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Women Leaders Make Strong Case to Support Earned Sick Days in New Jersey

sheilaoliver_opt_copyBY JON WHITEN
SPECIAL TO NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

Female leaders of all stripes from across New Jersey have come together to urge the state to join a growing national movement and ensure all workers in the state have access to earned sick days.

New Jersey women - including donors and philanthropists, labor and civil rights leaders, writers, academics, politicians and advocates – are uniting to shine a light on an important but missing public policy in our state: earned sick days.

“Because women are more likely to assume primary caregiving responsibilities, they disproportionately suffer from the lack of earned sick days. When women must stay home to care for a sick family member, they not only lose wages, but also jeopardize their job security,” said Deborah Jacobs, Vice President, Advocacy and Policy at Ms. Foundation for Women. “Ensuring that employers provide earned sick days will help New Jersey women and families achieve economic security.”

Over 1.2 million New Jersey workers – 38 percent of the state’s private-sector workforce – lack earned sick days. These workers are more likely to go to work sick, putting the health of their co-workers and public at risk while dragging down business productivity. Those who do follow doctor’s orders have to worry about having enough money to keep the lights on or put gas in the car; their loss of income is also a loss of spending for New Jersey’s economy.

“Working women are both heads of households and primary caregivers. Earned sick days provide the work-life balance that both women and men need to be productive at home and at the job,” said League of Women Voters of New Jersey Executive Director Kerry Margaret Butch. “Policies that aid women and families strengthen our economy and when women succeed, New Jersey succeeds.”

Over 150 New Jersey women leaders have added their names to a statement (bitly.com/womensupportearnedsickdays) calling for implementation of an earned sick day policy in New Jersey. Today they ask women across the state to join with them in adding their voices to the call for a minimum standard of earned sick days so that families can balance the challenges of care giving for sick family members and being productive workers.

“Our system doesn’t make sense! The lower your income, the more you need benefits just to survive. But the lower your income, the less you are likely to receive any paid sick days. Women still only earn 77 cents for every dollar men earn,” said Myra Terry, a longtime advocate on women’s issues. “Women bear the brunt of earning wages at the bottom of the totem pole. Whether it’s domestic violence, flu or a sick child, these women deserve to be guaranteed the same policies of those at all levels on the totem pole.”

“Working mothers struggling to make ends meet should not be forced to choose between their health and the health of their children or risk losing their job and family income,” said Phyllis Salowe-Kaye, executive director of New Jersey Citizen Action. “Earned sick days are a win for the economy, a win for workers and a win for small business owners, who only stand to gain from the productivity a well-rested and healthier staff will bring.”

"For African American women, the inability to earn paid sick days can have devastating consequences. In many families, women of color are primary source of financial support. When they are unable to stay home to care for themselves or their children when illness strikes it can have a devastating impact on the whole family," said Loretta Winters, Chair of the Women in the NAACP NJ. "Additionally, women of color are paid less on average than other workers, making it even more difficult for them to take time off for illness or family care and still make ends meet."

Legislation introduced by Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg and Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt would allow New Jersey workers to earn up to 7 paid sick days a year (5 days if a workplace has fewer than 20 employees). Employees could access the days to recover from illness, seek preventive care or care for an ill family member without having to worry about losing a day’s pay.

"Earned sick days are a right, not a privilege. Too many women currently do not have access to time off from work to care for themselves or for their children who are sick. Many women are pressured to come to work sick and send their children to school sick, or suffer the financial consequences of lost wages and/or a lost a job," said Jennifer Armiger, President of NOW-NJ. "NOW-NJ supports this critical legislation that will make access to earned sick days a right for all hard-working women and men in the Garden State, not just a privilege of the 99%."

“As a sometime member of the sandwich generation – caring for children and parents while working full-time, I find family caregiving a challenging balancing act, a financial hardship, an emotional rollercoaster, a detriment to career advancement and a health risk,” said Marilyn Askin, AARP New Jersey’s Chief Legislative Advocate. “We must modernize leave for caregivers to conform to changing demographics and family caregiving demands. I cannot advocate strongly enough for passage of earned sick days for workers, particularly the wives and adult daughters who are the mainstay of family caregiving.”

"Too many women face financial pressures because of outdated policies that constrain opportunities for women’s full participation in our economy. Our state's policies do not reflect the way families live today, with both parents in the workforce and more single-parent households than ever,” said Karen Bellamy Lewis, board member of the Coalition of Labor Union Women NJ. “A second income is no longer a luxury; it is a necessity."

New Jersey’s bill comes at a time of growing momentum across the U.S. to provide earned sick days for workers -- a number of states and cities, most recently our neighbors in New York City, have already adopted earned sick days policy for their workers, and many more are exploring options. A survey of business owners in San Francisco, where they have had an earned sick days policy since 2006, found that two-thirds of business owners support the policy and six in seven employers report no negative impact on profitability.

“While some corporate interests might say otherwise, the fact of the matter is that earned sick days are good for New Jersey’s businesses, said Lizette Delgado Polanco, Executive Director of the SEIU New Jersey State Council. “The health of our economy depends on the health of our working families – and the health of our working families depends on this legislation.

"The bottom line is clear: a healthy economy needs healthy workers," said Assembly Women and Children Committee Chair Pamela Lampitt. "Forcing employees to choose between their health and their paycheck puts a huge drag on business productivity, while risking the health of the employee, co-workers and the public. That's why the modest paid sick leave requirement I have proposed is good news both for New Jersey's workers and New Jersey's economy."

"We remain steadfast in our commitment to advocating for working class New Jersey families, whether it is increasing the minimum wage, restoring tax relief for the working poor, fighting for quality health care for women or this proposal for earned sick leave,” said New Jersey Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver. “This is another piece of the puzzle when it comes to building a better New Jersey for hard-working residents

 

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