Workplace Fairness

Menu

Skip to main content

  • print
  • decrease text sizeincrease text size
    text

Worried Call Center Workers Do Not Understand Why They Are Risking Their Lives for Customer Service

Share this post

Image result for Hamilton Nolan

As the coronavirus has shuttered swaths of America’s offices, many workers in corporate call centers say they are still expected to work, risking their own health. Call centers have been deemed “essential” by the Department of Homeland Security, but employees with little paid sick leave say they feel forced to work, in constant fear of infection, in order to keep customer service lines functioning smoothly.

Late last week, as states from coast to coast closed businesses in order to try to restrain the spread of the disease, call center workers across the country told In These Times that their jobs were continuing. Many said that the policies instituted by their employers were wildly insufficient for protecting employees from the scale and danger of this pandemic. One person who works as a customer service rep at a Kansas call center for the government contractor Maximus, said that employees were told late last week that they could apply for leave for childcare reasons after schools shut down, but that the process was broken.

“After applying online I immediately received an email from Maximus saying that I didn’t qualify for the leave. My supervisor told me to talk to human capital (that’s what they call HR now) about it, but they wouldn’t speak to me. They said they would only take appointments. I applied for an appointment twice and got no response,” the employee said on Friday. “We were also told to tell our supervisors if we were sick. I have symptoms of a cold right now, which I relayed to my supervisor. We assumed they were going to send everyone who was sick home, but human capital never responded. And I’m still scheduled to go into work tomorrow.”

Cassie Ludwig, who works at a Maximus call center in Kentucky, said that she is required to work 30 hours a week to qualify for health insurance, and now she fears losing it when she needs it most. “I got a schedule change because the schools in our area are closed due to COVID-19, but if I don’t work the minimum hours and fall ill, I won’t be able to afford treatment.” (A Maximus spokesperson said that the company’s updated sick leave grants up to 80 hours of paid leave to employees who are self-quarantined or forced to care for sick family members, and that “if an employee needs to take COVID related leave their health insurance coverage continues.”)

Several call center workers for Wells Fargo spent last week grasping for clarity on whether they could keep themselves safe without facing unemployment. Last Wednesday, an employee at a Wells Fargo call center in Minneapolis was desperate enough that she was emailing any news outlets she could find, concerned about the health of her husband, who was working in conditions she said were “definitely closer than they should be.” Her husband was later granted 14 days of paid sick leave due to a health condition, but other employees at the call center remain on the job.

There was similar uncertainty in other locations, according to Patrick Creaven, a member of the Committee for Better Banks who works at a Wells Fargo “contact center” in Concord, California that handles customer service. At the end of last week, Creaven said, some though not all of the several hundred employees in the building were told they could work from home—theoretically. “My colleagues and I in the Social Care department could work from home if we were given laptops, but they are currently not available. We’ve been told the bank is working on securing them for us, but there’s a backlog,” he said. “Overall, the workplace this week is very similar to the workplace we had pre-coronavirus.”

Creaven said that he and his colleagues are typically given three paid sick leave days a year; Wells Fargo has told them that if they test positive for coronavirus, or are deemed to be at high risk as defined by the CDC, they can file to receive 14 days of paid leave.

“Some Wells Fargo employees who support critical operations, including contact centers, must be onsite in order to serve our customers,” said Wells Fargo spokesman John Hobot. “As the situation evolves quickly, we continue to explore alternatives, and are taking significant actions to ensure the safety of our team while ensuring customers are provided the services they need.” He added that the company is updating policies, “including benefit enhancements specifically for employees directly affected by coronavirus through illness or school closures.”

A steady theme from call center employees over the past week has been that the reactive measures taken by their employers in response to the pandemic have not been enough to reassure them that they are not placing their lives on the line for their relatively low-paying jobs. An employee at a Consumer Cellular call center in Arizona who expressed fear of infection last week told In These Times that he has now left the job, making the calculation that the health risk was too great. “I am of the opinion that states like mine that are oversaturated with mega call centers are putting an untold number of lives at risk by allowing them to continue to operate,” he said.

Call center workers themselves are the strongest believers that they should all be working from home, rather than being forced to choose between coming into crowded offices or lose their livelihoods. “We need to be allowed to work from home to prevent people from catching the virus, as a precautionary measure—not as a reactionary one,” said the Wells Fargo worker Patrick Creaven. “I’m very worried. Government agencies have told us to ‘shelter-in-place’ to prevent the spread of the virus. Going into a building with hundreds of people in it, opening the same doors and touching the same elevator buttons, has suddenly become terrifying. I feel like it’s not a matter of if, but when someone becomes sick.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on March 23, 2020. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Hamilton Nolan is a labor reporting fellow at In These Times. He has spent the past decade writing about labor and politics for Gawker, Splinter, The Guardian, and elsewhere. You can reach him at [email protected].


Share this post

Corona and Class Warfare Part II: Stopping a Multi-Dollar CEO Pension Tax Break

Share this post

jonathan-tasini

Last week I asked everyone to consider the coronavirus pandemic as a pretty clarifying picture of class warfare—who are the people who get hurt most when millions of jobs go away or at best are in limbo because of a nationwide shutdown? It’s working people, minimum wage workers, service workers—almost none of whom have enough cash in reserve to pay bills, unlike the rich who have made their wealth by exploiting workers. Who are the people most vulnerable? It’s the people who either have to still go to work or can’t afford to stay at home because they don’t have mandated paid sick leave or family leave, even in a crisis.

Today, as so many of you either hunker down or are living in fear, I talk with one of my favorite and regular guests Eileen Appelbaum, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, about a menu of steps the country needs to take to mitigate the devastating health and economic hits workers are taking in the pandemic.

Then, Sen. Chris Van Hollen, Democrat from Maryland, joins me to talk about his efforts to protect tens of thousands of federal workers by calling for an expansion of their right to telework during the corona pandemic, as well as his effort with Bernie Sanders to buttress workers’ pensions by ending a multi-billion tax break for CEO retirement plans.

This blog originally appeared in Working Life on March 18, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Jonathan Tasini. Some basics: I’m a political/organizing/economic strategist. President of the Economic Future Group, a consultancy that has worked in a couple of dozen countries on five continents over the past 20 years; my goal is to find the “white spaces” that need filling, the places to make connections and create projects to enhance the great work many people do to advance a better world. I’m also publisher/editor of Working Life. I’ve done the traditional press routine including The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Business Week, Playboy Magazine, The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. One day, back when blogs were just starting out more than a decade ago, I created Working Life. I used to write every day but sometimes there just isn’t something new to say so I cut back to weekdays (slacker), with an occasional weekend post when it moves me. I’ve also written four books: It’s Not Raining, We’re Being Peed On: The Scam of the Deficit Crisis (2010 and, then, the updated 2nd edition in 2013); The Audacity of Greed: Free Markets, Corporate Thieves and The Looting of America (2009); They Get Cake, We Eat Crumbs: The Real Story Behind Today’s Unfair Economy, an average reader’s guide to the economy (1997); and The Edifice Complex: Rebuilding the American Labor Movement to Face the Global Economy, a critique and prescriptive analysis of the labor movement (1995). I’m currently working on two news books.


Share this post

Corona in the Age of Class Warfare; McKayla’s Bid to Knock Out Hoyer

Share this post

jonathan-tasini

Pandemics might be one of the single best mass events to shine a light on class warfare, especially in the U.S. Rich people don’t have to worry about getting sick—they can afford extensive care in a country in which millions of working-class people can’t even afford to see a doctor for a run-of-the-mill reason. If a rich person gets sick, well, he can just sit home in his pajamas for as long as needed and never worry about paying next week’s rent, while a fast food worker or other service worker on an hourly wage is forced to go to work, even when sick.

What the corona virus has shown, quite sharply and clearly, is that a country without paid sick leave is not only an immoral society but also, on a practical level, a country which denies the most basic benefits that could contain a health threat—which is what I talk about today with Judy Conti, government affairs director for the National Employment Law Project.

