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Paid Sick Days: A Social and Moral Imperative

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(The following post is part of our Taking Back Labor Day blog series. Many people view Labor Day as just another day off from work, the end of summer, or a fine day for a barbecue. We think that it’s a holiday with a rich history, and an excellent occasion to examine what workers, and workers rights activism, means to this country. Our Taking Back Labor Day posts in September will do that, from a variety of perspectives, and we hope you’ll tune in and join the discussion!)

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The first Labor Day, more than 100 years ago, was not a day of barbeques and relaxation.  It was a day when 10,000 workers marched in New York to secure basic rights for American workers.

Working conditions have vastly improved in the decades since that historic day, but too many working Americans still do not enjoy a basic right that is mandated by law in nearly every other nation in the industrialized world.  Nearly one half of American workers – almost 60 million of our friends, neighbors, and colleagues – do not have the benefit of a single paid sick day to care for themselves or their loved ones. 

Low-wage workers, who struggle to earn enough just to survive, are even less likely to have paid sick days.  If they or their children get sick, they have to make an impossible choice.  If they stay home, they will lose a day’s wages or even their jobs – a price most cannot afford to pay.

What are families without paid sick days to do?  This flu season, the White House estimates that one half of Americans will be infected by the H1N1, or swine flu, virus.  The federal government has recommended that anyone experiencing flu-like symptoms stay home, and that parents keep sick kids out of school.  Who will watch their sick children if they can’t afford to take a day off? How can we curb the spread of this virus unless sick workers can stay home without putting their families in financial jeopardy?

This Labor Day weekend, while you are enjoying holiday barbeques and picnics, remember that many of the people you meet every day working in your grocery store, your favorite restaurant, and even your own company may not have the basic right to paid sick days.  Then call your legislators, and tell them to support the Healthy Families Act, a federal bill that would require employers with more than 15 employees to provide up to 7 paid sick days for their workers.  With your help, we can build a stronger, healthier, more family-friendly nation.

About the Author: Melissa Josephs is Director of Equal Opportunity Policy for Women Employed. Since 1973 Women Employed has been a leading advocate for fair workplaces and economic opportunity for all American workers. As part of this effort, we promote policies that allow for a work-family balance, including the Healthy Workplace Act, which would guarantee paid sick days for all Illinois workers. Women Employed is leading the Illinois Paid Leave Coalition to bring family and medical leave to more working families. Working with public officials and organizations, we have developed a paid sick days program in Illinois to help workers who cannot afford to take unpaid leaves to care for themselves or ill family members, or go to medical appointments.  As Director of Equal Opportunity Policy, Melissa Josephs leads Women Employed’s efforts to secure paid sick days for Illinois workers.


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