A Paid Sick Days Wake Up Call
My 90 year-old mother used to tell me that moms are only allowed to be sick for one day – after that they have to get back to taking care of everyone else. Too bad that the nasty germs don’t always pay attention to the one-day rule. And to make matters tougher, nowadays, taking care of everyone else doesn’t just include the kids, it more often than not includes taking care of business at work. That’s why working moms in New York City are uniting on the front lines of the legislative battle to win the right to earn paid sick time on their jobs.
Huh? Doesn’t everyone already get paid sick leave? The surprising answer is: “No.”
Nationally, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 4 out of 10 private sector workers do not have access to sick leave. It is shocking that so many workers don’t get a single paid sick day – a basic workplace benefit that many of us take for granted.
Even more shocking are the tremendous disparities the BLS reports by wage level. Only a third of workers in the bottom wage quartile get paid sick leave compared to 84% of those in the top quartile of wage earners. So those who can least afford to lose a day’s pay are the ones who face the untenable choice between their health – or their child’s health – and their paycheck.
In New York City, an annual survey done for Community Service Society (CSS) by national pollster Celinda Lake found that almost half (48%) of working New Yorkers do not any paid sick leave. CSS estimates that 1.3 million workers do not get a single day of paid leave that they can use for themselves or to take care of a sick family member.
Who doesn’t get paid sick days in NYC? It’s disproportionately low-income workers, workers in small businesses, restaurant workers and others in the service sector.
In testimony and in meetings around the city we’ve heard the horror stories behind these statistics:
- The mom who worked in a bank, took two days off when her toddler was hospitalized and was fired when she returned
- The woman with a high risk pregnancy, who was forced to quit her job to comply with the need for frequent prenatal tests and monitoring – who was near tears in her testimony telling the City Council that she is ashamed to be on welfare now
- Imagine being a mom in Queens during last year’s swine flu outbreak who was being told keep your child home if she has flu symptoms but had a job she desperately needed that did not provide sick leave for herself, much less to care for a sick child.
It’s clear that as a matter of public health, paid sick days concerns all of us.
- No one wants the person serving their food to be sick,
- No one wants the commuter squeezed next to them on the subway grabbing their pole to have the flu, and
- No one wants the office mate from hell with a hacking cough,
- No one wants their kid coming home from school sick because the other parents can’t afford to take a few days off,
- No one wants to be the mom at work getting the call from the school nurse to pick her child up, worried that this simple act could cost her her job.
And no one understands this as well as moms, who probably too often drag themselves and their germs into work or miss a mammogram because they fear losing their pay or their jobs. That’s bad enough, but as moms we should never have to choose between the sick child we love and the paycheck we need to pay the bills.
So who is opposing paid sick days? The business lobby.
Even they admit that people coming to work sick is not a good idea,
but they claim that businesses just can’t afford to provide paid sick days. Do they have a good argument? No.
If all businesses have to provide paid sick days, then no one will be at a competitive disadvantage. They will operate on a level playing field, instead of the way it is now where the businesses doing the right thing by their employees are at a disadvantage.
Second, paid sick days is not a high cost benefit. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research did a careful analysis of the proposed New York City law and estimates that it would cost just 15 cents per hour worked for smaller businesses and 23 cents an hour for larger businesses. The cost is greater for larger businesses because they tend to pay higher wages and would be required to provide at least 9 paid sick days annually, compared to only 5 for smaller businesses.
This is like a small increase in the minimum wage. It is a cost that will ultimately be passed along to consumers. And it would be hardly worth the expense of relocating to a suburb and losing your customer base.
But the best evidence is provided by the experience in San Francisco
which has had a similar law in effect since 2007. Studies by the Drum Major Institute and others have found that jobs have not been hurt in San Francisco in comparison to jobs in surrounding counties without sick days laws. The Wall Street Journal, hardly an anti-business rag, interviewed business leaders in San Francisco who initially opposed the bill, and now say, it just has not been a big deal.
A veto-proof majority of 36 City Council members have already signed on as co-sponsors of the New York City Paid Sick Time Act. So what’s standing in the way? The Council Speaker, Christine Quinn has told us that when evaluating legislation, she uses the test of “does it keep me up at night?” She told us worries that a paid sick days law could cost the city jobs
keeps her up at night. So she has not yet agreed to bring the measure up for a vote.
Framing the issue as a choice between jobs with paid sick days and no jobs presents a false choice. The minimum wage increase didn’t hurt jobs, San Francisco didn’t lose jobs when it enacted paid sick days, and it won’t happen with a modest floor of paid sick time in New York City.
As a mom, what keeps me up at night is the sick child with a high fever.
As moms we need to let Speaker Quinn know that it should keep her up too. (She's on Twitter @ChrisCQuinn and
We’re asking you to make that wake up call.