The Healthy Families Act has a new sponsor, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and she’s proving to be not just a backer but a champion for paid sick days. A few weeks ago, Sen. Murray surprised many observers by introducing a non-binding budget amendment calling for workers to earn seven paid sick days—the terms of the Healthy Families Act. A resounding 61 senators voted yes, including 15 Republicans. That’s a filibuster-proof majority.
On April 23, Sen. Murray held a press call to reinforce her determination “to build support in the Senate to get this done.” She’s encouraging all of us to contact those who voted yes on that budget amendment but who are not yet sponsors of the HFA to urge them to sign on. That includes a number of Democratic as well as Republican senators. The reason is simple, said Sen. Murray: “I believe no one should sacrifice a day’s pay or a job to care for themselves or a family member.”
Sen. Murray pointed to the many victories in cities and states that are paving the way for a national standard—including wins in two cities she represents, Seattle and Tacoma. Joining the call was one of her constituents, Candice Hemphill, a Macy’s worker and United Food and Commercial Workers member who lives in Tukwila, Washington, smack between those two cities. She’s part of the Washington Work and Family Coalition, a member group of Family Values @ Work (FV@W) that’s organizing for a statewide paid sick days bill.
Workers in Candice’s store not only lose pay when they’re sick, they may get disciplinary points as well. She can’t understand why one of the nation’s biggest retailers is able to get away with such an irresponsible policy, dangerous to the financial and physical well-being of all its workers and customers—and potentially fatal for someone like Candice, who as a result of juvenile diabetes has no immune system.
“If someone is sick, that flu could be deadly to me,” Candice pointed out.
I was also a speaker on that call. I mentioned the letters from members of the FV@W coalition to President Obama before the State of the Union speech, urging him to talk about the need for paid sick days. Many of the writers were, like Candice, sharing stories about the physical and economic consequences that occur when workers are punished for being good parents or following doctor’s orders. But there were also letters from people like Erin, a seamstress in Portland, Oregon who described a recent workday when she woke up with the awful kind of flu where you can’t even pick your head up from the pillow. “I had a few moments of panic and anxiety,” Erin told the president in her letter, but then she remembered: they had won paid sick days. She could recover and still put food on the table.
The FV@W coalitions that have fought so hard to win in cities and states are proud to be paving the way for a national standard. But they also see the need for the national law—many have friends and loved ones who live in states that are not likely to move this on their own.
We agree with Sen. Murray: with your help, we will get this done!
Ellen Bravo is director of Family Values @ Work