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Labor Voices: No one wants to work sick

Steven Cook

Every year, classrooms around the state share at least one illness epidemic. Colds, flu, and other diseases get passed among students — and their educators — like wildfire.

Many of these cases start when a parent sends a sick child to school — a decision often made because the parent has no paid sick leave and cannot afford to lose a day’s pay to stay home and care for their child.

In Michigan, 1.6 million workers don’t earn a single paid sick day, forcing workers to choose between their and their family’s physical or financial well-being. They either show up for work or they lose pay — or even their job.

The Michigan Time to Care Coalition is seeking to change that, and change the lives of Michigan’s workers and families for the better. The coalition is currently soliciting petition signatures for a ballot measure that, if enacted, would give everyone the opportunity to earn paid sick time.

The “Earned Sick Time Act” would allow people to earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to nine days, depending on the size of the business. If enough signatures are collected, the question would be placed on ballots in November.

This measure is critical to all Michigan workers, but those of us who work in public education are acutely aware of the need for earned paid sick time. Parents without paid sick days are more than twice as likely to send a sick child to school. When parents are left with no other choice, the health of everyone in the school is at risk.

In addition to the health risk, student performance suffers as teachers are forced to try to teach sick kids in the classroom. And sick kids in classrooms lead to sick school employees — research shows that teacher absence has a negative effect on student performance and overall achievement. In some situations, schools have had to close due to the large number of sick students and staff.

When parents have earned paid sick time, they have more flexibility in ensuring kids are seeing doctors regularly and are up to date on shots and immunizations. This will lead to healthier kids — who are better able to succeed in school — and reduce the use of sick days.

Beyond our schools, any place where we can avoid a sick employee from being financially compelled to serve a customer is a step toward having a healthier state.

Just as earned paid sick time will benefit parents, students, and educators, this policy will benefit the private sector by strengthening businesses’ greatest assets — their employees. Paid sick days result in less turnover, as employees with access to earned paid sick days stay in their jobs longer. Employee turnover is a huge expense for businesses, costing on average one-fifth of an employee’s annual salary. Reduced costs for hiring and training will have a significant, positive impact on a company’s bottom line.

Public education, private sector businesses, workers, parents, and kids will all benefit when earned paid sick time becomes the law. Polling shows an astonishing 86 percent of Michiganders support extending earned sick time to all workers, as most developed nations already do.

I urge you to sign a petition today, so our state’s voters can have their voices heard in November.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.