Media Coverage: Boston declares flu health emergency, shows Denverites deserve paid sick days

January 9, 2013
By Laura Gabbay
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2013 is already shaping up to be one of the worst flu seasons in years. Without paid sick days, too many low-wage workers will be forced to come to work sick, spreading the flu to clients, customers, and co-workers, according to 9to5 Colorado, one of the largest, most respected national membership organizations of working women in the U.S.

Kayse Jama, executive director of the Center for Intercultural Organizing, Midge Purcell who is director of advocacy and public policy for the Urban League of Portland and Joseph Santos-Lyons, development and policy director of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon, write in the Portland Tribune in an Nov. 22, 2012 article titled, “Paid sick days keep economy healthy:”

“…working sick isn’t good for any of us — not our own health, not our co-workers, not our customers, not school kids, not classmates, not teachers, not bottom lines.”

According to the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), influenza activity continues to increase in the United States and most of the country is now experiencing high levels of influenza-like-illness (ILI), according to CDC’s latest FluView report. The CDC has stated the proportion of people visiting health care providers with flu-like symptoms climbed from 2.8 percent to 5.6 percent in four weeks. CDC is using words such as “accelerating” and “risk.” By contrast, the rate of Americans visiting doctors with flu-like symptoms peaked at only 2.2 percent during the relatively mild 2011-12 flu season last year, reports the Associated Press. Today 41 of 50 U.S. states are seeing widespread flu impact. Denver Health has opened a separate sick bay in its Emergency Room for patients with the flu reports 9News today.

Of note for women, females who are or will be pregnant during the influenza season are at increased risk for severe complications from influenza or at higher risk for influenza-related outpatient, ED, or hospital visits, according to the CDC.

More than 107,000 workers in Denver alone do not have paid sick leave benefits. That is a staggering number of people who not only work in restaurants, but also ordinary stores and other businesses where you might visit, only to find yourself sick with the flu because one of their employees felt compelled to come to work or lose their job. Advocates for legislation to help ensure we do not have to work sick emphasize measures such as the one currently being sought after in Portland, Oregon, simply allow all workers to earn paid sick days.

Today too many Denver workers, many of whom are single mothers like me, are unable to afford taking unpaid leave. While I am a single parent, I am one of the fortunate workers. My employer, a nonprofit organization, does offer paid sick leave. My employer does so, not only because it makes good economic sense and helps us to retain excellent professionals, but also because left unaddressed, my employer knows it could become a dangerous public health issue for Colorado.

Other measures my employer and others that are prudent are taking to help stop the spread of the flu this season are to limit meetings and permit employees for whom it is appropriate to request the ability to telecommute.

Jama, Purcell and Santos-Lyons continue in their recent article in the Portland Tribune:

“Workers of color are especially affected. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 42 percent of black workers and 57 percent of Latino workers in the Portland area’s private-sector workplaces do not earn a paid sick day — compared to 39 percent of white workers.”

In the most recent demonstration of support for new local legislation to ensure all workers can earn paid sick leave, workers rallied this past fall at City Hall in Portland to ask city commissioners to take a small step — with big results — toward a more equitable and healthy local economy, according to Jama, Purcell and Santos-Lyons.

Initiative 300, put before the voters in November 2011 in the City and County of Denver, failed to pass, with the business community afraid of its impact in a tough economic time. So far our community does not believe in the need to implement legislation that requires businesses to allow workers to earn paid sick days. However, this could change as we experience the worst flu season in a decade of American history. And the flu season is not over, with at least two more months to go and some experts saying we have yet to see the worst of it. As for me, I selfishly want every restaurant at which my family and I eat, every grocery store cashier I meet, and every parent I say hello to when I pick up my son from elementary school to have heeded wise advice and stayed home if they are ill with the flu.

Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, 9to5 is dedicated to putting working women’s issues such as Paid Sick Leave on the public agenda. To learn more about becoming a member of 9to5 Colorado, visit its terrific new website or you can join other members at its annual local membership drive kick-off event at a location yet to be announced on Monday, February 4 at 5:30 p.m.

After all, it certainly speaks volumes when infamous News Corps. mogul and conservative Rupert Murdoch describes paid sick leave as “absurd.”

“Somebody needs to stand up to NYT [New York Times] which today editorialises strongly for absurd city council actions which will truly hurt small businesses.” – Rupert Murdoch getting his Tweet on Aug. 5, 2012

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