This time last year, Desiree Rosado, a school bus driver in Groton, Connecticut, was dreading flu season. "Working without paid sick days, you're always worried about what will happen if you get sick," she said. "When my kids caught the swine flu, I missed a week of pay to stay home and take care of them, and I'm still paying off the credit card bills I racked up."
But as of January 1, Desiree and hundreds of thousands of other Connecticut workers will begin to earn paid sick time under a new statewide paid sick days law -- the first in the nation. She'll be able to use that time if her kids are sick, if she herself falls ill, or to see a doctor for preventive care. In the process, Desiree says she's gained "real peace of mind."
For Desiree and workers across Connecticut, paid sick days are one immediate way to see real economic relief, even in the aftermath of a severe recession.
As someone who drives children safely back and forth to school every day, Desiree Rosado knows another benefit of paid sick days. The new Connecticut law, which applies to workers in the service sector, means those who serve our food and care for the young and the frail will not have to put the public at risk when they're ill.
"No one should have to choose between their family's health and their job, and no one should get fired just for getting sick," said Jon Green, Executive Director of Connecticut Working Families, a member group of Family Values @ Work Consortium and lead organization in the broad coalition which helped win this new law. "Beginning this year, hundreds of thousands of service workers will be able to earn paid sick days that so many of us simply take for granted. This is an important but modest step towards a smarter, healthier Connecticut."
Research confirms that the lack of paid sick days exacerbates the impact of a health crisis. According to a report by the Institute for Women's Policy research, during the H1N1 (swine flu) outbreak of 2009, 8 million Americans came to work while infected with the virus, infecting another 7 million people in the process. Environmental health specialists have documented how loss of pay can influence workers to show up on the job even when they have vomiting or diarrhea.
Green also emphasized the benefits of the law as a common sense victory for working people. "Now more than ever," Green said, "we should seize every opportunity to strengthen conditions for people working so hard to support their families."
Connecticut's win was the first of three in a row last year for paid sick leave proposals. Philadelphia City Council passed a measure a month after Connecticut. Although the mayor vetoed that law, the Council later voted 15-1 for a version that applies to businesses who receive contracts or subsidies from the City. Philly's coalition plans to re-introduce the broader bill soon. And Seattle City Council overwhelmingly approved a bill adding that city to a growing list of places which recognize the value of ensuring workers can afford to stay home when they're sick.
2012 will see a wave of similar campaigns across the country -- because workers are desperate for relief and because small business owners and policymakers are increasingly seeing paid sick days as a modest step with significant impact that keeps people employed, at a time when holding on to a decent job is especially critical.
According to a poll by Quinnipiac University, 72% of Connecticut resident support the paid sick days law. Hart Research Associates found a similar majority believe that tough economic times is exactly the right time to introduce such protections. They agreed with the statement that "workers are vulnerable now and cannot afford to lose income or risk being fired simply because they have the flu or a child needs medical care."