What’s most frightening about the movie Contagion is that it’s NOT science fiction.

Flu epidemics are real, and they can spread quickly – especially in the United States, where 44 million people without paid sick days are forced to choose between their financial security and their health when they get sick.  During the recent H1N1 outbreak, seven million people caught the flu from their co-workers who came to their jobs when they were ill.

Who are the people who work sick?

They’re workers like Tasha, a grocery store cashier and single mom in Seattle, whose upper respiratory infection lasted three weeks because she couldn’t stay home to recover. “I cannot afford to lose a day’s pay,” Tasha says. “So if I have to choose between going to work sick and having money to keep the lights on and food in my fridge, then I have to go to work sick.”

Or Terry, a school bus driver in Massachusetts, who has no choice but to drive that bus if she’s sick.  When her son, who has a chronic, life-threatening illness, stays home from school, Terry cannot afford to be there to care for him either.

Tasha and Terry are among the five workers depicted in the web short, Contagion: Not Just a Movie. All of them have had to work sick. All are active in the fight for paid sick days.

Most working families are counting every dollar right now.  For many of us, taking unpaid time off, even when we’re sick, means falling short on rent or not having enough to put food on the table.  Losing even three days’ pay for many families amounts to a month’s worth of groceries.

Even those of us who have paid sick time come in contact every day with workers like these who don’t – at the grocery store and restaurants, shopping malls and boutiques, childcare centers, nursing homes and beyond. We all have a stake in winning paid sick days.

The good news is that support for paid sick days is growing – and by getting involved, you can help ensure workers don’t have to make the awful choice between their health and their families’ security.  This June, Connecticut passed the country’s first statewide law. Seattle City Council just overwhelmingly approved a paid sick days bill in that city. Philadelphia City Council will vote on a measure tomorrow. Denver voters will  be able to support paid sick days on a ballot initiative there this fall.

You can be part of winning sick days.  Please see the web short and sign-up to get involved at www.familyvaluesatwork.org.

Together, we can help prevent a real Contagion.