National Partnership for Women & Families

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From the desk of ... Debra L. Ness

Toward a More Family Friendly Nation

January 4, 2012 | Work and Family

It's not literally the 99 percent versus the privileged few, but it's one of the most noteworthy divides I have seen.

Most of us who earn paid sick time cannot imagine that any workers in this country do not.

[Cross-posted from The Huffington Post]

And tens of millions of workers who toil for years -- caring for kids, the elderly or the infirm; cooking food or delivering it to our tables; cleaning cars, homes or streets; guarding our factories and office buildings -- cannot imagine being able to stay home with strep or stomach flu, or to care for a sick child, without losing a day's pay or possibly their job.

Yet in terms of economic security, a chasm divides those two Americas.

One is filled with people with some measure of job and economic security and usually health insurance of some kind. The other is filled with people who find the deck stacked against them every time illness strikes or health needs arise.

That is why Sunday, January 1, 2012, was such an important day. It marked not only the beginning of a new year but, let's hope, a new era when paid sick days will become the norm for all workers in this country.

For sure we will see progress in Connecticut, because lawmakers there listened to their constituents instead of the business lobby and enacted a law guaranteeing many workers the right to earn paid sick time. It is the country's first statewide paid sick days measure, and it took effect on Sunday. Seattle also passed a paid sick days law this year, the nation's third city to put such a standard in place.

January 1, 2012, is the day when hundreds of thousands of workers in Connecticut finally gained the right to earn job-protected paid sick days. It's a huge step, and long overdue. The new law will help those workers, their families, the public's health and the state. But perhaps even more important, Connecticut's experience will add to the growing body of evidence that paid sick days are good for businesses and economies as well. Studies show that San Francisco's law, the nation's first, is working well for businesses as well as workers.

But as 2012 begins, more than 40 million workers in the United States cannot earn a single paid sick day. Low-wage, women and Latino workers are disproportionately affected.

Several cities and states are considering paid sick days measures, but the battle against a relentless, well-funded business lobby is tough everywhere.

So let's keep our eyes on Connecticut, where a recent poll by Hart Research Associates found that voters look favorably on lawmakers who supported the new law. An overwhelming majority identify paid sick days as central to families' economic security. They are poised to reward legislators who voted for the law, the poll found.

Let's tip our hats to Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy and to all the lawmakers there and in Seattle who, in 2011, said "no" to the business lobby and "yes" to refusing to force hardworking families to make impossible choices when illness strikes.

Let's all pay attention to this issue in 2012, an election year when we take measure of our status, refine our values, and decide the kind of country we want to be.

If we do that, we can make this year's victories a real turning point, rather than an anomaly at this time when workers seem to lose more often than they win.

By making paid sick time a priority for all workers, we can close one painful divide and give all hardworking people the chance to earn a few days off to recover when illness strikes or a family member needs care. It's time.


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