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A Meaningful Paid Sick Days Policy

Everyone gets sick. That’s a fact.

Every mother, father or spouse has to take care of their kids or loved ones at some point in their life.
 That’s a fact.

The discussion in front of the Tacoma City Council is this:

  • Should working folks go to work sick and infect others, or be able to stay home to get better and not lose a day’s wages?

  • Should a working mom have to choose between staying home to care for her child, or go to work to ensure the rent payment is made?

This is the reality for so many in Tacoma. Luckily, many employers already offer some paid sick leave for their employees. However, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 40%  do not. Mostly middle to lower income families, women, people of color, retail, restaurant, service, hospitality and some health care workers go without this critical protection in the workplace, leaving our public health at risk and working people in a lurch.


The average person in America takes 4 days of sick leave to take care of themselves or a family member each year. That is an average. I’ve been saying throughout this debate that “life does not happen in averages.”

My own life this past year has illustrated that. My husband Jerry and I are fortunate to be very healthy people, and most years we don’t take a single day of sick leave. But 2014 was different for us. Mid-year, Jerry had a bad reaction to the Anthrax vaccine while on Army Reserve duty leading to a 3-day hospital stay. Jerry then had hernia surgery in early December. I had to take off of work one full day to take him to the surgery and care for him during his recovery.

In late December, I got the awful cold that was flying around and I was out of work for 6 days. On top of everything, Jerry also ended up with a horrible ear infection that got into his ear bone and required surgery. Again, I had to take off of work to take him to the surgery and care for him while he recovered.

This year, I used about 11 days of paid sick leave. This is what I mean by life doesn’t happen in averages. The current bill we are debating only offers 3 days of paid leave, and that simply does not protect public health when we know the flu stays contagious in people for 5 days, and sometimes even up to 7. Parents especially need enough time to take care of kiddos who seem to get sick often.

I am advocating for a sick leave policy that includes at least 7 days of paid leave each year.

The current draft policy we have in front of us has several other major flaws:

  • It has employees start with 0 days of sick leave each year
  • It exempts union workers for no rational reason (these are nurses, custodians, deli and grocery workers in our community)
  • It allows employers to reprimand or discipline working people simply for using their sick leave

So, we still have work to do to improve the policy. The final reading and ability to make good changes to the law is on Tuesday, January 27th. Come and testify at 5 pm in the Tacoma Municipal Building, or email me and my colleagues about your story and need for paid leave to care for yourself or your family.

Once passed, Tacoma will become the 19th local community in America to benefit all working people with this critical protection. Protecting our public health relies on us passing a meaningful sick days policy.

About Ryan Mello

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Photo by Washington State Dept of Transportation via Flickr

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