Letter to Senator Tom Harkin in Support of the “Healthy Families Act”

March 12, 2013

The Honorable Tom Harkin, Chairman
HELP Committee
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Harkin,

We strongly support the “Healthy Families Act.”  Thank you for sponsoring this important legislation, which would create a national standard for paid sick days.

Currently, more than 40 million private sector employees (40 percent of the workforce) in the United States do not have paid sick leave. They are faced with a Hobson’s Choice: either go to work ill, or lose pay (and possibly their jobs).  Many cannot afford to take an unpaid sick day, and instead will unwillingly spread contagious illnesses when they work.

Paid sick leave is essential for one simple reason: employees sometimes become ill or their children become ill, and it is better for everyone if they stay at home rather than go to work or school and infect others with a contagious illness.  This is particularly true for restaurant workers, care providers, and other service workers who have considerable contact with many others as part of their job.  Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of food service, child care, and nursing home employees do not have paid sick days.  If all employees had paid sick leave, an estimated 1.3 million emergency room visits could be prevented each year, saving more than a billion dollars in health care costs annually.

Unpaid sick leave is a financial burden on employees; even three and one-half unpaid days off can cost a family its entire monthly grocery budget.  In contrast, the cost to employers is quite low.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) calculated that in 2009 the average cost for sick leave per employee hour worked was 23 cents for private-sector employers. That is a small price to pay to ensure a healthier workforce. Clearly, healthier employees are more productive workers, and paid sick leave policies also reduce the spread of illness among workers, employee turnover, and its associated training costs.

The Healthy Families Act would expand access to paid sick days to 90 percent of the private sector workforce.  It would allow employees to accrue up to seven paid sick days a year, which can be used when they are ill or when they are providing care to an ill family member.  In addition, the bill is a potential life-saver because it allows employees who are victims of domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault to use their paid sick days to recover or seek assistance related to an incident.

The Act applies only to businesses with 15 or more employees, so it would not affect small mom-and-pop type of businesses.

In summary, we strongly support this important bill and would be glad to do whatever is needed to ensure its passage this year.

Sincerely,

American Medical Women’s Association
National Organization for Women
National Research Center for Women & Families
Our Bodies Ourselves

For more information, contact Paul Brown at (202) 223-4000 or at pb@center4research.org

 

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