Paid Sick Leave Legislation Is a Moral Victory

Philadelphia’s legislation on paid sick leave is good news for the Jews, and everyone else in Philadelphia.

Linda Lempert and Eleanor Levie at City Hall

Linda Lempert and Eleanor Levie protesting at City Hall.

Last Friday, the Philadelphia City Council passed an earned sick days bill with a vote of 14-2, and Mayor Nutter signed it into law. The bill will mandate that Philadelphia employers with 10 or more workers must provide them with one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked, up to a maximum of 40 hours or five days a year.

Philadelphia is the 17th city to pass earned sick days. This is not about a handout, but an earned benefit that is long overdue.

Why is this a Jewish concern? Because it is about compassion, respect, and dignity for all those created in God’s image. A worker who has a proven track record should be able to take time off to deal with illness or injury, or that of a child or elderly parent, without worrying about losing pay, or their job.

Anyone inspired by Jewish values and any people of faith or high ethical standards ought to see paid sick leave as a moral issue.

The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) — Greater Philadelphia Section, recognizes the burden placed on the working poor, whose employers may not even offer health insurance, let alone paid sick days. We mourn for the old days: when a child in the Philadelphia Public Schools — 39% of whom live in poverty — got sick at school, a nurse was there to help. Budget cuts put an end to that.

Now we have one nurse for every 1,500 kids, and at any given school a nurse is available perhaps five days a month, where once we had a nurse at every school five days a week. When children get sick, parents must come get them, and stay home with them. For most families, that means the parent must take off from work. A parent without paid sick leave is a parent in danger of losing job security and livelihood. Everyone across the economic spectrum suffers in the absence of such worker benefits.

Like most volunteer organizations, NCJW — Greater Philadelphia Section has members who are mostly older, some working, some retired, but having time to commit to community service and advocacy campaigns, or the financial wherewithal to affect social change through contributions. Most of us can afford to dine out at least occasionally, and enjoy doing so. Most of us want to support Philadelphia’s great restaurants, and to generously support those who give us good service. After all, the minimum wage for servers and other employees who get tips is a pitiful $2.83 per hour in Philadelphia: they depend on those tips.

Yes, most of us can afford to go out to eat. But who among us can afford to get sick when we do? That should be a real fear. Testifying at the City Council hearings on February 3, Jason McCarthy, a city restaurant worker for 23 years, explained this:

I can’t imagine any rational person being comfortable knowing that their food and drinks were being prepared and served by someone sick or contagious. But restaurant workers can never consider a sore throat, the sniffles, the flu or a stomach ailment a reason to call in sick. We don’t get paid if we call in sick, so we go to work.

We do not want to be scared of eating out. We certainly do not want to support inhumane practices. We want Philadelphia to be fair to its workers, safe for those who support its establishments, and thoughtful towards working parents and caregivers and child-care providers. All these and many more who deserve paid sick leave legislation.

NCJW — Greater Philadelphia Section was one of 106 member organizations of the Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces in Philadelphia rallying around this issue.

City Councilman Bill Greenlee has introduced a paid sick leave bill twice before, in 2011 and 2013. Both times, it was vetoed by Mayor Nutter, and Council votes were just shy of an override. “Third time’s a charm,” Greenlee told reporters before February 10’s hearing.

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