Voices from Russia

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Getting Sick Not an Option for Many American Workers

01 tired woman


Like the protagonist of some cold medicine commercial, Robert said that he couldn’t afford to get sick and miss a shift at the upscale restaurant where he waits tables six nights a week in the American capital. Robert, 31, told RIA-Novosti this week, “It’s expensive to live in this city. You can’t just be missing days”. Robert, who asked that his last name not be published because his employer hasn’t authorised him to speak to the media about this job, actually has more access to paid sick leave than many Americans do. He works in Washington DC, which is one of just three American cities… along with one state, Connecticut… to guarantee paid sick leave for employees. An estimated 40 million American workers have no paid sick leave, which the US federal government defines as a “benefit” rather than a right.

A national debate over mandatory sick-pay grabbed headlines in recent weeks in the USA, which is in the grip of a flu outbreak that health authorities said has reached epidemic proportions. The USA is one of the few industrialised nations that don’t have a federal law mandating paid sick leave, a situation that critics say pressures ill employees to come to work out of fear of losing a pay-cheque .. or their jobs. They say that this results in decreased employee productivity and increased public exposure to infectious illnesses, particularly when workers like Robert and other food service employees… whose jobs involve face-to-face contact with the public… shrug off symptoms and clock in anyway.

According to a 2010 study at the University of Chicago, more than two-thirds of Americans reported going to work whilst ill. According to the study, employees without paid sick-leave are 18 percent more likely to show up at work sick and 10 percent more likely to send their sick children to school or day-care. New York City legislator Gale Brewer told WNYC radio in an interview earlier this month, “I’m sure right now as we speak kids are going to school sick. Their parents can’t take a day off”. Arguably, New York City is the current epicentre of the sick leave debate, with local lawmakers pushing for the nation’s financial capital to guarantee sick pay for workers. Brewer is backing a bill that would mandate that businesses with five employees or more must offer some sort of paid sick-leave; the legislation has received backing from a range of civic and religious groups, as well as celebrities like American feminist writer and activist Gloria Steinem.

However, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said such that legislation would hurt business during already difficult times, a position that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg expressed as well. New York Times columnist Michael Powell noted with irony that Bloomberg’s opposition to the bill is at odds with his reputation as a public-health activist… an image burnished by enacting public smoking bans and crackdowns on oversized sugary drinks. In October, Powell wrote, “Bloomberg worries a lot about our health; he’s banned smoking in bars and vat-size cups of soda, but suggest that a couple of women should be allowed to take off a day rather than cough bacteria into the chicken quesadillas, and his free-market spine stiffens”.

According to a 2011 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, the lack of paid sick-leave in the USA helped lead to an additional five million infections during the Swine Flu outbreak in 2009. This week, Michael Sinesky, who owns several bars and restaurants in New York City, told the AP that the bill would hurt his operations, particularly in the destructive wake left by Hurricane Sandy late last year, saying, “We’re at the point, right now, where we can’t afford additional social initiatives”. Lawmakers in several other American cities are pushing for mandatory paid sick-leave bills as well, including Portland OR and Philadelphia PA, whose mayor, Michael Nutter, vetoed a bill requiring sick pay in 2011. Joel Mathis, a columnist for Philadelphia Magazine’s website, argued this week that the city should pass paid sick leave legislation in order to protect customers as well as workers. Mathis wrote, “Want the flu with your fries? Some pertussis with your poutine? A cold with your cold beer? Because that’s what the current system is designed to provide”.

25 January 2013

Carl Schreck



Editor’s Note:

That’s why I went to work feeling poorly this past week… I lacked sick days as part of my compensation. Of course, according to the rightwing received-wisdom, I’m a “taker”… I deserve nothing but a swift boot in the arse for laziness according to Steve Forbes, Wet Willy Romney (have you seen how quickly the Repulicants dropped their erstwhile standard-bearer?), and James Paffhausen. Then again, Steve Forbes said on 12 October 2012, “Yes, [Romney] will win this election, despite all the claptrap to the contrary”… he believes in crackbrained foolishness such as the gold standard. Romney actually believed his own propaganda (what would one expect with a youthful nappy-wearing incompetent such as Priebus at the head of the RNC (he was white, though!)?)… and Paffhausen actually thinks that he’s a victim of the OCA Holy Synod and that he deserves “compensation”. Not very good for the “makers” of this world, eh? Shitbirds of a feather flock together… never forget that. Yes, taking care of sick people is “Pro-Life”… more so than waving a placard in a bootless “March for Life“. Think on that, if you will…

We need a “new” New Deal… the sooner, the better…



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