Get well, San Jose!
August 9, 2014
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At one in three San Jose jobs, workers cannot take paid time off if they get sick. Instead, they face a dilemma – struggle through work while sick and possibly contagious, or stay home and lose much-needed pay.
The United States is the only highly developed nation that does not ensure workers can take paid time off to rest and recover if they get sick. That has serious consequences for families, public health, and our economy:
- Without paid sick days, tight finances force parents to send ill children to school or leave them home alone. Earned sick leave enables parents to look after their kids, preventing illnesses from spreading in schools and day care centers.
- Sick days avoid the problem of “presentee-ism” – when ill employees feel they have to show up to avoid losing pay or getting fired, but are far from being able to work at their peak performance. Presentee-ism increases the time workers take to recover, distracts other employees, and increases the risk of workplace injuries. It also spreads illness, since contagious employees are interacting with their colleagues. That all reduces productivity and hurts profits.
- Earned sick leave allows workers to visit their doctor and get well, rather than putting off treatment or relying on after-hours emergency rooms. Sick days also help family members care for elderly or disabled relatives, minimizing the need for nursing homes or formal care. A lack of sick days instead increases the use of expensive medical services, costing money that could be used to grow our economy.
Nationwide, nearly 40% of the private sector workforce – close to 40 million people – are unable to take paid time off if they get sick. This costs us $1.1 billion each year in emergency room visits, and over $160 billion in lost productivity. Yet despite these huge costs, Congress has failed to act. Senator Tom Harkin has repeatedly introduced the Healthy Families Act, which would have ensured workers would accrue up to seven paid sick days each year. Each time, lobbying from the National Restaurant Association and the American Legislative Exchange Council (a shadowy corporate policy group) lead to the Act’s defeat.
At Working Partnerships, we’re done waiting on Congressional inaction. Next Wednesday, we’re holding a community hearing with Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez. Assemblymember Gonzalez has introduced AB 1522, which would guarantee California workers at least 3 earned sick days each year. We’ll be discussing the bill, and releasing a report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research that documents how widespread the lack of paid sick days is in San Jose.
To prepare for this event, I’ve been developing materials to visualize the extent of the problem. Since the IWPR report is quite dense, I put together an infographic laying out some of the key findings. I also created individual graphics to share on social media, and am working on a webpage that lets you explore the data. Since we haven’t released the report, I can’t post these materials yet, but check back next week. And if you happen to be in San Jose on Wednesday, come to the hearing! Here are the details: