Why earned paid sick time is necessary.

In the current political climate, it is important to hold on to what we value, and cultivate how it might work in the world around us. We’ve been through reactionary phases of cultural development before, and while it is important to #resist – it is also important to plan for what’s next.

One of the items that is currently before us to consider, is a ballot petition campaign for Michigan to uniformly provide Earned Paid Sick Leave to hourly workers who don’t otherwise have it contracted.

It’s often hard for me to make an argument for Earned Paid Sick Leave when asked, because I don’t understand what the arguments against it are? The financial cost of this conundrum to our families, is a financial cost to society. A little economic preventative care is an investment of pennies on the hour that can prevent long term cultural trauma we don’t even see, because it’s mostly not talked about in this context. Workers (their children! their parents!) survive what I consider to be insufferable harm as a result of these policies that dehumanize workers, and can financially cripple US during our most vulnerable times and intense life events.

As a parent, it alarms me that we are so depended on to be active in our children’s education, yet only high wage folks can reliably get away from work in order to deal with urgent matters – and still keep our job. Or pay the rent/heat/clothing bills. I’m a frugal lady, but even having an amazing boss that would leave their own day off to relieve me (they really were a great boss) would still make it difficult for me to leave off a shift when my kid got a fever and had to leave school/sitter/cousins’ house. Because, then, how could I make up the hours? Real life doesn’t let you substitute.

From a Public Health perspective – a lack of paid sick time forces the lowest wage workers to put off taking time whenever possible, when they’re often the workers in closest proximity to the broadest public. This certainly doesn’t protect employers from harmful exposure, when customers get sick after visiting their establishments, or entire swaths of workers become ill at once – both of which happened recently, in Michigan, in popular eateries.

Folks with whom I am personally acquainted have stayed at work through the following calamities, under the immediate threat of losing their jobs or homes (as a result of lost wages):

  • Gone into labor months early while on shift, and told they couldn’t leave

  • Brought their preschooler to work because Child Care fell through, and they had [were able?] to leave them in a [intermittently unseen] restaurant booth while they performed their duties

  • Left their partner behind at the hospital with their newborn child literally minutes after they were born, because the copy shop needed them (more??)

  • Lost a crown from a tooth

  • Had an 11 year old walk home from school three miles in below freezing temperatures

  • Left a parent in questionable survival status while suffering from a drug overdose

  • Had their hours cut arbitrarily by a superior late in pregnancy because they “seemed tired”

  • Worked a customer service position without their now-broken dentures

  • Vomited from morning sickness in a bathroom stall, alongside a co-worker who had just been treated with chemotherapy

Note how in each of these situations, the persistent worker muscles through their calamity (good for you!), and puts themselves and their immediate family/customers/public in greater risk. What other choices would they have had? What about you?

The challenges faced by the individual workers are a result of lacking a few hours and a few dollars – by mostly large companies that could have easily absorbed these losses. The individuals cannot offset these losses on their own – but they contribute a great deal of their lives to company bottom lines. We need a whole host of other resources analyzed for the worth that workers truly contribute. We need to strategize to repair so many things. But for now. Let’s at least make this small part of our Public Health a little bit easier to manage.

Please support the Earned Paid Sick Leave initiative. Your Public Health depends on it, and we all need Time to Care.

Rebecca La Duca

Mothering Justice member

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