Friday, February 25, 2011

Keeping Seattle’s Working Moms Healthy and Safe: Seattle’s Paid Sick Days Campaign

Is Seattle ready for a paid sick days law?  In Seattle 42% of the workforce has no paid sick leave.  Far more alarming is the fact that in Seattle, 78% of restaurant workers, 55% of retail workers, and 29% of health care workers do not have paid sick leave.  The increased likelihood of spreading contagious diseases is something workers and employers should be very concerned with.  Rising health care costs combined with a sickened workforce is bad business for all employers. 

Paid sick days benefits would create a healthier and more secure Seattle workforce.  It would ensure that workers could stay home when they are sick without losing a day’s pay.  When sick workers are forced to go to work they not only increase their own healthcare care expenses but those of their coworkers.  Sick workers cost employers productivity and spread disease.  For workers in the services industry, like restaurant workers and grocery store cashiers, they risk making the public sick as well.  In Washington State most workers in the food service industry or those working directly with the public have no access to paid sick leave. 

The workforce segregation resulting in women working mostly in health care services, child care, and retail in Washington means that women take the brunt of the consequences of having no access to paid sick leave.  The lack of paid sick leave is particularly troubling for working mothers.  When working mothers cannot afford to take a day off to care for a sick child that child is oftentimes forced to go to school, spreading disease to other children and teachers. 

In King County 69% of school-age children have both parents working.  In fact, according to a 2010 Center for American Progress study in Washington State 37.4% of working moms were breadwinners. In that study the term “breadwinners” was defined as “…single mothers who work and married mothers who earn as much or more than their husbands.” In the same study, the term “co-breadwinners” was defined as “…all breadwinners as well as wives who bring home at least 25 percent of the couple’s earnings, but less than half.”  In Washington State working mothers who were identified as “co-breadwinners” was 22.6%.  And working mothers who were identified as either breadwinners or co-breadwinners totaled 60%. 

With long term unemployment hitting men harder than women, women are increasingly becoming the primary breadwinners for many families.  In Washington State, 60% of children under age 6 and 71% of school-aged children had both parents working in 2008.  And another effect of workforce segregation is that women are more likely than men to have part time jobs that offer no benefits at all. 

For women who are victims of domestic violence having access to paid sick leave is critical for their health and safety, as well as for the safety of their children.  In 2008 Washington State enacted the Domestic Violence Leave Act.  The Act requires employers to provide their employees with “…reasonable time off to attend court and take steps to ensure their and their children’s safety if the employee is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.”  However simply because you can take time off does not mean you can afford the lost pay associated with taking that time off.  Not having the financial freedom to take days off to deal with extreme cases of potential violence can result in dire consequences for women and their children.  The protections of the Act may therefore be meaningless for women living paycheck to paycheck.  Paid sick days benefits would ease a tremendous burden for these vulnerable women. 

The 2006 San Francisco paid sick days law has been proven to be an overwhelming model of success.  In fact, a recent survey detailing the impact of the San Francisco law conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found:

San Francisco’s PSLO has had a tremendous impact on workers’ lives with little to no impact on the city’s businesses. Two-thirds of the employers surveyed now support the PSLO. They overwhelmingly report that their profits haven’t declined as a result of the law and two-thirds report no difficulties with implementation. 
The primary reason that businesses found little impact from the law was that workers generally only took advantage of their sick days when they really needed to do so.  And more than half of the workers surveyed in San Francisco said they benefitted from the law. 

In the coming weeks a coalition of community leaders will begin laying the groundwork to let Seattleites know how they can benefit from paid sick days benefits.  The NWPC-WA fully supports this paid sick days campaign and we will be providing periodic updates for our readers. 

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