Then, you probably can’t find many people in Congress who are bigger shills for the corporate world than Steny Hoyer—and McKayla Wilkes is aiming to send Hoyer quickly into the world he really aspires to, that of a lobbyist for corporations. I talk with her today about her primary challenge.

This blog originally appeared in Working Life on March 11, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Jonathan Tasini. Some basics: I’m a political/organizing/economic strategist. President of the Economic Future Group, a consultancy that has worked in a couple of dozen countries on five continents over the past 20 years; my goal is to find the “white spaces” that need filling, the places to make connections and create projects to enhance the great work many people do to advance a better world. I’m also publisher/editor of Working Life. I’ve done the traditional press routine including The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Business Week, Playboy Magazine, The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. One day, back when blogs were just starting out more than a decade ago, I created Working Life. I used to write every day but sometimes there just isn’t something new to say so I cut back to weekdays (slacker), with an occasional weekend post when it moves me. I’ve also written four books: It’s Not Raining, We’re Being Peed On: The Scam of the Deficit Crisis (2010 and, then, the updated 2nd edition in 2013); The Audacity of Greed: Free Markets, Corporate Thieves and The Looting of America (2009); They Get Cake, We Eat Crumbs: The Real Story Behind Today’s Unfair Economy, an average reader’s guide to the economy (1997); and The Edifice Complex: Rebuilding the American Labor Movement to Face the Global Economy, a critique and prescriptive analysis of the labor movement (1995). I’m currently working on two news books.


Share this post

COVID-19 makes Michigan Republicans’ 2018 trickery to block strong paid sick leave look even worse

Share this post

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is avatar_2563.jpg

Michigan workers without paid sick leave have an extra reason to be angry about being forced to go to work during the coronavirus pandemic: Republicans in their state went to extreme lengths to keep 1.5 million Michigan workers from getting paid sick leave in 2018.

In 2018, Republicans blocked a ballot measure that would have let workers at businesses employing six or more people earn up to 72 hours per year of sick leave. They blocked it by passing it as law—and then, after the election, slashing the law to ribbons, reducing the hours of sick leave from 72 to 40 and exempting businesses with fewer than 50 employees.

Now paid sick leave has gone from being an unmet need to a national crisis, and Michigan Democrats are trying to revive the push for a strong paid sick leave law in the state, with a bill boosting the law back up to what Michigan Republicans originally passed in order to be able to reverse. The problem is that, while Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would sign the bill, Republicans still control the state’s heavily gerrymandered legislature. In fact, both the Senate majority leader and the House speaker voted to gut the sick leave law in 2018.

“Yes, I am politicizing this,” wrote Danielle Atkinson of Mothering Justice in a recent op-ed. “I am weaponizing the virus, because the leadership of one political party weaponized the legislative process against working men and women. Because it deserves to be weaponized and used against the politicians, many of whom are still in office, who put Michigan at a greater risk than necessary.”

Republicans across the country have been working for years to ensure that workers can’t stay home when they’re sick, a burden that falls overwhelmingly on low-wage workers who are often already vulnerable in other ways. Just 30% of workers in the bottom 10% have paid sick leave, while 93% in the top 10% do. That fact is now at the center of an emergency—and Republicans are still looking for ways to keep workers on the job while sick or punish them for taking time off.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on March 16, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.


Share this post

Republicans are opposing paid sick leave and holding up free coronavirus testing over abortion

Share this post

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is avatar_2563.jpgSenate Republicans have backed down on the threat to wait until after a week-long recess to consider the House coronavirus response bill, and have canceled recess. But that doesn’t mean they’re gearing up to be reasonable about protecting families from the economic impact of the pandemic.

“Per multiple sources, there are 2 issues emerging as sticking points in negotiations between the White House and Speaker Pelosi on the Coronavirus aid bill: paid sick leave and abortion,” NBC’s Alex Moe tweeted. It’s a close call which of these is more shocking (without being all that surprising)—that Republicans are balking at paid sick leave during a pandemic or that Republicans are somehow turning pandemic response into an abortion fight.

