Rosa* lost her mother just a few weeks ago.
Her elderly parents lived at home in New York. A home health-care aide helped Rosa’s father with the burden of caring for her mother, who had Parkinson’s disease and had suffered a major stroke just over two years ago.
“We didn’t want to keep her in a nursing home, for financial reasons, for germs. They basically told us to take her home,” Rosa told RH Reality Check.
The home health-care aide didn’t have paid sick days, so she came to work sick one day, and Rosa’s parents both wound up with the flu. Her 88-year-old father recovered; her mother did not.
“My dad lives with guilt that he allowed the person to stay,” Rosa said. “I’m living with guilt because I came to work that day to make a few pennies.”
Rosa takes unpaid leave from her job in order to care for her parents — her father still struggles with heart troubles and a bad back that makes it hard for him to get around. When Rosa is sick, she goes to the office. She uses her personal days to stay home with her family. (Rosa is also a breast cancer survivor.)
“It’s basically women who are the caregivers,” she noted. “I realize these corporations, they don’t want to do paid family leave. But they’re just eating themselves because the workers come to work exhausted.
“If it’s between work and my parents, my parents must come first.”
Rosa’s home health-care aide was just one of the 44 million workers nationwide who don’t have even a single paid sick day, according to Ellen Bravo, executive director of the Family Values at Work Consortium. A 2010 report from the Public Welfare Foundation and the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago found that 55 percent of workers without paid sick days have gone to work with a contagious illness like the flu. “Thus, not having paid sick days is associated with an 18 percentage point increase in ill employees spreading diseases at work,” the report said. And 24 percent of parents without paid sick days have sent a sick child to school or daycare.
New York’s city council has a bill that would require paid sick days for more than 1.2 million workers. Calling for its passage, the New York Times editorial page noted that it is “a normal benefit for workers in at least 145 countries.” The bill’s been stalled, though, for more than 1,000 days, since its introduction in 2010, even as a natural disaster and flu epidemic hit the city. Christine Quinn, the powerful council speaker, has refused to bring the bill up for a vote, as Mayor Bloomberg and the business community are strongly opposed. Quinn has said that she’s in favor of the policy, but not while the economy remains weak.
Now, the bill is shaping up to be an issue in the 2013 mayor’s race, as a coalition of well-known and politically powerful women have declared they won’t support Quinn in her historic run for mayor unless she allows a vote on the bill, and there are hints that there’s a compromise afoot.
On February 25, a group of women elected officials from Congress, the state legislature, and the city council held a press conference calling for passage of the bill. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) said, “…[R]ight here in New York, we can bypass congressional gridlock, enact paid sick leave, and make the Big Apple a national leader in protecting the health of our citizens and guaranteeing elementary fairness to all the working women and men who make our great city tick.”
“I think it’s pretty much a no-brainer,” said Pat Kane, an operating room nurse at Staten Island University Hospital and treasurer at the New York State Nurses Association. “When public health emergencies have to be declared during flu season, when every recommendation from every government agency involved in health says you have to stay home, I don’t see how you can have no requirement that people have to have this benefit when they’re working.”
Kane noted that at the end of January, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention released a new study on a new strain of norovirus, causing gastrointestinal illness, spread by people handling and preparing food. “A lot of those workers don’t have paid sick days,” she pointed out. “When you think about all the requirements to certify a restaurant, to me this should be one of those requirements.”
Paid sick leave is good reproductive health policy as well, Bravo pointed out. “From whatever angle, whether it’s prenatal visits, well baby visits or being able to have an abortion, people need time to take care of themselves without being forced either to forgo the treatment or forgo the pay or even worse, the job.”
“When they say ‘everyone’s free to stay home when they’re sick, they’re just not free to keep their paycheck or their job,’ that’s not freedom,” she continued.
Sick Leave Boosts Women’s Finances