Some days, she drags herself to work, her feet on fire. But she says a little prayer, kisses her grandson goodbye, and Rosemarie Easterling is out of the house by 6.
She won't get back home for 11 or 12 hours, but Easterling's two part-time jobs — she's a school bus monitor who also works in Hartford's school food services — allow her to keep her house in Hartford, just barely. God forbid she, a 54-year-old diabetic, should get sick. Like 44 percent of the state's private sector employees, Easterling doesn't have paid sick days. No work, no pay.
The national average for workers without sick pay, according to a recent study from the National Partnership for Women & Families, is nearly 40 percent — and roughly 75 percent of low-wage earners. And if those workers come in sick, they run the risk of spreading germs to colleagues in a phenomenon known as "presenteeism." A Cornell University says employees who work while they're ill account for 60 percent of all corporate health-care costs.
"But everybody gets sick," Easterling says on a rare day recently when the prayers didn't work and she stayed home in the morning.
"Who in this world doesn't get sick?" asks state Sen. Edith Prague, Senate chairwoman of the legislature's labor and public employees committee. Last session, the legislature discussed a paid-sick-day bill, but, as happened the year before, it died.
Count on another effort this session, thanks to a coalition of organizations spearheaded by the Connecticut Working Families Party.
This is serious. It's the grandmother in Hartford, the day-care provider in Enfield, the music teacher down on the Gold Coast. That teacher, who asked that her name not be used, recently raised her fees "so that taking a sick day doesn't break the bank." She says nearly all her friends are self-employed. "They trudge through work when very sick and have been known to sing operas, teach lessons, teach classes with high fevers and contagious conditions," she says. "Some of these people don't even have health insurance, so it's a double whammy in not getting paid and having to pay out of pocket for care."
In fact, the industries where employees are least likely to have paid sick days are those with the greatest exposure to the rest of the public, including hotel and food services, home health care and child care. According to a 2007 report by ACORN, 85 percent of food-service workers have no paid sick days.
Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama supports mandatory paid sick days. Republican presidential nominee John McCain opposes employer mandates. Yet if you don't count the platforms of the presidential candidates, support for paid sick days runs across the political landscape, says Jon Green, executive director of Connecticut Working Families. Voters like candidates who support paid sick days.
In fact, a recent Public Welfare Foundation study says that 77 percent of American workers say paid sick days are "very important." That feeling is especially strong in New England, where the study says 91 percent favor paid sick days.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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