04 April 2013

Paid Sick Days: A Necessary Support

*Update Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter vetoed Philadelphia's City Council-approved Earned Sick Leave legislation on April 4, 2013.

This week we talked to Janet Filante, Executive Director of Childspace CDI – a long-time Ms. Foundation for Women child care grantee – about their work organizing child care providers to advocate for paid sick days as part of a Philadelphia campaign that’s heating up this spring.
Learn more about the campaign and sign the petition.

The Philadelphia City Council just passed a paid sick leave bill that would require all businesses with over 6 employees to provide their full-time staff with at least a few days of paid sick leave. The bill is now before Mayor Michael Nutter. Can you tell me why Childspace CDI became involved in the coalition supporting this legislation?

There were really three reasons we got involved: economic concerns, health concerns, and its impact on women.

First, we support child care teachers having decent working conditions, and unfortunately there are child care teachers who do not have paid sick days. So that means that they have to choose between taking a day off when they're sick or getting paid. Parents also have face these issues. Providers have guidelines saying that you shouldn't bring in a sick kid – for example if they have had a temperature within the last twenty four hours – but if the parents of these children work where they don't have paid sick days, they may have no choice. Taking a day off could mean that they might lose their job or they could lose pay, which for some people is the difference of whether they'll make rent that month.

Secondly, child care centers are environments filled with lots of germs and when providers or children don’t have the opportunity to stay home they often just keep circulating those germs. It’s important to have a healthy early care environment and ensuring paid sick leave would help make this possible. In these cases ensuring paid sick leave is both a personal and public health benefit.
Finally, this legislation is doubly important for women in their role as caregivers, because they not only need to be able to stay home and get well when they are sick, but need to take care of their children when the children get sick. Women are the majority of the workforce in these highly susceptible caregiving industries, which also typically have fewer workplace protections. Paid sick leave is an essential support for women working in these roles and for mothers caring for their children; without it, public health suffers and women are often left struggling to support their families.

So it's a very important issue both for the teachers that don't have that basic benefit and for the parents who use their programs.

What role did you play in the campaign?
The main role we played was to rally the participation of owners and directors of independent child care programs who were speaking out as business owners. This was really important because the business association was the main opponent to this bill, so the coalition really wanted to have businesses that could speak positively about why paid sick leave would be beneficial for businesses. We got business owners to testify in front of the Council, speak at press conferences and sign letters of support.

As I mentioned above, not having paid sick leave is a real health issue for child care businesses and can become a dangerous business practice. And on the other hand, we’ve found that providing paid sick days is actually a benefit to their business. It shows respect to their employees and engenders loyalty. People don't abuse it. The employees feel honored and respected and it contributes to less turnover and a better work environment.

What is the status of the legislation right now?
The bill is in front of Mayor Nutter and he has to decide this week. People do think that he's likely to veto it, as he did last year. But we are working hard to get one more vote in the Council in support of the bill so that – like New York City – we will have enough votes to override the mayor’s veto.

There’s a lot of momentum in this movement nationwide and it does seem to me that it will be one of the things that we look back at and be astonished that it wasn't a benefit that everyone had. Just like there's overtime and child labor laws, I do think we're going to get to the point where it's generally accepted that everyone should be able to have some earned sick time. It’s just common sense.

Childspace CDI

Childspace CDI is a nonprofit organization with a mission to improve the quality of jobs and quality of care in early education – defined as care for children aged zero-five, before kindergarten.

They do this by organizing teachers and directors to speak up for what they need to provide quality care and to involve their parents and peers in advocacy efforts. They also do training, technical assistance and peer support to help people adopt best practices, both in terms of how to run their businesses efficiently and best practices in the classroom.

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