Congresswoman Suzan DelBene Co-Sponsors the Healthy Families Act

Congresswoman Suzan DelBene

Flu season peaks this month. Public health officials tell us to stay home at the first sign of fever but millions of American workers can’t afford to take off work and far too many fear that staying home with the flu will cost them their job.

We all need paid sick days.

The Healthy Families Act would create national standards for earned paid sick and safe leave time, ensuring every worker has access to sick leave when they need it.

The legislation is widely supported, with over 140 co-sponsors in the U.S. House and Senate. Washington state Representatives Rick Larsen and Jim McDermott as well as Senator Patty Murray have co-sponsored the bill since it was introduced in March 2013.

But this month we got some welcome news – Congresswoman Suzan DelBene has signed on as a co-sponsor the bill in the House, the only second Washington woman in Congress to do so.

“Our economy thrives when working families are both healthy and financially stable. That’s why we must update our workplace policies to ensure families don’t need to choose between caring for their health or keeping their paycheck,” said Congresswoman Suzan DelBene. “The Healthy Families Act is a commonsense proposal that will help give workers the security they need to succeed both at work and at home, and I’m proud to be a cosponsor.”

We thank Congresswoman DelBene for her support, but we know Congress is unlikely to act on sick and safe leave soon.  That’s why it’s so important for the Washington State Legislature to pass HB 1313, the statewide sick and safe days bill. The state House passed HB 1313 in January, but the bill must pass out of Senate committee by end of next week to move forward. Take action today by contacting your Senator and urging them to support sick and safe leave.

Urge the Washington Senate to take action on sick and safe days!

We all need paid sick daysThanks to the work of people like you, we passed Washington’s first statewide paid sick days bill in the House this past January.

Now the bill is moving to the Senate, and we need your help to urge your Senator’s support on paid sick and safe leave.

Take action now and urge your Senator to support paid sick and safe days!

We know the bill will face fierce opposition from corporate lobbyists in the state Senate, but the 1 million Washington workers without access to paid sick and safe leave can’t afford for politics to trump good policy.

Take action today and urge your Senator to support paid sick and safe leave. Email them on our action page or call the legislative hotline at 1-800-562-6000.

No one should have to got to work sick or leave a sick child at home because they can’t afford to lose a day’s pay. Women like Jennifer, a restaurant worker who was nearly beaten to death by her partner, shouldn’t have to worry about making ends meet when they take unpaid leave to seek medical services or testify in court.

Across the country, states and cities are taking action to expand  access to paid sick days. Washington D.C., New York City, San Francisco, Jersey City, Connecticut, Portland, OR, SeaTac and Seattle have passed laws allowing workers to accrue paid sick and safe leave.

We can do better for Washington’s working families. Act today. 

A Snow Day Cost This Woman Her Job at Whole Foods

Rhiannon Broschat

All over the country, parents are losing jobs because of conflicting orders: public health officials instructing parents to keep kids home, and bosses threatening to fire workers who don’t come in.

The cold this winter isn’t just extreme—it’s expensive. It means higher heating bills, more spending on car repairs, and more taxpayer money going to city services. For many people, it means lost pay. And for some, the cost is their job.

Ask Rhiannon Broschat. On January 28, when Chicago Public Schools recognized that the extreme cold was dangerous for children, they closed the schools. Rhiannon’s special-needs child couldn’t stay home alone, and her back-up care provider, her mother, isn’t available during the week. For being a good mother and following the advice of public health officials, Rhiannon Broschat found herself fired by her employer, Whole Foods.

Like a lot of employers, Whole Foods assigns points for unexcused absences. Because other employees made their way into work, the company did not consider the weather situation serious enough to count in the “excused absence” category.

“If I can’t walk my dog, I don’t think my kid should be outside either,” Rhiannon told me, agreeing with the decision to close schools that day. “If I could have found adequate child care, I would have made it to work. I need my money. They try to play it like I was lazy.”

The story of the cold weather has been all over the media for months, but this is one question reporters haven’t been asking: what do parents of young children do when schools close because of snow or cold?

