When my son was almost 10, I found out I was pregnant with twin girls. I was excited but a little intimidated. I remembered one newborn being a lot of work – what would two be like? I mentally prepared for double the amount of diaper changes, laundry, bottles and child care costs. But what didn’t occur to me until after my return to work was how going from one child to three more than tripled my chances of needing to call in sick.
In a recent work week the family cat was diagnosed with feline diabetes, my son got hit by a baseball in P.E. and one of the twins threw up on the other twin’s shoes at preschool. All of this added up to coming in late, leaving early and taking a sick day to care for my child.
Not an easy week - it can be stressful to have to miss work for any reason. But I have a union contract and paid sick days. I don’t lose money for taking a day when I need it and, even more importantly, I don’t risk losing my job.
Sadly, this is not true for everyone. Almost half of all private sector workers in the US lose pay when they take a day off work to care for themselves or a family member. Many risk disciplinary action as well. According to a recent study, one in six workers report that they have been fired, suspended or disciplined for taking a sick day to care for themselves, a child or another family member. They are literally being forced to choose between a paycheck and getting well.
The Union Solution
Union members are 50% more likely than non-union workers to have paid sick time for themselves and their children. But even as a union member I can’t take my right to paid sick days for granted. The labor movement is still working on this - fighting negative sick leave policies through grievances and at the bargaining table. In the long run, the only way for union members to be ensured the right to paid sick days is to push for this right for all workers. And they are. Unions are joining with Family Values @ Work, a multi-state consortium, to push for public policy that would provide a minimum number of paid sick days for everyone.
Everyone gets sick. But not everyone has the same right to take a day or two to get well. Needing to take a sick day – like I did recently – can seem like just a personal problem. Working in Coalition with Unions, we can take a personal problem and work collectively on the solution. Together we can win.