While freight railroad workers look to Congress for paid sick leave, millions of other American employees have no safety net if they fall ill.
The United States does not have a national standard for paid sick leave, a rarity among industrialized nations. About 1 in 5 civilian workers do not have paid sick leave, but the prevalence of the benefit varies widely by occupation and salary, according to federal data. Public sector workers, managers and professional employees, and higher paid employees are more likely to have access to paid sick leave.
However, many others are not so lucky. About a third of workers in the service, construction, mining and agricultural sectors do not have paid sick leave. About half of part-time workers do not benefit from it, as do more than 40% of those in the bottom quarter of employees.
Overall, about 33 million workers do not have paid sick leave, according to Family Values @ Work Action, an advocacy organization.
The lack of paid sick leave hurts both workers and the economy, said Seth Harris, a Northeastern University professor and former senior labor policy adviser to President Joe Biden.
Americans with disabilities or chronic illnesses may be less likely to accept positions if they don’t come with paid sick leave, which creates structural barriers to employment, he said. And companies are not required to offer this benefit, which forces some people to come to work sick or lose their wages or jobs.
“The poorest workers – who are the low-wage workers – do not have the ability to demand paid sick leave from their employers,” he said.
In addition, people who come to work when they are not well are more likely to transmit their disease to others. This became a major problem at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic among essential workers who lacked paid sick leave.
“It’s a bigger issue trying to take care of the whole workplace making sure people know they have to stay home and they have the option to stay home. if they’re sick,” said Emily Dickens, chief of staff for the Society for Human Resource. Management, a professional association.
While the vast majority of union members have paid sick leave, this is not the case for freight railway workers. Among other demands, they have threatened to go on strike in order to obtain paid sick leave which is not in current contracts.
The railways say workers can use their own time if they need a sick day. But unions argue that with current staffing levels and scheduling rules, it is difficult for workers to get personal days approved, and they are likely to be penalized or even fired if they come forward. sick anyway.
What is the benefit of rail What the unions get is now up to Congress, after the tentative deals – which lacked paid sick leave but included lucrative wage increases – were rejected by rank-and-file members of several unions. That led Biden on Monday to ask lawmakers to pass legislation avoiding a rail shutdown by formally adopting the tentative agreement approved by labor and business leaders in September.
Progressive legislators, however, demanded to add sick days in the contract.
“In an era of record profits in the railroad industry, it is unacceptable for railroad workers to have ZERO paid sick days guaranteed,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucus with Democrats, tweeted on Tuesday. “I intend to stall consideration of the railroad legislation until a roll call vote is taken on guaranteeing 7 paid sick days to railroad workers in America.”
The House passed the tentative rail deal on Wednesday, with 79 Republicans and most Democrats backing it. Lawmakers also voted separately to add a provision that would give workers seven paid sick days, which was supported by nearly all Democrats but only three Republicans.
The provision is unlikely to get the necessary votes in the Senate, which may pass the original rail deal without the sick leave measure. At least 10 GOP senators are expected to support giving paid sick leave to railroad workers.
The Covid-19 pandemic has drawn renewed attention to the lack of paid sick leave, as well as family and medical leave, in the United States.
In one of its first relief bills in 2020, Congress created temporary sick leave and family leave benefits for many workers who contracted or were exposed to Covid-19, cared for family members affected by the virus or had to care for their children after schools closed.
However, the pandemic has failed to convince Congress to pass legislation making the benefits more widely available to workers on a permanent basis.
Biden had called for a federally funded paid family and sick leave program for those who don’t get it at work as part of his heavyweight Build Back Better program in 2021. The House passed a bill the last year that included four weeks of paid family and sick leave, which would have cost $205.5 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. But the provision did not pass the Senate.
Meanwhile, a growing number of states, cities and counties have enacted paid sick leave laws in recent years.
Some 14 states and Washington, D.C. have specific paid sick leave laws, while Maine and Nevada have more general paid leave laws that allow covered workers to use benefits while sick. , according to A Better Balance, an advocacy group. In addition, 20 cities and counties have approved paid sick leave laws.
Nearly 57 million workers are now covered by state or local paid sick leave laws, according to an analysis by A Better Balance.
Advocates see the rail workers’ battle as an opportunity to renew interest in expanding the availability of paid sick leave.
“Workers should be able to take it for granted that they can stay home and take care of themselves if they are sick,” said Mia Dell, deputy director of advocacy at the AFL-CIO, a federation of unions.