Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Why Earned Sick Days Matter For Working Women and Families

Lauren Townsend 215-939-7621 (c)
Philadelphia Earned Sick Days Campaign


Ellen Bravo: “ Women will never see equal pay until they stop being punished for being caregivers ”

This morning, national and Philadelphia experts on working women briefed members of the news media about why having paid sick days is especially important for working women.

Ellen Bravo, Professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin and Executive Director of Family Values @ Work participated in the briefing.

Bravo said, “Women will never see equal pay until they stop being punished for being caregivers. That means policies such as paid sick days, that help women stay employed and have steady earnings.”

Bravo stressed that working mothers often jeopardize their economic wellbeing when they take time off to care for a sick child or elderly parent and do not have paid sick days.

The conference call was moderated by Carol Goertzel, CEO of PathWays PA, who is a founding member of Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces that is pressing for the passage of an Earned Sick Days bill in Philadelphia City Council.

Katherine Black, Director of Health and Safety at the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees District Council 47 and President of the Philadelphia Chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, said, “The fact that women's wages continue to lag behind men's by 23% - and much more for women of color - is just one factor to consider when quantifying women's second class status in the workplace. More than half of all women work in the retail, clerical and service sectors, where they are much less likely to be provided with health care, pensions or paid leave benefits. That means most women's expenses are higher than men's, and their income insecurity and disadvantage extends past their working life all through their retirement years. Having a modest cushion of paid sick days would provide working women with a few more threads in a very frayed employment security safety net.”

"As many as 100,000 working women in Philadelphia don't have access to a single paid sick day at work, " said Amy Traub, Director of Research at The Drum Major Institute for Public Policy. " Because women are more likely to be caregivers for sick children, they bear a disproportionate burden from the failure to guarantee paid sick leave to all workers. Our research shows that guaranteeing paid sick leave doesn't harm business growth or job growth -- but the lack of paid leave hits women and their families hard."

Caryn Hunt, President of the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Organization for Women, said, “The wage gap between men and women workers has not narrowed in over 15 years, and that includes throughout the economic boom years. That it takes women 3 months into the new year to equal the pay of men the previous year is outrageous, not just for women, but for their families that increasingly rely on that income. It's simply unfair. In Philadelphia, Earned Sick Time helps the city take a step closer to worker equity as it would primarily effect workers in healthcare and the food service industry which are predominantly women. It has the added virtue of protecting the public health by giving workers the choice to stay home when they or a loved one is sick.”


Having no sick days is a double-whammy when women still receive 20 - 30 cents less for every dollar a man makes. Missing even one day - particularly for working mothers - can undermine a woman's financial stability.

When care giving responsibilities and jobs collide, women often bear the brunt of the problem:

  • Half of all working mothers miss work when their child is sick, compared to 30% of working fathers. Of the mothers that miss work, 50% report losing pay when doing so.
  • Even when women have access to sick days, studies show that mothers are the only demographic group more likely to use sick time to care for someone else than for themselves.  
  • Since women are more likely to bear the burden of care giving AND work in low-wage jobs without sick days, they are also more likely to lose their jobs because of a lack of sick days. This job loss prevents longer job tenure and higher wages, and increases the likelihood of a family growing up in poverty.

Promoting Healthy Families and Workplaces Act (Bill 080474) is a bill that would allow Philadelphia workers the opportunity to earn up to nine days of sick time per year. It was voted out of the Public Health and Human Services Committee on March 1, 2011. The bill could affect up to 200,000 workers in Philadelphia who do not have access to paid sick days.

With over 40 percent of Philadelphians lacking earned sick days, a large portion of the population cannot take the time off work to go see a doctor or obtain medical treatment - regardless of the medical coverage they have.

Employees with earned sick days are more likely to stay home when they are sick, limiting the spread of the illness and protecting co-workers, customers, or anyone else they meet during the workday. During the height of the H1N1 pandemic, people were urged to stay home if they had any signs of the flu, however, those without earned sick days were less likely to stay home because they could not afford to. As a result, nearly 8 million H1N1 cases were traced back to employees going to work while sick.

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