It was more than a hundred years ago that women workers in New York’s garment industry joined to protest poor working conditions: long working days, low pay and no voice in the decisions made in their workplace.
As we observe International Women’s Day 2009, the holiday designed to honor courageous working women in the past, present and future, it’s important to remember that we are still working to win workplace rights and achieve economic justice.
It’s important to note that 57 million workers still don’t have a single paid sick day and more than 100 million workers don’t have a single paid sick day, even to care for a sick child. This must change. Especially in these tough economic times, it’s critically important that America give its workers the time to care for themselves and their families without fear of losing a day’s pay, or worse, their jobs.
This is an issue of economic justice – and also an issue of public health. The very workers who lack paid sick days are the ones who take care of our children in daycare centers, care for our elderly in nursing homes and serve us our food in restaurants. Does a side order of the flu go with those fries? The lack of paid sick days is also a business threat because companies where workers lack paid sick days see decreases in productivity and in profits.
Some gains have been made.
In 2007, San Francisco became the first city in the country to establish paid sick days as a basic labor standard. In 2008, the Council of the District of Columbia unanimously approved an ordinance guaranteeing paid sick days for private sector workers. In the city of Milwaukee, a broad coalition – led by 9to5, National Association of Working Women – promoted a paid sick days ballot measure. Last November, with nearly 70 percent approval, voters adopted it.
But there is work to do.
The Healthy Families Act is federal legislation that would guarantee workers up to seven paid sick days a year to recover from illness or care for ill family members. Our elected leaders need to hear from us. Find out whether your members of Congress support the Healthy Families Act – and let them know where you stand on guaranteed paid sick days.
On International Women’s Day, and everyday, stand with women all over the country who know that if we change the workplace, we change the world!
About the Author: Linda Meric is Executive Director of 9to5, National Association of Women, which helps strengthen women’s ability to achieve economic justice. 9to5 has staffed offices in Wisconsin, Colorado, California and Georgia and activists in cities across the country.
For more information on 9to5’s paid sick days campaigns, visit www.9to5.org.