- Sen. Bob Hasegawa
It’s so easy to get caught up in the political maneuvering in Olympia that lawmakers sometimes lose sight of how what we do impacts the lives of the men, women and families across our state. Seattle’s paid sick leave law is a great example. The law promotes good public health and provides an important protection for employees, ensuring that employees will not have to choose between risking their health and providing for their families. Yet the Republican majority pushed through a bill today to override the will of Seattle voters and roll back the sick leave law.
Wonder who will this bill affect? Here are just a few true stories I’ve come across from people whose lives have been dramatically improved by the paid sick leave law:
- A young woman who works at a department store was diagnosed at an early age with diabetes. She has received a kidney transplant and in order for her body to accept the transplant will be on medication that lowers her immune system for the rest of her life. At her department store, they have no dedicated sick days and employees face discipline for any unscheduled absences, even if they bring in a doctor's note. As a result, many of her coworkers come to work sick. Every time this happens, it literally puts her life at risk. A case of the flu that might knock you or me out of commission for a few days requires her to go the emergency room and could be life-threatening. Without paid sick leave, she will repeatedly face situations where she is working with, and sharing a phone or cash register with, a sick coworker.
- Another story involves a man who works at a grocery store in the deli department. Before paid sick leave passed in Seattle, he and his coworkers did not have access to paid sick leave for the first two days that they were sick. When one of his coworkers got pink eye and could not afford to miss two days of work without pay, that employee went to work. Almost the entire department ended up getting pink eye, and who knows the affect this had on customers.
- A woman who works at a health care facility, working directly with vulnerable patients every day, qualifies for sick leave time but faces harsh discipline for missing work. She and her coworkers are given demerits every time they call in sick. Six demerits in a 12-month period and they can be fired, even if they provide a doctor's note. During the last flu season she got the flu, but before she could miss a day of work she called her manager to find out how many demerits she had. She knew that if she had six she would have to come to work sick because she could not risk losing her job.
- Another woman lives in Seattle and works at a grocery store in Sea-Tac. Without paid sick leave, she does not have access to paid sick leave on the first two scheduled days that she is sick. Her husband also works for a grocery store, so if her kids get sick, or an illness goes through their household, her family ends up losing a substantial portion of their income. This is exactly what happened with the norovirus this year. Her kids got the bug, then her husband, then her. By the time she got ill, her family had lost so much in wages that she had to go to work sick.
These everyday stories show exactly why paid sick leave laws are so important—and not just to employees but to the countless customers with whom they come in contact, particularly in businesses that handle food. Still, Republicans in the Senate insist on pushing legislation to gut or block Seattle’s current paid sick leave law, putting thousands of Washingtonians at risk. The notion that half of our population, good people who work hard at low-paying jobs to try to provide for their families, do not deserve help — or that the thousands of consumers they serve do not deserve protection from the spread of illnesses — has no place in here Washington State. Considering that members of the majority caucus have repeatedly decried a “Seattle-centric” agenda, this focus on attacking Seattle’s protections for employees and families seems to be pretty “Seattle-centric” to me.
The real solution is to make sick leave a statewide benefit and level the playing field for employees across our state. This would make for healthier employees, more secure families, and healthier workplaces. This is about whether we think people ought to be able to call in sick without being docked a day’s pay or whether they should be forced to work when they’re ill. This is about how we think middle class workers should be treated and whether we care about the safety of those who work around them. We should be strengthening our middle class, not weakening it.