The issue at play, abortion-wise, is that Republicans want to add anti-abortion language to the bill. That scans—as something ruthlessly partisan politicians with no regard for health or safety would do. It also comes in the context of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell having warned about the House Democrats’ bill—the one with the sick leave and coronavirus testing—being “an ideological wish list that was not tailored closely to the circumstances.”

According to the Daily Caller (no, I’m not linking), the issue was “a mandate for up to $1 billion to reimburse laboratory claims, which White House officials say would set a precedent of health spending without protections outlined in the Hyde Amendment.” So Democrats called for funding to cover laboratory costs of testing for coronavirus, and Republicans said no, because it would set a precedent that the federal government could spend money on health care without explicitly excluding abortion? IT’S CORONAVIRUS TESTING. But oh noes, it would set a precedent. 

According to Politico Playbook, “The two sides resolved issues over federal funding of abortion in a separate bill that will also hit the floor.”

Then there’s paid sick leave. Which is at least a relevant issue here. In fact, it’s one of the absolute central issues: People who may miss weeks of work because they’re sick, caring for a sick loved one, or caring for a child whose school is closed should not face hunger and eviction or foreclosure for it. We should not want these people going about their daily lives infecting other people, even if we lack the basic humanity to say they shouldn’t have to suffer through working while sick.

Paid sick leave is, for the record, extremely popular with the public. Ten states and the District of Columbia, in addition to some cities and counties, have paid sick leave laws, although none of them are likely to offer enough time for someone to ride out a case of COVID-19. Eight states and the District of Columbia have paid family leave laws—except that the Massachusetts law hasn’t gone into effect yet.

Paid sick leave was already a dire need in this country, and now it’s a crisis. It’s one more thing keeping the U.S. from an effective response to the pandemic, as if we needed one more thing when we already had Donald Trump. Paid sick leave has always been a moral imperative and safety imperative and now for many people it is a survival imperative. And Republicans are standing in the way.



This article was originally published at Daily Kos on March 11, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.




Share this post

Senate Republicans block emergency sick leave bill as coronavirus threatens widespread need

Share this post

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is avatar_2563.jpg

You’d think the desperate need for paid sick leave legislation would be undeniable in the face of coronavirus. But trust Republicans to do the wrong thing. On Wednesday, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray tried to speed the progress of an emergency paid sick leave bill to a full Senate vote, but Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander wasn’t having it.

Alexander blocked Murray’s procedural maneuver and stuck the bill in the Senate health committee. While the bill would have failed on the Senate floor thanks to Republicans, at least they would have been on the record against paid sick leave during a pandemic. Alexander’s block protected his fellow Republicans from taking that unpopular stance publicly.



This article was originally published at Daily Kos on March 11, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.




Share this post

2018 elections give paid sick leave and family leave new momentum in the states

Share this post

Nevada recently became the latest state to pass a paid sick leave law after 2018 put Democrats in control of the state. But Nevada isn’t the only state where paid leave has advanced in 2019, and the Democratic Governors Association is highlighting that momentum.

In addition to Nevada’s paid sick leave law, which will require businesses with more than 50 workers to provide 40 hours of earned sick days to full-time workers:

  • New Jersey has expanded its paid family leave law from six to 12 weeks and up to 85% of pay.
  • Maine Gov. Janet Mills signed a law requiring employers with 10 or more workers to provide up to 40 hours of paid leave per year to be used for any purpose.
  • North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order giving state employees paid parental leave—eight weeks after giving birth and four weeks for other new parents.
  • Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont is expected to sign the nation’s strongest paid family leave law.
  • New Mexico and Louisiana also passed modest expansions of leave policies.

This is the kind of basic, humane policy to which Republicans are staunchly opposed. Policies that virtually every developed nation has and that are the law in a growing number of states, but that they want us to believe would be a disaster in the U.S. This is the kind of policy we get when Democrats are in charge.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on June 18, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

Share this post

New Jersey to be tenth state with paid sick leave, but the U.S. stays at the bottom worldwide

Share this post

More than a million workers will be getting paid sick leave soon after New Jersey’s legislature has passed a bill, which Gov. Phil Murphy has said he supports. That makes New Jersey the tenth state to require paid sick leave, and the second to do so in 2018, but New Jersey’s path to this point has been especially tough. Republican former Gov. Chris Christie kept a statewide sick leave bill from becoming law even as 13 cities and towns, including some of the state’s largest, passed their own local laws. Now:

The legislation, variations of which have been making its way through the Statehouse for years, would allow private-sector workers to accrue one hour of earned sick leave for every 30 hours worked.

