Millions of Americans don't have paid sick-leave... and it effects ALL of us.
The barista who made your latte might have a cough. The cashier handing you your change might have the sniffles. The bus driver, with whom you share the same air for your 30 minute bus ride, might have the flu. Unless you live in San Fransisco, Washington DC, or Connecticut, all of the above are more than possible on a day to day basis. And it's all because paid sick-leave is not mandatory in most of the country.
The city and county of San Francisco was the first to make paid sick-leave mandatory by law through a ballot initiative in 2007 (those Californians sure love their direct democracy). Then in 2008, the city council of Washington DC voted unanimously for mandatory paid sick-leave. About 59,000 Bay Area workers benefitted from the San Fran law, and the DC law affected about 100,000 workers.
The city of Milwaukee passed a paid-leave ballot initiative in 2008, but Gov. Scott Walker shot it down claiming that "patchwork government mandates stifle job creation and economic opportunity." (Actually, studies show that having paid sick-leave increases companies' productivity. Plus, San Francisco County had a lower unemployment rate in the 08-09 recession than surrounding counties.)
This year, Connecticut became the first state to require paid sick-leave throughout the state. Governor Dannel Malloy, who talked about paid sick-leave during his campaign, signed the law on July 1. Now Americans all over are hoping that other states will follow suit.
The only federal law that addresses paid leave is the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. But this law offers limited coverage. It gives workers paid leave when they have a child, when a significant other has a "serious health condition", or when they themselves have a "serious health condition". It's a great start, but it still makes workers with the flu have to choose between their health and their paycheck.
When employees come to work sick, they become hazards to themselves, their co-workers, and all customers or clients they come in contact with. Sick workers may not be as alert or focused as they usually are, which may pose problems at work. Would you want a groggy child-care worker to be surpervising your kid all day? Plus, sick workers infect other workers, and they all infect their customers. In 2009 during the swine flu epidemic, it is estimated that 8 million Americans came to work while infected, and thereby infected another 7 million people. It could have been avoided if those people had the security of being able to take a day off without jeopardizing their livelihood.
A paid sick-leave law is a victory for workers' rights and public health. After Connecticut's victory, many cities and states are inspired to do the same thing. Last week, supporters of paid sick-leave in Denver submitted more than enough signatures to get the issue on the November ballot. Earlier this year, a paid sick-leave proposal was introduced in the Seattle city council, and if passed it could potentially help out over 190,000 employees in the city who currently have no sick days. There are also movements in Massachusetts and Georgia to pass similar legislation.
There are over 40 million workers in America without a single paid sick day. If you're fortunate enough to be able to stay home when you're sick, without worrying about your income, you may not think of it as such a novelty... but it actually is. Let's hope that soon paid sick-leave will not be a novelty, but a fundamental right.