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How paid sick days help workers — and you

From left, Alderman Proco Joe Moreno, Alderman Ameya Pawar and Anne Ladky, executive director of Women Employed meet with the Sun-Times Editorial Board to discuss paid sick days for workers. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

The next time you stop for a quick bite at a restaurant, keep in mind the people preparing your salad or hamburger could be coughing or wiping their runny noses with their forearms as they slice tomatoes for it.

Many of those people cannot afford to call in sick and miss a day’s pay.

A proposed ordinance in the Chicago City Council could remedy that. It would require companies to allow full- and part-time workers to accrue sick days, up to five a year.
This isn’t an issue for most salaried workers and those belonging to unions. They accrue sick days for which they are paid when they’re unwell or have to care for a family member.


It is estimated that more than 460,000 private-sector workers 18 or older in the Chicago area do not get paid when they call in sick. They face a tough choice: Go to work sick or stay home and be further strapped for cash. Most must go to work no matter how rotten they feel.

This topic hits home because my mother has worked full-time in a Chicago factory for decades with no sick time. Over the years I’ve watched my mom, who in her 70s still works for not much more than minimum wage, go to work wheezing, fighting a fever and struggling with dizziness from a bout of vertigo. It gives me a lump in my throat when I think about it. Even as a kid I knew that she deserved better.

She gets vacation time and she can burn those days if she’s sick. But for years she had ailing parents to visit in Mexico. She used vacation days for that.

What about adults stringing together part-time jobs to make ends meet? They have no vacation time. Their choices are brutal when it comes to caring for sick children, elderly parents and maybe their own broken down bodies.

Yet, I am sympathetic to small-business owners whose bottom line will suffer, especially in the early going, if the ordinance passes. Many of them struggle to get by, too. Kim Schilf, president and CEO of the Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce, said her group recognizes the need for sick time but many businesses already have reached a tipping point as they deal with recent increases in property taxes, sales tax and minimum wage.

If the ordinance passes, Schilf sees a possibility of fewer vacation days or fewer scheduled hours for employees.

Asked if fewer than five days would be acceptable, Schilf said such a compromise could work.

In an email, the president of the Illinois Restaurant Association, Sam Toia, said in general his group does not support mandates on businesses. He added, “However, we recognize that this ordinance is more business-friendly than nearly all paid sick leave laws that have been adopted in other municipalities and states.”

Sick time for just about all workers — many temporary and seasonal workers would not be included under the ordinance — is the right thing but I think it should be achieved incrementally for the sake of small businesses. Let’s start with two days and build up to five.

If you’re sick, you shouldn’t go to work. That shouldn’t mean you can’t afford groceries for a week.
Follow Marlen Garcia on Twitter: Follow @MarlenGarcia777

Email: MarlenGarcia777@yahoo.com