They can use that time to care for themselves or a family member who is ill, to attend school conferences or meetings, or to recover from domestic violence.

Family Values @ Work co-directors Ellen Bravo and Wendy Chun-Hoon noted in a statement that, in addition to the domestic violence provisions, the law “includes the most inclusive definition of family, mirroring America’s families. Those in LGBTQ relationships, people who care for grandparents, aunts, uncles and loved ones outside of the nuclear family model, can heed doctors’ orders and take the time they need to care for their chosen family.”

Republicans continue to stand in the way of the United States joining the overwhelming majority of other countries in requiring some form of paid sick leave.

This blog was published at DailyKos on April 13, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos. 


Share this post

Jimmy John’s Fired Workers for Making a ‘Disloyal’ Meme. A Court Just Ruled That’s Okay.

Share this post

In a decision emblematic of the new climate of Trumpian governance, a federal appeals court in St. Louis ruled on July 3 that it is acceptable for the boss of a fast-food chain to fire workers for the sin of being “disloyal.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed a ruling issued by the Obama-era National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in a case spawned by a labor organizing drive at the Jimmy John’s fast-food chain. The court held that Miklin Enterprises, the owner of Jimmy John’s franchises in Minneapolis, had the right to fire six pro-union advocates because they demonstrated “disloyalty” by distributing flyers in 2011 that implied the company was selling unsafe food contaminated by employees obliged to work while sick with the flu.

The organizers designed and distributed memes that showed images of identical Jimmy John’s sandwiches. One was “made by a healthy Jimmy John’s worker,” the other by a “sick” worker. “Can’t tell the different?” the poster continued. “That’s too bad because Jimmy John’s workers don’t get paid sick days. Shoot, we can’t even call in sick. We hope your immune system is ready because you’re about to take the sandwich test.”

The Minneapolis union campaign, launched by the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW or ‘Wobblies’), has been high-profile from the start. First erupting in 2010, the effort quickly developed into an intense legal fight at the NLRB before advancing to the federal courts. It even spilled over into the U.S. Congress in 2014 with the revelation that Jimmy John’s routinely required its low-paid sandwich makers to sign questionable “non-compete agreements.”

Threatened with punitive action by the attorneys general in several states, Jimmy John’s rescinded its non-compete policies in 2016, but not before the company’s reputation had been tarnished.

Like the non-compete agreements, the July 3 court decision is an unwarranted attack on labor rights, says William B. Gould IV, a labor law professor at Stanford University and former chairman of the federal labor board.

“The first thing that strikes you is how archaic this feels,” Gould tells In These Times. “The legal basis is from a case in the 1950s when people had a whole different concept of loyalty owed to their employer.

“In those days,” Gould continues, “the assumption was that loyalty was a two-way street: You were loyal to the company and the company was loyal to you. Now, with Uber and Lyft and the others, companies are even refusing to admit that you are one of their employees, so there isn’t much talk about loyalty owed to the employer anymore.”

The July 3 decision turns on the interpretation of ‘loyalty’ articulated in the 1953 Supreme Court case National Labor Relations Board v. Local Union 1229 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, known as “Jefferson Standard” for short. Earlier in the process of the more recent NLRB case, the labor agency’s Obama appointees had ruled that the firing of the workers was an illegal violation of their rights to form a union. But the appeals court decision reversed that decision, asserting that the disloyalty displayed by the pamphlets gave the employer the right to fire the workers, Gould explains.

The court stated, “(W)hile an employee’s subjective intent is of course relevant to the disloyalty inquiry—”sharp, public, disparaging attack” suggests an intent to harm the Jefferson Standard principle includes an objective component that focuses, not on the employee’s purpose, but on the means used—whether the disparaging attack was ‘reasonably calculated to harm the company’s reputation and reduce its income,’ to such an extent that it was harmful, indefensible disparagement of the employer or its product.”

