Spectrum News 1: Service workers rally for California bill supporting 7 days of paid sick leave
BY SUSAN CARPENTER
LONG BEACH, Calif. — For all COVID’s negatives, there was one major upside for California workers last year: supplemental paid sick leave that guaranteed employees ten days off if they fell ill. For many service workers, that was a vast improvement from the three days of paid sick leave employers are required to provide under California law.
Now that expanded compensated sick leave is over, a proposed bill in the state legislature is seeking to raise the required minimum. SB 616 would increase guaranteed paid sick leave to seven days and also allow employees to carry over seven sick days to the following year.
“We talk a lot about California being the fourth largest economy, but that is solely because of our hardworking California workforce that has been showing up every single day,” California Sen. and SB 616 author Lena Gonzalez, D-Long Beach, said at a rally Wednesday. “California is a leader in a lot of ways, but paid sick leave is one where we’re actually trailing behind many other states.”
Gonzalez said that sick workers cost the national economy $234 billion annually in productivity and that providing paid sick days could save employers up to $1.8 billion each year through fewer absences from a reduced spread of flu-like illnesses alone. She cited paid sick leaves laws in San Francisco and Jersey City, N.J., that found worker productivity increased after legislation was enacted.
“For those without paid sick days, missing three and a half days of work equates to losing an entire family’s monthly grocery budget,” Gonzalez said of the bill, which was heard in the Senate Committee on Labor, Public Employment and Retirement Wednesday. “We’re here to say three days is not sufficient.”
Such losses are especially difficult for service sector jobs traditionally held by women and Latinos, including child care providers and those working in retail, food service and hospitality.
“My coworkers are coming to work visibly sick now,” said Adriana Soto, a merchandise hostess at Disney California Adventure, which enacted a new attendance policy last year that disciplines workers for missed hours and puts them at risk for termination. “They have to work because they have no sick time to stay home and want to keep their job. When you come to Disney, you should not have to worry that a cast member giving your child a balloon is sick.”
When parents aren’t able to take time off from work to care for their sick children, they are twice as likely to send sick kids to school, said Dr. Sharon Pham, a pediatrician in Anaheim who is part of the California Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“When they’re unable to take sick leave, then they’re also five times as likely to have to take their child to an urgent care emergency room in hopes of a quick resolution,” added Pham, who is advocating for a national standard for paid sick leave. “I’ve even had parents ask me to discharge their child before I think the child is ready because their parent cannot afford to stay home any longer from work.”
Currently, there are no federal legal requirements for paid sick leave, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That has made workers in some fields especially vulnerable to retaliation and job losses if they choose to take days off for an illness.
“Rail workers have zero paid sick days,” said Louie Costa, state legislative director for the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers union. “We saw it play out nationally last year with almost two national strikes for a push for paid sick days. It wasn’t able to happen.”
While a strike was averted because President Joe Biden and the U.S. Congress imposed a labor agreement, “we’re still working under zero paid sick days,” Costa said, and “draconian attendance policies” that have led to disciplinary action and job losses for some workers who took time off because they were sick.
Under SB 616, unpaid sick days cannot be used for disciplinary purposes to acquire points toward discipline or dismissal.
“To establish a California for all, we must change and update policies that have not worked and that don’t support the majority of working Californians and working people and working families across our state,” California Assembly member Wendy Carrillo, D-Los Angeles, said at Wednesday’s rally. “We are proud that we spearheaded a statewide policy that enacted paid COVID sick leave amid the pandemic. We now get the opportunity to expand on that effort and ensure that we go much higher than we have been before.”