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Every day in the United States, more workers than many of us imagine face an impossible choice: go to work sick, or forgo a paycheck and risk job loss or workplace discipline.  More than 40 million private sector workers in this country do not have access to even a single paid sick day. And when it comes to personal care workers—those who tend to the elderly and care for small children—more than half (52%) lack paid sick days.

The need for paid sick days for direct care workers could not be more critical.  With pay rates that average about $10 per hour, every cent earned is crucial to direct care workers’ financial stability and the economic security of their families.  On the other hand, when direct care workers go to work sick, they risk the fragile health of those they care for—people who are ill, elderly, or medically needy and who are entrusted to their care.

Currently pending before Congress, the Healthy Families Act would eliminate the impossible choice that so many workers must make. The Act would create a basic labor standard that allows workers to earn up to seven days per year of paid, job-protected time off to recover from illness, care for a sick family member, or seek preventive health care. If the bill becomes law, 90 percent of all U.S. workers would have access to paid sick days (up from 61 percent today). The Healthy Families Act would increase access to paid sick time for personal care workers by 107 percent (covering an additional 1.4 million personal care workers).

In addition to the national legislation, there is also legislative momentum for paid sick days at the state and local levels. Three jurisdictions—San Francisco, Washington D.C., and Milwaukee—have passed paid sick time laws and, in 2010, legislators and advocates in 24 state and cities are advancing paid sick days legislation. Although most legislative sessions have ended for the year, advocates are gearing up for the re-introduction of paid sick days bills in 2011. They are strengthening their coalitions, planning events, and continuing to meet with legislators.

Paid Sick Days campaigns need your help! There are multiple ways that direct care workers can get involved:

  • Go online to send a message to Congress to urge your Member to support paid sick days.
  • Testify at state and local hearings about why paid sick days matter – it’s important for legislators to hear the voices of direct care workers on this issue.
  • Help plan, participate in, or attend paid sick days events that are happening all around the country.
  • Join your local paid sick days coalition—or help form one where one doesn’t yet exist.

Learn more at  The time is now. Everyone gets sick. Not everyone has time to get better.

Cross posted from the Direct Care Alliance.

The National Partnership for Women & Families is a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy group dedicated to promoting fairness in the workplace, access to quality health care, and policies that help women and men meet the dual demands of work and family.  The National Partnership leads the Healthy Families Act coalition, which advocates for paid sick days at the federal level, and works with advocates and legislators around the country to help strengthen state and local paid sick days campaigns.

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