Too many working families regularly face the dilemma that taking a sick child to the doctor will mean a loss of wages, or even getting fired. This excruciating calculus is all too common to lower-income workers, many of whom are already living paycheck to paycheck, struggling to make ends meet.
Lack of paid sick days disproportionately affects workers like those who prepare our food, look after our children, and care for our elderly. So when these workers have little choice but to go to work sick, it’s not just their health that’s at risk—it’s all of ours. And business owners understand that one employer’s healthy and steady worker is another’s steady customer. When predominantly low-wage workers forego pay due to unpaid sick days to care for themselves or their loved ones, they spend less on groceries, clothes and other goods—hurting, not helping, local economies.
Surdna used last year’s White House Summit on Working Families to raise these and other issues—like increasing the minimum wage—before a national audience.
At the Summit, Makini Howell, a Seattle restaurateur working with grantee Main Street Alliance, discussed the benefits to her business of paid sick days: “I can’t afford losing good employees. Investing in my most valuable asset—my employees—pays off.” Another Surdna partner, Ellen Bravo, of Milwaukee-based Family Values @ Work, presented a staggering picture of the 40 percent of American workers who don’t earn a single paid sick day and the huge financial loss and strain it places not just on these families, but on the entire economy.
These and other nonprofit warriors—many also supported by Surdna—working in the trenches of this movement, offered a message both uplifting and sobering. They have won an assortment of victories, but remind us of the millions of Americans who, despite working a full week, still can’t put food on the table. They ask us why paid sick days tend to be a privilege reserved for executives, but are rarely extended to the workers who clean their offices and serve their food.