By Cindia Cameron
In March we look forward – eagerly anticipating the arrival of spring; and we look to the past – celebrating National Women’s History Month. Looking back, we might ask what our pioneer activists in women’s rights would say about tough choices working women still make to keep their families afloat.
Looking forward, we can celebrate Women’s History Month by taking action to pass the Healthy Families Act.
One inspiration for action is the story of a young mother named Tahirah who lives in Denver, CO. At 26, Tahirah found a dream job: crew leader in an airport restaurant. The wages were low and the hours long. Still, the job offered a chance to supervise and a clear path to the management track. But there were two wrinkles: her preschool-age daughter has asthma and this job did not provide any paid sick days.
Tahirah managed to keep her job and home from falling apart – for a while. But there were times when her daughter was sick and her manager would not allow her to leave work. There were also times when Tahirah left her daughter home sick because she simply couldn’t risk being fired. One day her daughter was rushed to the hospital. A friend called to tell Tahirah to meet them there. But her manager didn’t give her the message for hours. Eventually she was forced to leave that job. She’s found others, but still none that offer the paid sick days she needs.
Everyone gets sick. Everyone deserves time to get better. The United States is the only developed nation in the world where no law provides this basic labor standard. Nearly 40 percent of private sector workers in this country have no paid sick days. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, this number includes 78 percent of hotel workers and 85 percent of food service workers. It’s clear who suffers: struggling families, low-income working women, their children. However everyone in the community is affected.
As consumers we eat in restaurants where most servers face a choice between coming to work sick or losing income and possibly a job. As family members, many of us have parents or grandparents living in nursing homes where staff members face this same impossible choice.
Providing access to paid sick days will help struggling state budgets. Researchers in New Hampshire for example, found that workers with paid sick days are 14 percent more likely to visit a medical practitioner, which could translate into fewer severe illnesses and hospitalizations. They conclude that guaranteed paid sick days would lower medical costs by reducing emergency room and hospital use.
The solution for families, workplaces and public health is for Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act. This legislation would allow full-time workers to earn seven paid sick days each year to care for themselves or a family member. It would offer low-wage women in particular, the means to safeguard both their health and their jobs in these difficult economic times.
A national labor standard of paid sick days is a fitting way to honor women—past, present and future—by honoring their dual responsibilities: work and family.
Cindia Cameron serves as organizing director for 9to5, National Association of Working Women, and chair of the Georgia Job/Family Collaborative.
Copyright © 2010 by the American Forum. 3/10
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