Some cities have found a common sense solution. Ordinances guaranteeing that workers can earn paid sick days are starting to include language that allows workers to use those sick days when schools are closed for public health purposes. Everyone benefits from these laws—families already on the brink have more money to spend, which helps boost the economy, and businesses don’t have to pay to hire and train a new employee.

Unfortunately, I can count on my two hands the number of cities and the one state that currently guarantee workers can earn paid sick days. Rhiannon Broschat’s situation is not uncommon.

“I know tons of people around the country and within my former company are going through the same thing,” Rhiannon said. “I would love to see this changed—rescind this policy or pass a regulation like paid sick days. Everybody should have those, especially if you have children.”

Rhiannon is a junior in college majoring in criminal justice. One of her biggest worries is whether she can afford to stay in school, and whether she’ll be able to pay off her student loans once she finishes.

“Things were already tight – this will make it tighter,” she said, “with the rising cost of housing, utility bills, gas for the car, and car maintenance living in Chicago—I just fixed my car the day before I was fired. Things happen, they all cost money.” Her goal is to get a job in juvenile probation. “I know a lot of kids out there are in difficult situations—that circles back to the situation I’m having,” she said. “Parents can’t help what goes on. They lose their jobs, and kids are the ones who have to suffer.”

Rhiannon’s story reminded me of my former co-worker Teresa. She described a similar experience on a day when schools were closed because of sub-zero weather here in Milwaukee.  Because of our organization’s personnel policy, she was able to stay home with her kids. At 6:30 that morning, a woman she recognized but did not know from her neighborhood knocked at her door holding the hand of a 5-year-old boy.

She asked whether Teresa was staying home that day, and then said, “You look like a nice person. Will you watch my son? I’ll be fired if I don’t go in.” The lack of paid time off puts many working parents in desperate situations.

All over the country, parents are losing jobs or vital income because of conflicting orders: public health officials instructing parents to keep kids home, and bosses threatening to fire workers who don’t come in. No one should be out in the cold for being a good parent. Sign this petition to demand justice for Rhiannon Broschat. And in addition to justice for Rhiannon, we need justice for all workers. Join with us to pass flexible sick days policies locally and for the whole nation.

Via The Nation

CNN: Paid sick leave won’t hurt businesses

Cupcake Royale has six locations in Seattle, where businesses are required to offer employees paid sick days.

Most New York City businesses, big and small, will soon be required to offer paid sick leave to workers.

The city is set to enact a law in April that requires businesses with at least 15 employees to offer paid sick days. Mayor Bill de Blasio wants to go even further and require it from businesses with at least five employees

Some business owners are wary of the proposed regulation. Not only would they have to pay the worker who stayed home sick, but in some cases, they would be paying a second worker to cover the shift.

But similar policies have worked in places like San Francisco, Seattle, Washington D.C., and Connecticut — without hurting small businesses.

Related: Sick days are a luxury many hourly workers don’t have

“Most employers want to offer their staff paid sick leave — it’s good for morale,” said Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, which has yet to take a stance on de Blasio’s proposal.

And it’s good for business. Restaurant owners want to ensure their servers aren’t giving you the flu with your coffee, said Joshua Welter, a director at the Main Street Alliance.

But Rigie questions de Blasio’s timing, especially since the existing law is already set to go into effect.

“We’re just concerned about the smallest employers that are already struggling,” Rigie said.

Related: How will a minimum wage hike hit businesses?

Jody Hall owns a chain of cupcake stores in Seattle and was also concerned about an undue burden on the smallest businesses.

Hall already offered paid sick days to her 110 employees at Cupcake Royale when Seattle enacted a law requiring it in 2012. Although she’s an advocate for the benefit, she was hesitant to support the law at first.

“We have a vibrant small business community in Seattle and wanted to make sure the ordinance addressed the ability of small businesses to be successful,” Hall said.

She was happy to see that the law enacted a tiered policy, meaning businesses with under 50 employees are required to offer fewer paid sick days per staff member than larger businesses. And those smaller employers don’t have to pay wages for any sick day until the employee has worked there for six months.

One year after the law went into effect, a study from the Main Street Alliance found no evidence that it had negatively impacted the economy.

Related: What’s my real living wage?

