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Oregon Nurse Online Article [Earned Sick Days] [02/25/13]

February 2013 Home

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Portland's Earned Sick Days

You may be surprised to learn how many Oregonians do not have access to sick time on the job. Nearly 40 percent of workers and an astonishing 80 percent of low wage workers do not currently receive any sick time as reported by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. This almost certainly ensures that this segment of the workforce will choose to go to work when they are ill. When workers go to work sick, not only do they delay their own treatment and recovery, they also put their co-workers, who likely do not have sick days either, and members of the public at risk of being exposed to and infected by contagious illnesses, such as the flu.

When employers do not provide sick days for their employees, it fosters an environment that encourages workers to come to work ill, and forces low-wage employees to choose between paying their rent or working while sick. Similarly, it increases the odds that parents will have to make the tough choice to send their sick children to school or daycare because they are unable to stay home and care for them.

Inspired by cities such as San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington DC, where sick day policies have recently been implemented, a group of local community activists joined together nearly a year ago in an attempt to remedy this issue for Portlanders, and hopefully, eventually all Oregonians.

In a coalition led by Family Forward Oregon, ONA and a number of other public health organizations, labor unions, and small business allies have been actively working together to pass a policy that would require Portland employers to allow their employees to accrue sick time based on the number of hours the employee works.

It was no surprise when ONA member, retired nurse, and Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz identified this issue as one of her top priorities and took the lead within city hall. With help from coalition partners and members of the community who had expressed concerns about the potential of a city ordinance, Commissioner Fritz and city hall staff began working on a policy that would be simple for business owners to track and implement, and ensure that workers have the ability to earn sick time that they can use to recover when they or a family member is ill.

As nurses, you understand that healthy communities are created through the implementation of health conscious policies, such as Earned Sick Days. A city-wide Earned Sick Day policy will not, on its own, stop the spread of illness within Portland, but it will allow more working Portlanders and their families to stay home to recover from illness when they are ill, and prevent low-income families from making tough choices between their health and their financial security.

In January, the Portland City Council held a public hearing on the policy proposed by Commissioner Amanda Fritz’s office. The Council heard testimony from over 75 Portlanders in support of this policy, including two representing ONA. Additionally, ONA members have made their voices heard by calling and emailing commissioners, meeting with commissioners and City Hall staff, and submitting letters to the editor.

Following the public hearing, the Portland City Council is in the process of convening a work group to consider potential changes to the draft and expects a vote in March.

With Portland leading the way, ONA looks forward to working to ensure that workers in all parts of the state have access to earned sick days, and will continue to partner with the coalition and policy makers to enact a statewide policy.

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