In Focus: Paid Sick Days

Nov 5, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

Job Quality Wins at the Ballot Box; Next Up: Federal Laws and Implementation

By Liz Ben-Ishai

Good jobs are a bipartisan issue—that was the message from voters in yesterday’s midterm elections.

In Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota—states where Republicans won gubernatorial and Congressional races—and in several cities in California, voters resoundingly supported initiatives to increase the minimum wage. Cities and counties in Wisconsin and Illinois also supported minimum wage initiatives in non-binding referenda. In Oakland, California; Trenton and Montclair, Jersey; and Massachusetts, workers were also winners with the passage of paid sick days ballot initiatives.

Advocates in all of these jurisdictions have worked tirelessly for this long-awaited victory. Their efforts have built consensus within communities across the country that no one should work full-time, but still live in poverty; parents shouldn’t have to choose between taking care of a sick child and earning a day’s wages; and workers shouldn’t have to show up at work when they ought to be at home recovering from illness. For working families, these are exciting outcomes that will help bolster the nationwide fight for improved job quality and counter the spread of inequality.

Massachusetts’ paid sick days victory at the ballot box comes on the heels of California’s recently passed statewide paid sick days legislation. Until last month, Connecticut was the only state to have such a law. But momentum for paid sick days standards has been building at the local level for some time, with San Francisco passing the nation’s first law in 2007, and an additional nine cities passing laws just in 2014. With a total of three state and 16 city paid sick days laws now in effect or soon to be enacted, the days of counting the country’s sick time protections on one hand are long gone.

In the wake of this week’s victories, ensuring proper implementation and enforcement of existing and newly passed paid sick days laws is critical. Going forward, advocates and government agencies must work together to ensure that recent (and less-recent) paid sick days laws are making a meaningful difference in the lives of working families. On both coasts, agencies charged with paid sick days implementation are already stepping up their game. Seattle’s Office of Civil Rights recently announced a new set of strategies to boost employer compliance, now that the city’s law has been effective for more than two years. And New York City is ready to issue its first fines to employers that have failed to comply with the city’s recently enacted law.

Although the results of yesterday’s Congressional election may appear to make action at the national level less likely, it is critical that we continue to push for passage of the Healthy Families Act (H.R. 1286/S.631), the federal paid sick days bill that would guarantee millions more workers access to paid sick days, regardless of what state or city they live in. Indeed, this week’s clear show of bipartisan support for paid sick days, minimum wage, and other job quality measures—which echoes earlier polling results—will hopefully be an eye-opener for both newly elected and returning Members of Congress as they plan their legislative agenda for the coming session.  At the same time, as we advocate for passage of federal paid sick days legislation, local and state campaigns are more important than ever in paving the way to a national labor standard.

Jul 3, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

On July 4th, Remember our Roots and Provide Sick Days for Immigrant Workers

By Alex Wang

On July 4th, as our nation celebrates Independence Day, it’s important to remember the critical role immigrants have played and continue to play in our collective prosperity. Unfortunately, while immigrant workers make up a growing share of the U.S. labor force, many lack access to labor standards, such as paid sick days, that are critical to job security, public health, and the economy.

A new brief co-authored by CLASP and the Institute for Women’s Policy Research finds that immigrant workers have less access to sick days than their native-born counterparts. This difference is especially pronounced for Hispanic immigrants and lower-wage immigrant workers, particularly those who make less than $35,000 per year. The inability to take even one paid sick day forces workers to choose between their health (or the health of a loved one) and their daily earnings or—in some cases—their jobs.

 Key findings from our report include:

  • Immigrant workers have less access to sick days than their native-born counterparts. Only 54 percent of immigrants have access to sick days, compared to approximately 63 percent of their native-born counterparts.
  • Hispanic immigrants have the least access to sick days relative to all other racial/ethnic groups. On average, only 41 percent of Hispanic immigrants have access to sick days.
  • Asian immigrant women have much lower access to sick days than native born Asian women. Only 64 percent of non-Hispanic Asian immigrant women have access to sick days, versus 75% of native born women.
  • Lower-income immigrant workers who are working full time are less likely to have earned sick days than native-born counterparts at similar income levels. Immigrants with incomes of less than $65,000 per year have less access to sick days than their native-born counterparts. Around 26 percent of immigrant workers making less than $15,000 per year have access to sick days versus almost 36 percent of native-born workers.

Access to paid leave is a key aspect of job quality and compensation that is often overlooked. Given that no national law currently guarantees U.S. workers paid sick days, workers at all wage levels depend on their employers to offer leave voluntarily. While employers of higher-wage workers often do provide leave, low-wage workers are often unable to earn paid sick days, exacerbating income inequalities for those at the bottom.

Fortunately, at the state and local level, there is a growing movement to extend paid sick days access to all workers; to date, seven localities and one state have passed paid sick days law. Further, federal legislation that would extend this labor standard to all U.S. workers, the Healthy Families Act, has been introduced to Congress.

Immigrants who come to the U.S. to settle, raise American children, and contribute to our national economy should be guaranteed equal access to benefits. It’s time to act to bring paid sick days—which have widespread public support—to all U.S. workers, especially those who are severely disadvantaged.

Read the brief >>

Jun 10, 2014  |  PERMALINK »

It’s in the Food: How the Lack of Paid Sick Days is Harming Health across the Board

It’s in the Food: How the Lack of Paid Sick Days is Harming Health across the Board

By Fatima Cervantes

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that workers without paid sick days are at high risk of spreading illness. For food service workers, the consequences are dire. The report traces outbreaks of the Norovirus—an infectious stomach illness that causes severe vomiting and diarrhea— from 2009 to 2012 and found that restaurants were the most common sources of contamination through food preparation.

Norovirus is the number one cause of foodborne disease outbreaks and can spread through close contact or contaminated food or surfaces. As a result, infected food service workers, whose contact with food and consumers is unavoidable, can expose many to this illness when they report to work while sick. In fact, 70 percent of the outbreaks analyzed by the CDC were brought about by infected food service workers.

With the exception of a handful of cities and one state (Connecticut), employers in the U.S. are not required to guarantee their workers paid sick days. As a result, it is not uncommon for employees to go to work without fully recovering from an illness. A 2011 study examined the frequency of employee attendance while experiencing vomiting or diarrhea, finding that almost 12 percent of the workers who were interviewed reported going to work while suffering these symptoms. This same study found that about 20 percent of foodborne illnesses are directly related to the transmission of pathogens between food workers and the food with which they’re in contact.

Given these risks, the decision to report to work while sick may appear unreasonable. But for many employees, there is no other choice; without access to paid sick days, staying home could cost them their jobs or leave them without a crucial day’s pay.

Among low-wage workers, only 30 percent can earn paid sick days. At the same time, the median wage for restaurant workers across the nation is $8.59/hour, according to the Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United. Lack of sick days is also more common among workers of color, as only 62 percent of Black workers and 47 percent of Latino workers obtain paid sick days, in contrast to 64 percent of white workers. When ROC United surveyed 4,323 restaurant workers nationwide, it discovered that most of those in urban areas were workers of color or immigrant workers. The study additionally determined that of those surveyed, 88 percent reported not having access to paid sick days. The study found that 63 percent had attended work while sick.

When workers are denied the ability to recover from illnesses without risking their wages or their jobs, we’re effectively pretending that sickness is not inevitable. And this glaring oversight doesn’t just hurt the workers themselves—it has consequences for everyone they come in contact with, including consumers and coworkers.

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