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Paid sick time needed to protect jobs, public health during pandemic

(Photo courtesy Gustovo Fring, Pexels)

Women in essential jobs, providing for families, hit especially hard

Advocates for women’s rights are calling on the Michigan legislature to act on HB 5628, which restores paid medical leave to 1.7 million workers in Michigan. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Padma Kuppa (D-41, Troy) wants to restore protections stripped during the “lame duck” period after the voter initiative passed in 2018. Kuppa said that paid sick time is critical for working families across Michigan, now more than ever with the Covid-19 pandemic upon us, so that workers have the ability to stay home when they are sick.

Women especially need this protection. When our kids get sick, we are usually the caretakers,” said Kuppa. “Mothers shouldn't have to choose between putting food on the table and caring for a sick child. Women shouldn't have to choose between paying the rent and going to work sick.”

A horrible irony during this pandemic is that many of our essential workers do not have the sick days they need to stay home and recover from an illness. Nurses, anesthesia techs, secretaries, health aides and orderlies are disproportionately women, and women of color. They are the least paid and least appreciated members of our health care system, yet doing the essential work to keep us safe and healthy.

Diamond Glenn works at a large, online distribution center in Romulus. In January, she had to take unpaid sick leave to take care for her 2 year old daughter because I hadn’t yet worked and didn’t qualify for the Family Medical Leave Act. Glenn is also pregnant so when the pandemic spread to Michigan, her doctor advised her to stay home from work to avoid complications. However, her employer refused to grant her paid leave. “It’s crazy to think that I would have to choose between providing for the child I have and protecting the one on the way. Women like me need to be able to do both. What happened to the paid sick time bill after voters passed it is inexcusable,” said Glenn. “We need to fix this and fix it now. There are far too many workers like me whose lives and jobs are in danger right now.”

In 2017, Mothering Justice signed on to the My Time to Care campaign for Earned Paid Sick Time ACT. While moving this campaign forward Mothering Justice received over 300,000 signatures of Michiganders who exceedingly agreed with the law as it was originally written. “It’s time for the legislature to step up and enact,” said Mothering Justice’s Aisha Wells. “The Passage of a Comprehensive Sick time Bill. This bill will send a clear message to their constituents that, in a time of crisis, they are choosing the health and safety of all of us over the profits of the few.”

“The Covid-19 pandemic has brought into laser focus the disparities that exist for women working in service industry jobs,” said Janet Watkins, President of the American Association of University Women-Detroit Branch . “Women of color, particularly African American women in urban cities like Detroit, make up a large segment of those workers, often are heads of single parent households, working in low-wage service jobs that offer no benefits. When they get sick, they cannot afford to stay home because the majority of them are in jobs that do not offer paid sick leave. Michigan needs to change its paid sick leave laws to support low wage workers.” Watkins is calling on voters here in Michigan to tell their state representative and senator to support expanding paid sick days so it is at the top of their agenda when they return.

“The reality we're living in now is one we built up over decades,” said Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (19th district, D-Livonia). “For decades, we under-funded public health. For decades we denied workers, especially women, the rights and protections they deserve on the job. For decades we have chipped away at the safety net. But today, we really need a strong, capable government. We really need a robust safety net. We really need universal health care. We really need every worker to have protections like paid sick days for our society to function.”

“Pay equity is already an issue and now the pandemic has created a disproportionate hardship for women who are often the majority of frontline workers,” said Sherri Karabelski of the American Business Women’s Foundation. “Women in these workforces tend to have less access to crucial benefits, such as paid sick leave. Paid sick leave makes good sense economically, and it’s just the right thing to do.”

“We cannot worship a God of compassion and mercy and then turn around in our own homes and businesses and act with cruelty and indifference. We are called upon to do better,” said Rev. Stancy Adams of Russell Street Missionary Baptist Church. “you can go to church, you can go through motions, but if you do not provide your workers with the dignity they deserve, then your prayers are in vain. God hates hypocrisy.”

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