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Philadelphians are working hard to support their families, and it’s not easy as expenses go up while their wages stay the same.  Stretched to the limit and unable to put money aside for emergencies, many Philadelphians are faced with the decision to go to work sick.

Last year my nephew Zachary got bronchitis and was out of work for a week.  Despite five years of stellar service at the same restaurant, Zack did not have a single paid sick day.  When he got sick, his manager told him to stay home until his cough was gone.  Fortunately for Zachary, he had a job to go back to – which is not the case for many service workers who call off when they’re sick.  But instead, he had a different problem on his hands: how was he going to cover rent, food and the prescription he needed without a week’s pay?

In countries around the world, paid sick days are a basic workforce standard – like minimum wage laws and child labor protections.  But here in the United States, more than 44 million workers without paid sick days are forced to choose between their financial security and their health or the health of a child or loved one.  And of the workers who have paid sick days, many are unable to use them to care for a sick child or family member.

Access to paid sick days is more than a basic right that American workers should have; it’s a public health concern that must be addressed.   Like my nephew, many of the workers without paid sick days are in food service and health care jobs where illness can be spread to those they work with and serve. At no time was this clearer than during the H1N1 epidemic, when 8 million Americans went to work with the flu – in turn infecting another 7 million people with the virus.

Paid sick days is a policy that’s good for workers, good for families and good for our community.  And businesses in other cities that have a paid sick day law say the law has no negative impact on profitability – by a measure of 6 to 1!

With the health of our city at stake, it’s time for City Council to pass the law that will ensure hard-working Philadelphians can take time off when they’re sick.

Kathy Black is President of the Philadelphia chapter of Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW).

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