Erik Forman was fired six years ago for organizing a union at a Jimmy John’s in Minneapolis. He told In These Times, “The big takeaway for me is that this ruling means workers do not have the right to tell the truth about their employer,” he said, adding: “The ruling is incredibly slanted towards the employer. They frame our campaign for sick days as an attack on the employer and turn logic on its head. We told the truth about the risk to the public.”

“Employers’ motivation wasn’t just to stop the sick-day campaign,” Forman continued. “It was to stop our unionization effort.”

According to Gould, “This case comes from the 8th Circuit which is the most conservative in the country. It’s the worst circuit in the country for a labor union, or for labor rights.”

The ultra-conservative nature of the ruling may have the unintended benefit of limiting its applicability to workers other than the Minneapolis Jimmy John’s employees, the former NLRB chairman adds. Other judicial districts may not be eager to follow its lead because many traditionally defer to the NLRB in matters of this kind, he says, and few employers will want to take the legal risk of relying on a circuit court ruling that has not been confirmed by the Supreme Court.

The reversal of the Obama-era NLRB decision mirrors action in Congress, where several measures are under consideration to roll back pro-worker measures adopted by the labor board during Obama’s tenure. This week, the U.S. Senate is considering thenomination of two Trump NLRB appointees, both of whom have been criticized as anti-worker by the AFL-CIO.

Carmen Spell, an NLRB representative at the agency’s Washington, D.C. headquarters, would only comment that “(w)e are considering options at this time” on how the agency will respond to the court ruling.

Jane Hardey, a spokeswoman for Jimmy John’s, declined any comment, asserting that the legal case involved only the Minneapolis franchise owner, and did not involve the sandwich chain company itself. Hardey did not respond to a request from In These Times for a telephone interview with Jimmy John Liautard, the controversial founder of the franchise.

According to the Jimmy John’s web site, the rapidly growing chain currently has 2,701 locations in 48 states. The number of employees is estimated at over 100,000.

“The fact that we were fired over six years ago in retaliation for union organizing should tell everyone that you cannot rely on labor law in this country,” says Forman. “Every single decision can now be appealed up to a Trump Supreme Court. We need to find new ways of building and exercising power on our own.”

This article was originally published at In These Times on July 13, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bruce Vail is a Baltimore-based freelance writer with decades of experience covering labor and business stories for newspapers, magazines and new media. He was a reporter for Bloomberg BNA’s Daily Labor Report, covering collective bargaining issues in a wide range of industries, and a maritime industry reporter and editor for the Journal of Commerce, serving both in the newspaper’s New York City headquarters and in the Washington, D.C. bureau.


Share this post

420,000 More Workers in Cook County Will Soon Have Paid Sick Leave

Share this post

ltcoyngtThe United States of America: land of liberty, bastion of opportunity, the world’s leading economic power.

But if you’re a low-wage worker and wake up sick, you’d better clock in on time or you risk losing your wages and even your job.

Paid time off for illness, taken for granted in professional sectors and much of the developed world, remains out of reach for millions of American workers. The United States is the only major developed country that does not guarantee paid sick days to all workers by law. Federal data show that more than one-third of private sector workers throughout the United States do not receive paid sick leave.

A disproportionate number of those without paid sick days are women, people of color and people with low incomes. Though women are the primary caregivers in most families, they also make up the majority of workers in low-wage jobs that do not offer paid sick days. Access is particularly bad for Hispanic workersresearchers have found that less than half get paid sick days, compared to 60 percent of workers overall. And for both women and men, federal data show that the highest paid workers overwhelmingly have access to paid sick days, while most of the poorest workers do not.

But this month, the Cook County Board of Commissioners in Illinois took a major step toward changing that. The board approved legislation that guarantees paid sick days to all workers in the county, bringing the Chicago suburbs in line with the city. Chicago passed its own paid sick leave ordinance in June.

