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Linda Meric's picture

This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.

Patricia, a home health care aide and 9to5 member from Colorado, attended to a man who is quadriplegic.  When Patricia came down with food poisoning, her life unraveled.  Her condition progressed to pneumonia caused from the vomit that spilled into her lungs.  When her temperature spiked to 104 degrees, she took three days of unpaid leave -- equivalent to a week’s worth of her earnings.

After three days, still weak and unable to lift her 170 pound patient, Patricia called in sick for one more day.  She was fired.  And with the loss of her income she was evicted from her home.

Patricia is one of more than 40 million working Americans in this country without access to paid sick days – that is 40 percent of the private sector workforce and 81 percent of low-wage workers.  Those who can least afford to take unpaid leave are hurt the most from not having earned sick leave.

These workers, often invisible to the world, provide essential services to our communities -- they clean our homes and offices, cook and serve us our food, and care for our children and elderly parents.  Most of them are women.  And because they can’t afford to lose a day’s wages, they are often forced to work sick, spreading their illness to their customers or to the children, elderly or patients in their care.  It is unequivocally wrong to deny working women and men the ability to earn paid time off to care for themselves or a family member when they are sick.

Just three and half days of wages lost to an illness can equal an entire monthly grocery budget for some American families.  “I believe that this [paid sick days] would help me because I am the sole provider in my family, said Crystal Dodge, another 9to5 member from Colorado.  “And when I miss work, it's taking a day's worth of pay out of my paycheck.  It's very hard.  I find myself going to food banks just to try to make ends meet.”

There is good news.  Support and momentum are building across the nation for workers to be able to earn paid sick days, both locally and at the federal level.  Portland, Oregon and New York City recently joined Connecticut, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C. in moving forward with paid sick days legislation for their communities.

And at the federal level, the Healthy Families Act was recently re-introduced by Representative Rosa DeLauro (CT) and Senator Tom Harkin (IA).  The Healthy Families Act would allow workers to earn up to seven paid sick days annually to use to recover from short-term illness, to care for a sick family member including domestic partners, to seek routine medical care or to obtain assistance related to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.  Employers that already provide this type of leave would not have to provide additional sick time, and small businesses with fewer than 15 employees would be exempt.

The progress we are making at the local level is based on the same factors that will help us move the Healthy Families Act forward - hard work, lots of organizing, sound arguments, a clear need and strong support from both Republican and Democratic voters.  But because of our hard-won victories, corporate opposition is preparing to go to war against low-wage working women and men with the ‘kill shot.’

In 2008, 9to5 Milwaukee and our allies passed a city ordinance guaranteeing workers there the right to earn paid sick days.  The referendum won with 70 percent of the popular vote.  But in 2011, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker repealed the law.  The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative public policy group with strong ties to corporations and trade associations, has been behind a preemption effort or ‘kill shot’, based on Gov. Walker’s bill, to override the will of local communities.

The opposition relies on the faulty argument that paid sick days are bad for business.  But the truth is that earned sick leave promotes productivity and saves businesses money.  If workers earned seven paid sick days a year, our national economy would experience a net savings of $160 billion a year due to increased productivity and reduced turnover.  Small businesses also depend on an employed workforce because low-wage families spend their money in their local economies, helping build broad-based prosperity in our communities.

We will continue to build on our local victories and raise our voices in support of the Healthy Families Act, and we urge you to join us, because we owe Patricia and all other hardworking Americans the opportunity to live and work with dignity.

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