Yateendra A log of everyday life

One policy that puts all Americans at risk

St. Mark’s Square. Venice, Italy. It’s one of the most-visited tourist destinations in the world. Most years in mid-March, it’s crowded with people hanging out in cafes, checking out the cathedral, and riding gondolas. But in March of 2020, St. Marks’ Square was practically empty. More and more people in northern Italy had tested positive for the highly-contagious Coronavirus. To slow down the spread of the virus, The Prime Minister told everyone to stay at home: “The future of Italy is in our hands” And they listened. A big part of the reason they could do that, is because of a national policy in Italy: everyone there is guaranteed paid sick days, no matter their job. The same is true in the UK, and Germany, and Spain, and Japan, and Ireland, and Austria, and Australia, and Norway and France, and, well, basically all wealthy countries. But in the US, a huge number of workers face a very different reality. These restaurant workers in New Orleans are demanding emergency sick pay during the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike in all these countries, there is no national law in the US guaranteeing workers the right to paid sick days. Instead, whether you have that right depends on where you live, and who you work for. It’s a system that leaves tens of millions of the lowest-paid Americans vulnerable. And it’s about to be tested by the biggest global pandemic in a hundred years.

If you look at how other countries handle paid sick leave, some of them, like Italy and Japan, pay workers directly out of a social security fund. Others, like Germany, New Zealand, and Australia have laws that require employers to foot the bill. In Ireland and Spain, it’s a combination of both. But they all do it for the same reason: because it helps contain the spread of disease and can save lives. When workers have to choose between making money, and staying home when they’re sick, the incentivize is for them to come to work. Which can get their customers and coworkers sick. That’s an especially big problem in a pandemic like coronavirus, when hospitals might already be at capacity, which would mean some people can’t get medical attention, which would mean more people die. That’s why the website of the CDC, America’s main public health agency, is unambiguous about what you should do if you’re sick right now: stay home. But if staying home means not being able to pay your rent, it might not be that simple. So it makes things complicated and a bit scary. In recent years, service industry workers have pushed for new paid sick leave laws in cities and states across the country. And in a handful of places, they’ve succeeded. But service workers are a huge part of every state’s economy. So why haven’t they been more successful in getting paid sick days in more places? Part of the reason why starts here - in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

In 2008, voters there passed a paid-sick-leave referendum by a huge margin. But three years later, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed a bill that said no city in Wisconsin could require employers to provide employees with leave of any kind. Milwaukee’s paid sick leave law was toast. Then, later that same year, an executive from the company YUM! Brands — which owns KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut — went to a meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council – a group that writes legislation for Republican state lawmakers all over the country, so they don’t have to write it themselves – and handed out copies of that Wisconsin bill. In the decade since, Republican-conrolled state legislatures in 16 other states have passed nearly identical laws. Including Louisiana, home of those New Orleans protesters. But now that there’s a pandemic, the US really needs sick workers everywhere to stay home. That’s partly why on March 18, 2020, President Trump signed a coronavirus relief bill that Vice President Mike Pence described to the American people this way: “If you’re sick, stay home. You’re not going to miss a paycheck.” The problem is that’s not true.

The Democrats original bill gave everyone access to paid sick days, but to get Republicans on board they made some concessions. The bill does contain a line that says, “an employee shall be entitled to paid sick time.” during public health emergencies. The problem is, that rule only applies to companies with between 50 and 500 employees. And companies that size only employ about 20% of American workers. So even with this new bill, millions of workers at big national chains like McDonalds, Walmart, Kroger, and Pizza Hut still don’t have paid sick days. There are lots of American workers that do have paid sick leave. Many also have the privilege of working from home during the crisis. But coronavirus doesn’t distinguish between people who have that privilege and those who don’t. That means the status quo puts all Americans at risk. Because we’re only as safe as our least-protected neighbors. Reference ~ Youtube.