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Letter: Economic justice demands sick pay

I divorced and became a single parent and full-time working mom when my children were 8 and 11 years old. I was a very conscientious parent and my children had all of their vaccinations, regular visits to the pediatrician, warm clothing, and safe housing. Despite my best efforts to keep us healthy, my children and I occasionally became ill and, as a result, I had to stay home from work.

Because my employer offered paid sick days, I did not have to worry about whether my next payroll check would be sufficient to put groceries on the table, make the mortgage payment, or pay for child care expenses. Offering paid sick days is a sound business decision for employers as it ensures maximum productivity, a healthy work environment, and demonstrates care and concern for employees.

Over the past three years, I have become well acquainted with the fact that the paid sick days that I once took for granted are not the norm for 1.5 million workers in Michigan and 43 million private sector workers nationally.

Women and people of color are disproportionally impacted, as they tend to dominate the lowest paid jobs in the restaurant industry both locally and nationally. In Michigan’s restaurant industry, there are approximately 22,000 single moms and 3,000 single fathers raising children on these low-wage jobs.

I have heard horror stories from restaurant workers who were fired for taking work off due to medically documented illnesses. I have received reports from low-income restaurant workers who have sustained severe burns or cut off the tip of a finger and simply taped it back on to avoid taking time off from work and risk losing their job. One can only imagine what these low-wage single parents have to contend with when their children become ill. These workers need the chance to earn paid sick days.

Unlike Rep. Earl Poleski’s mean-spirited attempt to dismantle local municipalities’ efforts to promote economic justice for all by preventing them from enacting paid sick days laws, the recent bills introduced by Rep. Stephanie Chang and Sen. Jim Ananich in the Michigan House and Senate reflect positive, progressive leadership. These bills would guarantee all Michigan workers the opportunity to earn paid sick days.

The fact that Michigan-based employers like Zingerman’s, Levy Restaurants, and Edibles Rex remain profitable, while paying fair wages and offering paid sick days to their employees, counteracts attempts by some to instill fear that workers earning paid sick days, minimum wage increases, and other benefits will lead to the demise of small- and medium-size businesses.

We must continue to stand up for social and economic justice in our communities, and stand up to those who try to deny workers the opportunity to live a decent quality of life.

Alicia Renee Farris, director,

Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan