Maria’s story: A flexible schedule and supportive supervisor help — but can’t replace lost wages

From the Coalition for a Healthy Tacoma

Maria, 39, is a housekeeper at a Tacoma hotel. She and her husband both work full time, and their two sons, aged 13 and 18, are in school. Her position is unionized, so she receives three days of paid sick leave and three paid holidays per year.

Maria says her manager is flexible and supportive when she or her family members are sick, usually allowing her unpaid time off when she needs it. But because she only earns minimum wage, taking unpaid time off is a real hardship for her family.

She was forced to make the difficult choice between work and family when, in 2005, her oldest son sustained a serious sports-related injury and needed surgery on his leg. While he recovered, Maria’s employer allowed her to take three weeks unpaid time off to care for him. “For the first week of his injury, he couldn’t walk. I had to do everything by hand for him and prepare food for him. My husband gave him showers.”

Her absence from work put immense strain on the family budget. Since Maria’s husband had just started a new job, he did not receive any paid sick days – requiring her to be her son’s primary caregiver. To make up for some of their lost income, Maria adjusted her work schedule – returning to work for 5 hours a day so she and her husband could alternate care-giving duties until her son regained full mobility.

Maria has been employed with the same hotel for more than 15 years, and feels lucky they are able to be flexible with her hours in cases of emergency. Although her sons are older now, Maria says it was a constant struggle to schedule appointments outside work and school hours, as well as deal with illnesses and injuries. “I try to save my three paid sick days and three vacation days for when it’s important.”

Maria stated that having more paid sick days would help her balance obligations at work and caring for her family. “It’s really important for me because you don’t know when you or your family is going to be sick.”

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