Starbucks Employees Organize for Paid Sick Days

Dec 23, 2009

By Lexer Quamie

Baristas at a Starbucks in Forth Worth, Texas announced on December 18, 2009, that some of them have unionized to demand affordable health care options and paid sick days for employees.

The baristas decided to unionize after they claim they were forced to continue working while they displayed intense H1N1 and other flu symptoms.  They demand that those employees who cold and flu symptoms be excused from work with pay to avoid exposing customers to H1N1 or other illness.

All of this Starbucks' hourly workers are part-time. If they showed up at work showing any symptoms and were sent home, they would receive no paid sick leave.  Instead, the union asserted the employees were pressured to work, potentially infecting co-workers and customers.

The statistics for low-income workers that receive paid time off from their jobs are grim.  Seventy-seven percent of workers in the bottom wage quartile-nearly 24 million-do not have paid sick time.  Many of those workers who do have paid time off are permitted to use it only for their own illness, not to care for a sick family member.  Introduced in May 2009, the Healthy Families Act (S. 1152, H.R. 2460) would guarantee up to seven paid sick days per year for workers at businesses with fifteen or greater employees, to be used to recover from routine illness, care for a sick family member, or seek services to recover from domestic violence.  The Administration has said it supports the Healthy Families Act and other proposals that advance workplace flexibility and protect the income and security of workers. The Administration's support is key to ensuring that more workers have a minimum work place standard.

As recent concern over H1N1 spreads, Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced emergency legislation in November 2009 that would guarantee paid sick days for individuals infected by the H1N1 virus.  The legislation, the Pandemic Protection for Workers, Families, and Businesses Act (S. 2790/H.R. 4092), would require employers with 15 or more employees to provide at least seven paid sick days for an absence resulting from a medical condition such as symptoms of a contagious illness, "including the need to obtain medical diagnosis or care, or an absence to obtain preventive care for the employee for a contagious illness."   The bill also would protect workers who are absent to care for a sick child, and for absence due to workplace closure because of a contagious illness, or to care for a child whose school or childcare facility has been closed due to the spread of contagious illnesses, including H1N1.

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