The same was true in San Francisco, where a similar law was enacted in 2007. There, all employers, no matter the size, have to offer at least five paid sick days per year (or nine days for businesses with more than 10 employees). According to a 2011 study done by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, six out of seven San Francisco employers said their profitability didn’t suffer as a result.

De Blasio’s push to expand sick paid leave is part of his larger agenda to address income inequality in the city.

And he’s not the only one pushing those issues. Just across the Hudson River, paid sick day mandates have been recently approved in Jersey City and Newark.

Via CNN Money

21 Years after the FMLA, Cities and States Can Lead the Fight for Family Leave

Marilyn-formal-close

Today the federal Family and Medical Leave Act turns 21. The law has helped millions of Americans take time off work to nurture their newborn child, care for a critically ill family member, or recover from their own serious health condition.  But America’s families will not regain economic security until all workers have access to paid leave for health and family care. With Congress locked in dysfunctional  bickering, cities and states will have to lead the way – and we in Washington state are proud to be part of that fight.

Women now make up half the workforce. More than two-thirds of Washington state school kids have all their parents in the labor force, and ever growing numbers of workers are providing care for aging family members. But women still earn far from equal pay – even with the same qualifications and in the same jobs as men. Mothers especially experience rampant discrimination. Single mothers and their children are shockingly likely to live in poverty.

The FMLA provides only for unpaid leave. It doesn’t cover workers in smaller companies, those who have changed jobs in the past year or work less than 1,250 hours for the same employer. It also can’t be used for preventive medical care or routine illnesses like the flu or a child’s fever. Without policy standards, 40% of workers don’t get a single paid sick day, and only 12% are provided paid family leave benefits by their employers.

Those statistics mean that working moms like Alma are forced to go to work when their child is sick. Too many woman go back to work a few days following childbirth, like Selena did so she could save her few precious weeks of paid time off for when her premature baby was released from the hospital. And working women like Evelin suffer unnecessary financial and emotional stress because of their parent’s illness.

Washington state is helping lead the movement for change, with policy innovation at the local level. Seattle’s  Paid Sick and Safe Leave Law has been protecting working families like Monica’s, and helping the local economy thrive since September 2012. Now campaigns for sick leave are underway in Tacoma and under consideration in other cities around the state.

In the state legislature, a bill based on the Seattle sick leave policy passed the House just last week with a strong assist from Washington’s Work and Family Coalition. Unfortunately, the bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate, which is more likely to pass legislation seeking to overturn city sick days and minimum wage laws.

The Work and Family Coalition has also developed a family and medical leave insurance proposal that would assure all workers have a source of income during those occasions when they must take extended time to care – when a new baby is born, cancer strikes, or a parent becomes seriously ill. We know paid family and medical leave will improve outcomes for young children, seniors, and working families. In the states with insurance programs already in place, parents not only take longer leaves to care for a new child, but new moms are less likely to go on public assistance or food stamps, and are more likely to be employed – and at higher wages – a year following birth.

Paid leave policies may seem like common sense, but winning change won’t be easy. There are powerful lobbying groups representing mega corporations whose owners flourish under the status quo and view any policies to empower working women and the middle class as a threat.

Let’s not wait for another flu epidemic to pass paid sick days. Let’s not allow another whole generation of kids to be born without paid family leave. Our elected representatives in city councils, the state legislature, and Congress need to hear from us loud and often that we expect them to act.

Lawmakers rally in support of paid sick days

This week, lawmakers in the state House stood with Washington’s working families and passed the legislature’s first paid sick and safe days bill. The bill’s prime sponsor, Representative Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma), along with her colleagues shared rousing testimony in support of paid sick and safe days.

Here are some of our favorite quotes.

“The Centers for Disease Control have told us that upwards of 80 percent of norovirus that’s transmitted across the nation is from sick food service workers. Now a lot of people don’t know what norovirus is Mr. Speaker but just let me tell you, it’s a gift you don’t want to be given. The thing about it is, it doesn’t have to be this way. We can do something about it.”  – Representative Laurie Jinkins

“I rise in support of sick and safe leave. Sometimes we get so focused on the nuts and bolts of the legislation that we forget about the real people that it’s impacting so let’s put a face to the people that’ were talking about right now. I want to tell you about a woman named Jennifer, a restaurant worker in east King County, who went home one night and was almost beaten to death.” – Representative Tana Senn

“I rise in support of this bill, this very personal bill to me. When I got my diagnosis last February, one of the first things that ran through my mind was with cancer how many days I was going to have to be off of work. My wife is a homemaker and if I don’t work no one gets paid, the family has no income.” – Representative Roger Freeman

“This bill reminds me less of those other bills whether it’s minimum wage or other things then it does a bill that’s very near and dear to my  heart, that’s now the law of the land, and…went into effect 20 years ago and that’s the Americans with Disabilities Act. You know when the ADA was being debated in Congress over 20 some years ago you heard a lot of the same arguments from business. You may have even heard a line like a job with no wheelchair ramp is better than no job at all. But we know that’s not true.” - Representative Cyrus Habib 

You can see video of the representatives’ full remarks over on EOI’s blog.

State House passes Washington’s first statewide paid sick days bill

Woman with tissue and hot drinkHB 1313 establishes new minimum standards for 1 million Washington workers –one-third of the state’s workforce – to accrue paid sick and safe time

Olympia | Today, the Washington State House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed HB 1313 – a bill establishing minimum standards for earned paid sick and safe time. The bill will protect 1 million Washington workers who do not currently have access to paid sick days.

“No working family should be forced to leave a sick child at home or go to work with the flu for fear of losing their paycheck.  Today’s paid sick days bill means they won’t have to,” stated Representative Laurie Jinkins, the bill’s prime sponsor. “I am proud of how small businesses, community groups, faith leaders and workers have come together with lawmakers to pass a bill that strengthens our families and communities.”

HB 1313 will allow employees to earn 5 to 9 days of paid sick and safe leave, depending on the employer’s size. The bill will bring new sick leave protection to hundreds of thousands of workers including 140,000 in accommodation and food service, 150,000 in retail and 90,000 in health care and social assistance. Paid sick days are a responsible way to prevent the spread of disease and keep communities healthy by encouraging sick workers and children to stay home – away from co-workers, schoolmates, and customers.

“As a business owner, I can tell you that paid sick days are good for my customers and my workers,” stated Makini Howell, chef and owner of three restaurants and a food truck. “My business has continued to grow and expand under Seattle’s paid sick days law, with new locations and jobs. My employees work hard to make my business successful, and they deserve to have the basic security of a couple paid sick days to take care of themselves or their children.”

Under HB 1313, employees will accrue 1 hour of paid sick leave time for every 40 hours worked or for every 30 hours worked if their employer has over 250 full-time employees. Workers may use sick and safe time for their own illness or injury, diagnosis or preventative care, or for the health needs of a child, spouse, domestic partner, parent-in-law or grandparent. Workers may also use sick and safe time to cope with the consequences of domestic abuse, sexual assault or stalking. The bill was sponsored by Representatives Farrell, Morrell, Green, Dunshee, Lytton, Sawyer, Sells, Fitzgibbon, Riccelli, Moeller, Appleton, Reykdal, Roberts, Ryu, Pollet and Moscoso.

“Today, the Washington State House of Representatives took a step toward strengthening the economic security of working families,” stated Marilyn Watkins, director of the Washington Work and Family Coalition. “Washington’s families, communities and economy will be stronger when working people have enough income to cover the basics while protecting their own health and caring for their loved ones.”

“It is a great day for workers and our communities. A big thanks to the members in the House who supported this and particularly Rep. Jinkins who championed the bill. The Senate should take up this bill now and pass it so we have paid sick and safe days for workers across the state,” said Sarah Cherin Political and Public Policy Director of UFCW 21.

Across the country, states and cities are taking action to expand access to paid sick days. Connecticut, Jersey City, Newark, New York City, Portland, OR, San Francisco, SeaTac, Seattle and Washington D.C. have passed laws allowing workers to accrue paid sick leave.

The Washington Work and Family Coalition includes representatives of seniors, women, labor, health professionals, children’s advocates, faith communities, low-income workers, employers, non-profits and other organizations working to create access to paid sick days, paid family and medical leave and improve modern workplace standards.

Media contact: Maggie Humphreys, maggie@eoionline.org

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