Why You Should Vote “Yes” for Paid Sick Days on February 24th
By Melissa Josephs, Director of Equal Opportunity Policy at Women Employed
When you head to the polls on February 24th to vote in our city election, you’ll find a referendum question asking if you support paid sick days for Chicago workers.
You should answer “yes.”
If you do, you’ll be standing up for the 42 percent of private sector workers, and nearly 80 percent of low-income workers, in Chicago who don’t get a single sick day, according to an analysis by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR). That means you’ll be standing up for 460,000—nearly half a million—workers who can currently be fired for missing work if they are ill or caring for an ill family member.
Right now, these workers are forced to choose between their health and their paycheck. If they don’t get paid time off to get better, they go to work sick because they cannot afford to miss a day’s pay—or worse, lose their job. But when they come to work sick they risk infecting coworkers and the public.
In my fight for paid sick days, I’ve heard countless stories from employees denied the right to take care of themselves and their loved ones. I’ve spoken with restaurant workers like Benjamin, who had a 101-degree temperature and couldn’t find anyone to cover his shift as a bartender. He went into work and found himself “throwing up between tables.” I’ve talked with mothers like Rhiannon, who was fired from her cashier job during the polar vortex last winter, when schools were suddenly closed and she had to stay home to care for her 10-year-old son.
It’s workers like Benjamin and Rhiannon who would benefit from an ordinance that was introduced to the City Council last March and would guarantee that all Chicago workers could earn some sick days. They would be able to stay home when they got the flu, or to care for an elderly parent or a child who has a fever, or to attend a doctor’s appointment. In addition to making sure workers can take care of themselves or family members in times of sickness, the ordinance would help survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault, who could use paid sick days rather than risk losing their jobs if they have to go to court. And parents could not be fired for staying home with their children if schools are closed due to a public health emergency.
And the ordinance wouldn’t just be good for workers—it would also be good for employers. A cost-benefit analysis for the Chicago ordinance, conducted by IWPR, found that businesses will save over $6 million in annual costs due to the benefits of lower turnover, reduced flu contagion, and increased productivity. This prediction is in line with the results observed in cities that have already passed paid sick days laws, like San Francisco, which has had a law in place for eight years. IWPR found that job growth was stronger in San Francisco than in surrounding counties that do not have sick days. Paid sick days would also save our city money: another IWPR study showed that paid sick days could save Chicago $12 million a year by reducing emergency room visits.
It’s because of overwhelming evidence like this that President Obama called on legislators to pass paid sick days laws at the city and state levels during his State of the Union address in January. It’s time Chicago heeds that call. It’s time we give Chicago workers the chance to take care of themselves and their families while making Chicago a healthier, more productive city for both employees and employers.
So go out and vote “yes” for paid sick days on February 24th.