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Another Boost for the Paid Sick Days Movement

1:20 pm in Uncategorized by EllenBravo

More than a quarter million New Yorkers got a big boost yesterday when the City Council voted 45-6 to expand its paid sick days law. In a city where “a lot of people are one paycheck away from disaster,” as Mayor de Blasio put it in an interview with Chris Hayes, the vote constituted an important step to “change the rules and raise the floor.”

A tissue box and laptop among pillows in bed

More New York workers could soon have paid sick days.

The New York win added to the growing momentum of the paid sick days movement across the country. Behind each victory lies an important shift in this country: more workers seeing the possibility of change when they take action together, and more elected officials recognizing they need to be on the side of an economy that works for everyone, not just the wealthy.

The New York legislation will require businesses with five or more employees to provide paid sick time to its employees, as opposed to the current law that applies only to businesses with 15 or more employees. The legislation will now cover manufacturing firms, and extends the statute of limitations for complaints to three years from 270 days. Amendments also strengthen the ability of the enforcement agency to take proactive measures, such as audits and inspections, to ensure compliance with the law. And the expanded bill contains a more appropriate definition of family member, so workers can use a sick day to care for a grandparent, grandchild or siblings, not just a child or partner.

The New York City Earned Sick Time Act was originally adopted in June of 2013. The new legislation was sponsored by Council Member Margaret Chin after being proposed last month by Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. It carries out the original demands of the broad coalition that worked for three years to pass the bill and comes on the heels of Mayor de Blasio’s election, in which paid sick days played a pivotal role. Fifty-five percent of those polled (58% of women) – and 58 percent of women voters – said the fact that City Council Speaker Christine Quinn delayed action on paid sick days for three years made them less likely to vote for her.  An overwhelming majority (73%, and 78% of women) said they were more likely to vote for a candidate who supports policies like paid sick days.

For most of the 1.2 million New Yorkers who will be covered as of April 1 of this year, the new law is key to keeping them from falling off the financial brink. Rafael Navor, a Brooklyn father of three and member of Make the Road New York, described a time he had the flu for a week and did what public health officials tell us to do – stayed home until his symptoms were gone.

“When I returned to work, my boss ran me off the job,” said Navor, a construction worker. “Unfortunately, this type of retaliation is very common in the construction industry. Paid sick days are a necessity for all workers and not a luxury. For construction workers like myself, who normally work with smaller firms, the new expansion of paid sick days is critical – and I want to thank and congratulate the City Council for today’s vote.”

The law’s new changes will help workers like Navor in smaller businesses who are least likely to have access to paid sick time now. The 2013 Unheard Third survey by the NY Community Service Society found that 64 percent of workers employed by businesses with fewer than 15 workers lack paid sick days compared to 38 percent of those in larger firms. According to Nancy Rankin, CSS Vice President for Policy Research , “the original law would have left out more than a quarter of workers who needed paid sick time.”

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Flu Prevention? Try Paid Sick Days

5:57 am in Uncategorized by EllenBravo

Ask Adela Valdez how it feels to hear public health experts on TV explain ways to limit a flu outbreak. Get a flu shot, wash your hands, they advise – and if you get the flu, stay home until 24 hours after your fever’s gone.

“One day, I had a fever but I went to work anyway,” Adela said. She’d worked for three years in a factory in New York making expensive lamps. “On the third day, I still had a fever. I felt very sick and I asked permission to go to the hospital.”

Her supervisor’s response? “Fine, go to the hospital, but don’t come back. I need people who come here to work, not to get sick.”

Adela lost her job.

Some management consultants acknowledge that sick workers may spread the flu to co-workers out of fear that they’ll be fired if they stay home to recover.

“The economy is still on shaky ground and many workers continue to be worried about losing their jobs,” said John A. Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., an outplacement consulting firm. “In this environment, workers are reluctant to call in sick or even use vacation days.  Of course, this has significant negative consequences for the workplace, where the sick worker is not only performing at a reduced capacity but also likely to infect others.”

The fear is real. University of Chicago researchers found nearly one in four workers reported that they or a family member had been fired, suspended, punished or threatened with being fired for taking time off due to personal illness or to care for a sick child or other relative.

And job loss isn’t the only fear. In this economy, who can afford to lose even one day’s pay?

Ask the people who serve our food, clean our offices, and care for our elderly. They’re among those — half the workforce and three fourths of low-wage workers — who lack paid sick days.

As a Miami cook put it, “Every penny goes somewhere. I have no choice but to suck it up if I’m sick.”

