Monday, November 26, 2012

Why We Need Paid Sick Days

When we think about public policy, it sometimes appears as though the moral substance of a law is at odds with the practical realities needed to solve the problem at hand. However, in the case of paid sick days, it's really a win-win situation.

The ethical imperative for a paid sick days ordinance stands on its own. Elose Arestil, featured in "Sick and Fired," a report by Family Values @ Work, lost her job at a restaurant in Miami for taking a day off to go to the doctor after being injured at work. Throughout her subsequent job search she only received $173 as unemployment compensation. 

In the case of Felix Trinidad, from Brooklyn, the result was much more tragic. Felix was diagnosed with stomach cancer a year (of pain) too late. He could not afford to take a day off, and when he finally did, the four hours he needed to visit a doctor were deducted from his paycheck. Paid sick days would have saved his life.

Stories like these are countless. About 90 percent of restaurant workers, both nationwide and in Miami, do not have access to paid sick days. And even though stories like Felix's are not likely to represent the majority of those affected, there is a real negative impact on everyone denied this right. When working paycheck to paycheck, a day out of work could mean a week's worth of groceries for a single mother, for example. This emotional and physical stress put on those that are most vulnerable can only move society backwards.

The bigger picture

An article by Grantmakers In Health (GHI) demonstrates the health risks of not having paid sick days for whole communities. A study cited in their report suggests that seven million people may have been infected with the H1N1 virus through people that were working while sick. We all pay the costs of failing to prevent the spread of transmittable diseases--in lives, public health costs, or both.

Many backers of the recently introduced Paid Sick Days Ordinance, which would require employers in Miami-Dade to offer paid sick leave, say the initiative would help businesses as well as workers. Ellen Bravo from Family Values @ Work comments in a Huffington Post article that businesses are likely to reduce turnover costs if they offer paid sick days. This seems plausible if we look at the costs of paying for sick days: less than 8 cents an hour for someone earning minimum wage.

As the previous cost-benefit analysis suggests, paid sick days promise more for all. However, this is more than a cold calculation. It is an issue of human dignity, of finding points of resistance against the invisible force that deems low-wage workers dispensable. Above being an issue about profit generation for local business, it is an issue of putting an end to a condition that makes it difficult for families to take care of themselves and makes them vulnerable to falling into unemployment, poverty and sometimes life-threatening medical conditions.

Moving forward

The Miami-Dade ordinance was voted down 8-4 at its first reading on November 20, which means we now have the challenge of carrying this message to more people, workers and business owners alike. The ordinance can be presented at another reading if we can get the votes of seven commissioners, or if we wait six months. Given that we need to gain the support of the commissioners who did not vote for the ordinance anyway, we cannot lose time and momentum waiting for six months to pass. 

Kit Rafferty, South Florida Jobs with Justice's Executive Director, says that getting the support of businesses and adding 15,000 signed postcards to the 5,000 that have been collected so far are some next steps in the campaign. Additionally, several organizations, Catalyst Miami included, have started planning for a series of town hall meetings on the subject. If you'd like to get involved please contact Kit at

Another way to help is to urge your County Commissioner to vote yes on the ordinance at the next reading. Below is the contact information of the Commissioners that voted against the ordinance. To find out who your Commissioner is click here.

District 4 - Sally Heyman

District 5 - Bruno Barreiro

District 6 - Rebeca Sosa

District 8 - Lynda Bell

District 9 - Dennis Moss

District 10 - Javier Souto

District 11 - Juan Zapata

District 12 - Jose "Pepe" Diaz

District 13 - Esteban Bovo

Thank your commissioner if they voted for the ordinance:

District 1 - Barbara Jordan

District 2 - 
Jean Monestime

District 3 - Audrey Edmonson

District 7 - Xavier Suarez

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