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Laura Reyes's picture

Paid sick leave would help millions of American families, would reduce the high cost of health care and would eliminate an unnecessary drag on our country’s economic recovery. It’s a common sense solution to a serious problem. Yet Wall Street billionaires and the tea-party politicians who work for them are doing everything in their power to undercut efforts to protect the health of our economy and our families.

While most AFSCME members have paid sick leave as part of their collective bargaining agreements, we know that 40 million Americans lack even one day of paid sick leave. Millions more cannot take time off with pay when their child is ill. More than a third of Americans working in the private sector lack paid health care. This is a particular hardship for the poorest American families. Eight in 10 members of the working poor risk losing their jobs and their income whenever they or a member of their family gets sick.

The lack of paid sick leave threatens public health in many ways. Restaurant workers show up for work even with high fevers and infectious symptoms. A recent survey found that 20 percent of restaurant workers have gone to work while seriously ill. A few years ago in Kent, Ohio, a Chipotle worker with a virus came to work and infected more than 500 people who became violently ill. The cost to the community was estimated to be as much as $300,000. Nationwide, the lack of paid sick leave is estimated to annually cost our economy more than $160 billion in lost productivity.

Without paid sick leave, workers are forced to access emergency room care after work hours, adding billions to the cost of health care. They are twice as likely to use hospital emergency rooms for their children’s health care than parents with paid sick leave. AFSCME members across the country who work in hospitals see these workers every day. Because they are not able to visit a doctor or a health care clinic during the day, they forego treatment until their symptoms become more severe, increasing the cost of treatment and the length of their illnesses.

That is why support is growing for a national standard of paid sick leave. More than 85 percent of the public supports legislation guaranteeing seven days of paid sick leave for every worker. But corporate-backed politicians in the U.S. House of Representatives are blocking consideration of the Healthy Families Act, which would give 30 million additional workers access to paid sick days.

Support for this common sense reform is spreading from coast-to-coast, with states like Connecticut and cities like San Francisco, Portland, Ore., and Washington, DC, requiring employers provide this protection for their workers. But Wall Street has been turning to their political henchmen to block the way for this reform. When Philadelphia’s city council passed paid sick leave, their anti-worker mayor, Michael Nutter, vetoed it. When Milwaukee passed a paid sick leave ordinance, Gov. Scott Walker got the state Legislature to pass legislation overturning it. So much for the lip service right-wing politicians give to the concept of local control.

The billionaire Koch brothers and their secretive American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) are trying to replicate Wisconsin’s anti-worker strategy in other states. They are promoting nearly identical laws to deny cities the power to pass paid sick leave in states such as Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Oklahoma and Washington. One Florida politician says their tea-party controlled Legislature “can deliver the kill shot.”

Unfortunately, these efforts to overturn the democratic process are undermining the ability of workers to take time off when they are sick without risking their livelihoods. They also undermine our economic productivity and increase the costs of health care nationwide. They spread illnesses unnecessarily in workplaces and schools throughout the nation. We must pull together and demand paid sick leave. It’s good for workers and it’s good for our economy. It makes sense for working families and for America’s future.

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