More than one-third of flu cases are transmitted in schools and workplaces. Those same Chicago researchers asked respondents, “Have you ever had to go to work when you were sick with a contagious illness like the flu?” Nearly 70 percent of those lacking paid sick days answered, “Yes.”

Studies show that when sick workers stay home, the number of people affected by pandemic flu can be reduced by 15 to 34 percent, according to Jonathan Heller, director of Human Impact Partners.

“Having an effective leave policy is critical in preventing an office-wide outbreak of the flu,” says John Challenger. “You want to encourage workers to stay home when they are sick so they do not spread illness to co-workers.  You also want them to stay home to care for sick children so they are not forced to go to school and spread the virus to other kids.”

Talk to public school teachers and nurses.  They’ll tell you how many children come to school sick, or can’t get picked up if they fall ill during class because their parents have no paid sick time. They’ll describe the heartbreak of having a child say, “Please don’t call my mom. She’ll get in trouble if you do.” They’ll give you examples of kids – sometimes as young as 8 years old – who miss school to care for a younger sibling.

The majority of states reporting flu cases now say the outbreak is at “severe” levels. To avoid the spread of germs, we have to ensure that no one will lose income or a job for staying home sick.

If you live in one of the cities or states pushing for an earned sick days policy now, raise your voice to elected officials.

Do it for your kids. Make sure your child doesn’t have to sit next to a classmate with the flu whose mom or dad couldn’t risk staying home.

Do it for yourself. Even if you have paid sick days, you don’t want to be served flu with your fries.

In an economy where more and more families are living paycheck to paycheck, we need paid sick days to make sure that a public health crisis doesn’t become a financial crisis.

Celebrate Second Annivesary of Affordable Care Act

5:11 am in Uncategorized by EllenBravo

Experts like to talk about cost-benefit analyses. Badly needed reforms to inefficient systems may cost money, but often the benefits from that change far outweigh the costs.

What gets overlooked is the cost of NOT implementing reforms.

Take the Affordable Health Care Act, which is celebrating its second anniversary. Offsetting the costs to reform our health insurance system are a multitude of benefits.

Children with pre-existing conditions are no longer frozen out of insurance plans. Families trying to cope with the pain of a dreaded illness for a child or spouse no longer have to face bankruptcy or lose a home because of running into lifetime limits on cost reimbursements. Young adults can stay insured long enough to finish college and launch a career. People all across the country will now have access to preventive care services, including life-saving mammograms and colonoscopies, without being charged a deductible or co-pay.

Women in particular benefit from the new law, including support for nursing mothers, maternity coverage, and an end to the outrageous practice of allowing insurers to consider C-sections and domestic violence “pre-existing conditions” that can be excluded from coverage.

And starting soon, women won’t be forced to pay outrageously higher amounts for health insurance just because of their gender. A new report by the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) documents the gross disparities. In states that haven’t banned the “gender rating,” women were charged more in 92 percent of the best-selling health plans.

Experts can quantify the actual costs when these reforms are not in place – costs in health outcomes, in family economics and for the economy overall when people have less disposable income. For example, the price tag for the differential in how women and men are charged? A billion dollars.

It’s harder to put a price on the stress and heartbreak that accompany the lack of basic fairness.

What’s also harder to quantify is the degree of blatant sexism behind these practices.

Take the issue of charging women higher rates. Insurers actually have a justification for this. Claims show that women ages 19 to 55 tend to use more health care services, they argue. That means women are more likely to go to the doctor, get regular checkups and take the medicine they’re prescribed.

The NWLC report challenges the insurers’ rationale because of the range of disparities among insurers. In Arkansas, for example, NWLC co-president Marcia Greenberger pointed out that one health plan charges 25-year-old women 81 percent more than men, while another plan in the same state charges only 10 percent more.

But even if we take the insurers at their word, isn’t this behavior what we want everyone to practice?

You don’t have to be an expert to know that getting regular check-ups and following through on what the doctor prescribes helps keep you healthy or recover more quickly. Aside from helping people feel better, these are the practices that cut down on health care costs! Stopping high cholesterol, for instance, is much less expensive than hospitalization, surgery and follow-up care for someone who has a heart attack.

In just the same way, allowing workers to earn paid sick days will help people get well faster, prevent more serious illness, and detect problems earlier – steps that will help cut down on the insupportably high cost of health care in our country.  These cost savings, estimated by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, amount to upwards of $1 billion a year in healthcare costs, including more than $500 million in tax-dollars!

We should care about costs. But let’s make sure the definition includes the high cost to families, the economy and our nation of failure to bring the workplace into the twenty-first century.

Contagion: Not Just a Movie

12:59 pm in Uncategorized by EllenBravo

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.

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