Under the ordinance, Cook County workers will be eligible for 40 hours, or about five days, of sick time per year, the same as workers in Chicago. The Chicago Tribune reports that more than 900,000 workers in the county don’t currently have paid sick days, including 420,000 in the suburbs. The new laws in Chicago and Cook County will take effect July 1, 2017.

Melissa Josephs, director of equal opportunity policy for the advocacy group Women Employed, helped campaign for the law.

“All employees—no matter their occupation—should have the peace of mind to know they can take time off work for their own illness or to care for a sick family member without fear of losing their job or a day’s pay,” says Josephs.

Cook County workers will be eligible for 40 hours, or about five days, of sick time per year, the same as workers in Chicago. (Arise Chicago Facebook)
Cook County workers will be eligible for 40 hours, or about five days, of sick time per year, the same as workers in Chicago. (Arise Chicago Facebook)

Cook County’s decision is the most recent victory in what seems to be a growing movement for paid sick leave. Since 2006, 38 localities in the United States have passed sick leave legislation. This year alone, 12 paid sick leave laws have been passed across the country, including in Vermont and major cities like Los Angeles and San Diego.

Also this year, the momentum for paid sick leave reached the Obama administration. At the direction of the President, the Department of Labor issued new rules requiring federal contractors to provide up to 56 hours, or more than a week, of paid sick leave per year, which will impact more than a million workers when they go into effect.

Tamara Green, 29, did not have access to paid sick leave until recently. A few years ago, she was working for a major fast-food chain in New York City. She was also taking care of her mother, who is HIV positive. One day, her mother fell ill unexpectedly and Green asked her boss if she could leave. Her boss told her that if she left, she would consider it a walk-off and she would not be paid.

“How do you keep going if someone you love is ill or, God forbid, dies, and you’re not there because your boss said she needed you to drop some more fries?” asked Green. “That’s not OK.”

Paid sick leave benefits more than individual workers like Green. Research has found that giving workers the ability to stay home when they’re sick without sacrificing their wages benefits public health and the economy. Paid sick dayslead to higher rates of preventative medical care, including mammograms and Pap tests, decrease workplace injuries and reduce rates of illness.

Opponents have argued that sick leave laws burden businesses or force them to make pay cuts. But an analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that sick leave poses minimal costs to employers. The cost of paid sick leave policies to employers in Seattle, for example, was less than one percent of revenue on average. What’s more, research indicates that the costs of paid sick leave would be at least partially offset by benefits to employers like reduced turnover, increased morale and increased productivity.

The building momentum for paid sick days suggests that local lawmakers as well as the general public are seeing these benefits. National surveys have shown that the majority of the public supports laws that would mandate paid sick leave.

But at the state and federal level, it’s an uphill battle. Between 2000 and 2013, state legislatures in 10 states—the majority of which were controlled by Republicans—passed laws that prohibit local governments from mandating paid sick days. The Healthy Families Act, which would mandate paid sick time to most workers nationwide, has been stuck in Congress for years.

At her new job, Tamara Green finally has access to paid sick days. She says knowing that she can care for herself or her mother during an emergency means she no longer has to choose “health over wealth,” and she hopes to see the day when no one in the world has to make that choice.

“To know that I have that option to take the day off without losing a way to pay my bills, that’s a relief that some people can’t even understand,” Green says. “One missed doctor’s appointment could be the last time to say goodbye.”

This blog originally appeared at inthesetimes.com on October 13, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Jonathan Timm is a freelance reporter who specializes in labor and gender issues. Follow him on Twitter @jdrtimm.


Share this post

Follow this Blog

Subscribe via RSS Subscribe via RSS

Or, enter your address to follow via email:

Recent Posts

Forbes Best of the Web, Summer 2004
A Forbes "Best of the Web" Blog

Archives

  • Tracking image for JustAnswer widget
  • Find an Employment Lawyer

  • Support Workplace Fairness

 
 

Find an Employment Attorney

The Workplace Fairness Attorney Directory features lawyers from across the United States who primarily represent workers in employment cases. Please note that Workplace Fairness does not operate a lawyer referral service and does not provide legal advice, and that Workplace Fairness is not responsible for any advice that you receive from anyone, attorney or non-attorney, you may contact from this site.