Campaigns to make paid sick days a basic workplace standard have sprung up around the country—and now New York City is getting in on the action.
City Council Member Gale Brewer has introduced a bill that would guarantee paid sick days for all workers in the city, and she already has the support of a whopping 35 of the Council's 52 members. The bill has generated a great deal of excitement outside the Council, too: it's backed by a massive, diverse coalition that includes business owners, workers, public health and policy experts, and labor unions.
The timing for a New York City paid sick days standard could not be better. Nearly half of all private sector workers, including nearly one million New Yorkers, don't have a single paid sick day. These workers need paid sick days to safeguard their economic security, and we all need a standard that will protect our public health, especially during a flu pandemic.
Included among those workers without paid sick days are those most in need of job-protected, paid time off when they are sick or a family member is sick: the overwhelming majority of low-wage workers, as well as those who prepare and serve our food or work in child care, nursing homes, and schools.
In this economy, family budgets are stretched so tightly that workers can't afford to take a day away from work without pay, and they definitely can't afford to risk losing their jobs. That's why millions of workers come to work sick or send their kids to school sick, because they have no choice.
With a wave of new H1N1 cases expected in the fall, we need to make sure that families never have to make that choice. Ensuring that workers are able to take time off without losing their pay or their jobs must be a critical part of our public response to the flu pandemic. A paid sick days standard could play a central role in preventing the spread of the H1N1 virus.
Since New York is, well, New York, the City Council has an opportunity to take the lead in the national movement to guarantee paid sick days for all workers. All eyes are on the Big Apple. Let's hope the Council acts quickly—and provides a good example for the rest of the country.