On Labor Day next week, let’s celebrate that local workers have won a new and important right. On July 1, paid sick time became the law in Chicago and parts of Cook County.
At a time when the gap between the rich and poor is growing, and when many people are barely hanging on to their status in the middle-class, the new law represents a small but important step toward greater economic security for everyday families.
But it is a bittersweet victory. While Cook County officials intended the new law to be implemented countywide, leaders in dozens of suburbs have voted to opt out — denying workers this important right. Tens of thousands of workers still are unable to take time off to care of themselves or family members without suffering financial consequences.
Paid sick time is about dignity. We all get sick sometimes. When we do, we shouldn’t have to risk losing our jobs or forgoing needed wages because we must stay home.
And it’s not just good for ailing workers; it’s good as well for all of us. Studies suggest that paid sick time laws reduce the spread of illness. Employers that offer paid sick time report higher employee satisfaction and lower staff turnover, which is good for their bottom line.
Given that so many municipalities in Cook County are opting out of the law, it is clear there is much more work to be done to protect workers. And it underscores the need for a state or federal paid sick time law, so that businesses aren’t operating under patchwork policies and workers aren’t confused about whether they are protected.
Fortunately for workers in Chicago, paid sick time is now law, and an estimated 450,000 private-sector workers have access to this right for the first time.
Most are low-paid workers who are the least able to afford forgoing their wages or risking their jobs during an illness. Prior to the guaranteed right to paid sick time, they often would go to work sick, or send their kids to school sick, because they couldn’t afford to take unpaid time, or worse, feared being fired.
While the new law applies to all workers, it is particularly important for working women, who are traditionally the primary caregivers for young children and older parents.
We are thinking about people such as Laqueanda Reneau, a 24-year-old single mother from Roseland, who has had to send her 6-year-old son to school when he was sick because she didn’t have paid sick time. And Kelly Karbach, 31, of Avondale, who was fired from her job as a line chef in a restaurant after she got sick and missed a shift.
Now, Laqueanda and Kelly will be able to take sick days off without fear of being fired or losing wages.
On this Labor Day, give thanks for this new right. And let’s redouble our efforts to pass state legislation that will offer the same basic rights and protections for every worker in Illinois.
When we support working families, we bolster the backbone of America.
Iliana A. Mora is president and CEO of Women Employed, a non-profit that mobilizes people and organizations to expand educational and employment opportunities for America’s working women.
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