Fifty million workers in America–including 40 percent of the private workforce–lack paid sick days. In workplaces with fewer than 100 employees, nearly 50 percent don’t have access to that benefit. This despite the fact that in 2009 the average cost for sick leave per employer-hour worked in the private sector was just 23 cents.
In the 21st century, where women make up the majority of the American workforce, and most kids have parents who are employed, to have so many workers choosing between keeping their job and caring for a family member, or going to the doctor versus getting a paycheck–is simply unacceptable when it comes to the well-being of our country.
“As we seek a more efficient and fair health care system, we have to remember that the workplace has changed enormously,” said Ellen Bravo, Director of Family Values at Work (FVAW), a network of 14 state coalitions working for family-friendly policies like paid sick days. “We need to update workplace policies to meet the needs of today’s families.”
President Obama said as much last month when he called for greater workplace flexibility and called out a “disconnect between the needs of our families and the demands of our workplace.” The Administration backed up this sentiment with $50 million in its proposed budget for competitive grants to help states launch paid family leave programs. California and New Jersey have already launched such programs. San Francisco, Milwaukee and Washington DC have also passed local paid sick days laws and policymakers in at least 15 states are considering similar legislation.
Earlier this week on Capitol Hill, small business owners and workers traveled from eighteen states, including Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington state, and Wisconsin–joining advocates from FVAW, Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), and the National Partnership for Women and Families–to lobby for passage of the Healthy Families Act. The legislation would allow employees to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave per year at businesses with fifteen or more employees–covering more than 30 million working families.
“Health reform was a giant step forward, but working people need to be able to access health care,” said Debra Ness, President of the National Partnership for Women and Families. “The best system in the world does no good to a worker who can’t take time off to visit a doctor or get a test. That’s a problem for women in particular because we are both bread-winners and caregivers for our families.”
While the Chamber of Commerce and like-minded individuals will no doubt react by saying a recession is no time for these reforms–that it will cost jobs, jobs, and more jobs (as they say with any significant pro-labor reform)–advocates argue that this recession is exactly the right time and that in fact it makes good business sense. (The Chamber has gone so far as to push bogus numbers about the costs of paid sick days–in NYC, they are claiming the price tag would be nearly $9 billion to the city, totally contradicting the evidence compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)