The Senate, the Swine Flu, and Sick Days
The President, the Center for Disease Control, your doctor, and your child's teacher are telling you to stay home, or keep your child home, when the body aches, the head pounds, and the fever rages.
Fine. But how can you do that if you don't have any paid sick days? This was the question at the center of a hearing before a U.S Senate subcommittee yesterday, as the impact of the current pandemic was considered, and how a ‘paid sick days’ policy could mitigate the damage of the next one.
So, what can you do with no sick days?
A: You drag yourself to work, keep your job, but infect 10% of your coworkers with the H1N1 virus.
B: You stay home, you miss work and lose your job.
C: Your child stays home, you go to work, and Child Protective Services hauls you into court, you miss work and lose your job.
D: Your child stays home, you stay home too.....and you miss work and lose your job.
E: All of the above.
Without paid sick days, the answer for over 57 million private sector American workers is "E", all of the above. We are in an impossible situation, as H1N1 has now spread to 48 states, and so many of those infected cannot afford to stay home or have no leave to call upon. Advocates in Congress call it an issue of simple fairness, a basic right, and a minimum labor standard, like the 40-hour work week or extra pay for overtime work. Those in jobs with good pay and benefits may be offered paid sick days by their employers voluntarily. But only one out of four workers in low wage jobs, usually the ones with significant public contact, gets a paid sick day. Millions of school bus drivers, food service workers, child care providers, home health aides, and others. Paid leave is provided by statute in 145 other countries, most of them industrialized, and even in some that are not. If we'd had it in this country, the virus would not be so widespread today.
Opponents say that the Healthy Families Act - the bill that requires workplaces of 15 or more employees to offer 7 paid sick days per year - would be fatal to the economy. They say that most employers offer very generous paid sick leave, and that the absence of any federal law lets them tailor-make solutions for the particular characteristics of their workforce. Requiring an inflexible, one-size-fits-all mandate would negatively impact the workplaces, which are already doing such a good job in creatively solving this problem, by implementing practices such as telecommuting, and alternative scheduling. It was not clear how this approach would afford the bus driver, the visiting nurse, the cafeteria worker, the hotel housekeeper, the child care worker, or the part-time special-ed teacher the time to combat and recover from a potentially fatal illness. Their jobs cannot be done from another location, or at another hour of the day.
Watch a video of the hearing yourself, or read the testimony submitted, right here.
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