The short, lumpy red couch in Stili Klikizos’ second-grade classroom at Milwaukee’s Fratney Elementary School was meant for quiet-time reading. Now it’s “the sick couch,” a place for ill students to lie down as they await the bus that takes everybody home at day’s end. “The parents work and will lose pay if they come get them,” she told me as I sat on the couch. Thanks to her union contract, Klikizos gets 12.5 paid sick days a year. Many of her students’ parents aren’t so fortunate. “It crosses socioeconomic lines. Sometimes kids tell me not to even call, since ‘Mom will get fired if she leaves.'” Last year, several couch-sitters were belatedly diagnosed with swine flu.
The no-show parents are among the 40 percent of the private sector who don’t receive sick pay. Among full-time workers, 73 percent are covered by paid medical days. (Ninety-one percent have paid vacation, 89 percent paid holidays). The percentage is far lower on every count for part-time workers, though it’s not just the motel cleaning lady or immigrant dishwasher who is scared to call in sick, see a doctor, or pick up a kid from school. Retail sales supervisors and information technology managers deal with the same domestic crises.