Sick and Tired

Supporters of a bill that would guarantee paid sick days to Massachusetts workers will rally at Springfield’s Kenefick Park (on Plainfield Street, by the Gerena School) this Thursday. The “Family Fun Day for Paid Sick Days,” will run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and will include music, food and kids’ games.

If successful, the bill—which would give workers a minimum of seven paid sick days a year—would benefit both individual workers and public health in general. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happens when sick workers can’t take a day off, for fear of losing a day’s pay, or losing their jobs: They drag their hacking/sneezing/puking selves into the office, where they share their cooties with co-workers and clients—a situation that’s especially worrisome as we brace for the upcoming flu season.

“Without paid sick days, workers and their families will have a Hobson’s choice: stay home to avoid spreading the flu and lose a day’s pay or their job, or go to work and school sick and risk infecting everyone with whom they come in contact,” Ellen Wallace, coordinator of the Mass. Paid Leave Coalition, said in a release announcing Thursday’s rally.

The bill would also be a boon to working parents, who often use their own sick days to stay home with an ailing kid. That’s a big part of what got MomsRising—a national activist group with a strong local presence in the Valley—involved in the campaign. In February, Pioneer Valley MomsRising members—with kids in tow—went to the Statehouse to deliver Valentine’s cookies, and an appeal to support the bill, to legislators. (For more on Pioneer Valley MomsRising, check out the website of its parent group, MotherWoman. MotherWoman, by the way, is mentioned in the most recent issue of Ms. magazine for its work, including its well-regarded groups for moms with post-partum depression).

According to the Paid Leave Coalition (which includes labor and community groups, as well as some forward-thinking businesses), 1.4 million Massachusetts workers—40 percent of the private-sector workforce—receive no paid sick days. The figure is even higher among two groups of employees you really don’t want to think about showing up to work sick: restaurant wait staff and child-care workers, 80 percent of whom don’t get paid sick days.

The rally is hosted by Springfield state Rep. Cheryl Coakley-Rivera, co-chair of the Committee on Labor and Workforce Development. Joining her at the event will be her colleague from the Springfield delegation, Rep. Ben Swan, and Amherst Rep. Ellen Story, both co-sponsors of the bill. Helen Caulton-Harris, head of Springfield’s Health & Health Services Dept., will be there to talk about how the city is preparing for the flu season.

Dean Cycon, of Orange’s Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee, will also speak at the event about why his company recognizes the importance of giving time off to sick workers. As he persuasively put it in the event’s announcement: “I want sick employees to be able to stay home so that my customers can be assured that they are not getting more with their coffee than they paid for.”

Author: On Springfield

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