By Jean Godden, Seattle City Councilmember
When I was a restaurant critic, I always noticed that our great restaurants and chefs treated their wait staff as if they were family – and most of them do today. But I have been out to dinner when I have been served by wonderful women who just could not take the night off even though they were sick. Often single moms. Often the sole source of support for their families.
I cosponsored Seattle’s paid sick leave ordinance because I understand first hand just how important this common sense protection is for Seattle’s families. Like me, they want Seattle to be a place where no one will lose a job because they are sick – a problem that disproportionately affects the poor, people of color, and women.
Today, while 84% of the highest-paid private workers have access to paid sick leave, only 32% of the lowest paid workers do. As our economy grows and we bring more jobs to the region, those jobs have to be good for everybody.
As a woman and mother, I can’t ignore the fact that a lack of paid sick days has a disproportionate affect on women. Gloria Steinem said, “The fact is that women need [access to paid sick days] more than anyone else. Women still have so much more family responsibility than men…” The increased responsibilities for caregiving that women often carry mean that women are more likely to be at risk for punishment and termination in the absence of paid sick days.
This ordinance is about more than economics, paid sick days are about public health too. In a study about the H1N1 “swine” flu in Boston last year, the public health commission found that a lack of paid sick days contributed to the spread of the virus – and communities that did not have paid sick days had much higher rates of infection.
I have heard the concerns of small business owners about the legislation, and we have made adjustments to the proposed law to help ease implementation of this new and important policy during tough economic times.
With a healthier and more secure workforce, paid sick days will be an asset to our city and its economic future. In fact, San Francisco has had a sick days ordinance for the last several years and, despite the recession, its food service sector has held onto more jobs than food service sectors in its neighboring counties. Paid sick days did not cause the dire situation that some opponents have predicted.
On Monday, September 12, Seattle is poised to become the 4th city in the country to pass paid sick days legislation, in addition to the entire State of Connecticut. I’m proud to have cosponsored this bill.
We now have six solid votes for a new sick leave policy as worked out between the City Council and the Seattle Coalition for a Healthy Workforce. The vote on sick leave will come today. Yes!
Thanks to all who signed on early for this truly grassroots effort which grew into such an effective local effort so fast – with about 70% of our residents supporting sick leave in Seattle! We have just made Seattle a better place to live.