgery. Lots of doctor’s appointments. Lots of time off work. As the sole breadwinner for my wife and two children I wondered, with all my time at the hospital and in recovery, how will we pay for basics like groceries and our mortgage? How will we not lose everything?
I am one of the lucky ones. I have paid sick leave. I was able to make all my appointments. I was able to put my energy and effort into fighting my illness, not worrying if my family would lose our home.
But there are one million Washingtonians who have no paid sick leave. When they get sick, they must choose between getting a paycheck and getting well. If their child is sick they must choose between staying home to care for the child and making sure there is food on the table at the end of the month.
The state House passed HB 1313, allowing all workers to build up some safe and sick leave.
It is critical during times of health, for parents to be able to build up time sick leave in case a catastrophic event occurs. For me, having sick leave was a lifesaver. My family had enough to worry about. For them, my sick leave meant peace of mind.
HB 1313 also provides that employees can use built up leave for safety. If anyone needs to go to court to obtain a protection order against an abuser, and attend subsequent court dates, the leave can be used for this. No person should be made to choose between the safety and making a rent payment.
I understand the concerns of the business community. I know providing benefits for employees are expensive. That’s why I am pleased that HB 1313 bill has a sliding scale to protect small businesses. The smallest are exempt, and the larger the company, the more safe and sick leave a worker would be able to accrue. And in the end, businesses who invest in a healthy workforce will be more productive and more profitable.
HB 1313 is about creating the kind of kind of society which we want to live. Do we want to live where someone diagnosed with cancer is forced to lose their job and their home in order to get well? A society where a parent is forced to leave their sick child home alone? Or, a society where government and business respect human dignity.
It’s time for the Senate to pass HB 1313, providing some safe and sick leave to all workers. Please, call your Senator and ask him or her to support HB 1313.
Paid safe and sick leave is about protecting yourself and your family. Paid sick and safe leave is about preserving humanity.