The public-health case for mandatory paid-sick-leave laws
Paid sick leave legislation such as the Seattle City Council is considering makes sense, because when people work sick they infect others. Seattle's politicians should listen to the public and enact a mandate.
I work at a place where we don't have paid sick days. We sell food and medicines. We could be a grocery store, a pharmacy, a convenience store, even a gas station. It does not really matter. It is the same story pretty much wherever you go. We are sick at work. That is one of the dirty secrets of workplaces across America. People are coming to work sick because they either can't afford to miss a day's pay or fear the discipline they might get if they were to call in sick.
But the times are changing. San Francisco and Washington, D.C., have passed a version of paid sick days. The people of Milwaukee passed a law there. At the beginning of this month, Connecticut became the first state in the nation to pass a paid sick days law. And then on June 16 the city council in Philadelphia passed paid sick days. The momentum is clear. People want paid sick days. And politicians are starting to respond to that overwhelming public support.
We need paid sick days here in Seattle. Over 190,000 workers here do not have it. That means every day — today as you read this commentary — there is some worker in a Seattle restaurant sick. Some worker in a Seattle grocery store sick. There may even be a worker in a doctor's office or clinic sick. There are kids in school sick and not going home because a parent can't go and pick them up because they don't have a paid sick day and can't leave work. All this is messed up and needs to change.
Why are paid sick days a good idea? Paid sick days allow for workers to stay at home when they are sick, get well and then come back to work healthy. This helps make food safer, helps prevent the spread of disease, and helps make our communities healthier.
The Seattle City Council has begun to consider a paid sick days proposal for the people who work in our city. I think that is a good idea. I have seen workers come in sick. I have gone into work sick myself. We are faced by an awful choice. Come to work sick or lose a day, or two days of pay. How many of you would take 20 to 40 percent pay cut in a week because you were sick and had to miss a day or two? Most people are not sick too often. But we all get sick sometime. And paid sick days provides that basic protection so that when we do get sick, we can get rest, get better and get back to work without a fear spreading illness, or not being able to make rent or getting in trouble with our boss.
It is time for our elected officials to get this moving, get this passed, and make this change into law. After all, who wants to think about some worker being sick when they get their latte, or have a sandwich, or go to the doctor's, or get their groceries? No one. But until paid sick days becomes the law in this city, we will continue to have that happen. Let's get rid of that dirty little secret.
Keep the momentum going in this country. When we pass this law, it will be in the way Seattle wants it, not some other city. But the bigger story will be about another 200,000 workers in the country having paid sick days. About another city that has safer food. About another city that is better prepared to help prevent the spread of disease. About another city where local neighborhoods and schools and workplaces are all more healthy. That's a city I want to live in.
Tasha West-Baker is a Seattle area grocery store worker.