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Restaurant workers bring risk when sick on the job

November 12, 2014

Originally posted on US Food Safety:

by Doug Powell

In the absence of paid sick days and health insurance, many food service workers show up sick.

Sonia Cohen has worked in the fast food business for the last 10 years. Cohen said even missing one day of work hurts her family budget. And she’s not alone.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 5 restaurant workers admits having reported to work while sick with diarrhea and vomiting, which are the two main symptoms of Norovirus.

Health inspectors and restaurant owners both watch for these symptoms.

“Always our inspections are a snapshot in time. We may walk in and someone may have a cold. That’s not a reportable symptom,” said Paula Cox, Health Educator with the Guilford County, North Carolina, Department of Public Health.

The North Carolina Food Code spells out specific illnesses and symptoms that restaurant employees cannot bring with them to work…

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An interview with Tacoma City Councilperson Ryan Mello on paid sick days

October 29, 2014

What’s in store for paid sick days in Tacoma? Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, co-founder and CEO of, interviewed Tacoma City Councilmember Ryan Mello to find out.


Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, co-founder and CEO of

MomsRising: Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland has said she supports passing a paid sick leave bill this year. You’ve been leading on this issue for some time. What do you think about the details the Mayor has shared?

Ryan Mello, Tacoma City Councilperson: I’m glad Mayor Strickland understands that cities need to take the lead on issues like paid sick leave, but the policy details she is rumored to have shared with theWashington Retail Association won’t actually protect workers, families, or public health. The Tacoma City Council can’t just pass a showpiece to get this issue off our desks. We need a policy that helps all the people of Tacoma in a meaningful way.

MomsRising: Why have you made passing paid sick days a priority?

Ryan Mello: I waited tables right out of college to make ends meet. We didn’t have any sick leave, and I saw my coworkers coming to work sick all the time. Many of the people I worked with had kids at home, families depending on them – they had no choice but to come to work sick.

We should have policies in place so folks don’t have to make these untenable decisions about going to work sick in order to make rent, or being able to stay home to take care of themselves or their loved ones.

This is a public health issue as well. We should not be exposing the most vulnerable in health clinics or hospitals to sick workers. The people who handle our food in grocery stores or at the neighborhood sandwich shop should not be at work if they’re sick. They should be able to stay home and not lose a day’s wages.

MomsRising: How do you see paid sick days being particularly important to moms?


Tacoma City Councilmember Ryan Mello

Ryan Mello: Well, we’ve come a long way in making it so moms aren’t the only ones taking care of kids or older folks, but it’s still a fact that a lot of the time and energy spent caring for family members still rests on women. We need to give tools to moms so they can have careers and be bread-winners, and also take care of their kids.

They need access to paid sick leave so that when the school nurse calls, they can go get their child and bring them home, instead of that kid sitting there at school. And giving dads paid sick days makes it easier for them to take on those kinds of roles as well, and that’s good for families, I think.

MomsRising: So what is necessary in a paid sick leave policy to make sure working people have the tools to protect the health of themselves, their families, and the public?

Ryan Mello: Here’s what I’ve learned as I’ve talked with many workers over the past couple of years.

First, the number of paid days off people earn is important. We know the flu stays contagious for a week or more. Kids in daycare and school get sick a lot. People need access to enough time off that they aren’t forced to make those tough choices between health and family finances. The 3 days Mayor Strickland mentioned is simply not enough for the moms I’ve talked to. And we know from real life experience that in cities that have set 5, 7, or 9 days as the norm, businesses of all kinds and sizes are continuing to do just fine.

Secondly, I think it must apply to all workers. The Retail Association claims the Mayor is considering excluding union members and restaurant workers, but that’s just not acceptable. That would mean the nurses in hospitals and the clerks handling our food at grocery stores, who work for major corporations, would continue being pressured to come into work sick. To be honest, it dumbfounds me.

A third thing is that safe leave – for domestic violence or stalking situations, for example – needs to be included. Working your way through the court system can take a lot of time. And people should not have to lose wages because they’re fleeing from an abuser, or advocating for themselves in court.

MomsRising: What about the perspective of business owners?

Ryan Mello: I’ve talked to many business owners and folks from business associations. Many of them take real pride in offering earned paid sick days because they feel like it’s an important recruitment and retention tool. It’s one of the key ways that they signal to their employees that they care about them and their families. They want their employees to stay with them, because they know how expensive it is when employees turnover.

I also hear from most employers that of course people should have access to earned sick days; they don’t want sick people coming to work. They understand that the flu and many other diseases are contagious.

I think business owners want a policy that is straightforward and easy-to-understand. Most agree there needs to be some kind of enforcement mechanism so everyone is playing by the same rules, but that the focus shouldn’t be on punishing employers, but needs to stay on helping employers comply so that workers can stay home when they’re sick without losing pay.

In the end, that’s good for workers, customers, and the business, too.

Ryan Mello can be reached at or @RyanMelloTacoma.

Say it ain’t so, Mayor Strickland

October 24, 2014
Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland

Where does Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland stand on paid sick days?

The corporate-funded Washington Retail Association announced details of a Tacoma paid sick leave ordinance yesterday which they claim is about to be introduced by Mayor Marilyn Strickland.

The proposal attributed to Mayor Strickland has corporate lobbyist fingerprints all over it, starting with a measly 3 days yearly maximum on sick leave use – and even fewer for restaurant workers.

Norovirus with those fries, anyone?

The plan also appears to completely exempt all union workers. That means many grocery store and hospital employees would continue to lose pay and risk losing their jobs for acting responsibly and staying home when sick.

We could go on – there’s lots not to like – but you get the idea.

The Healthy Tacoma coalition of community organizations and small business owners has advocated for adoption of a citywide paid sick leave ordinance for the past two years.

Without standards in place, four out of 10 U.S. workers don’t get a single day of paid sick leave. Even some workers who do earn paid leave are penalized if they call in sick or stay home with their sick child. Workers with high levels of public contact in restaurants and retail are especially unlikely to have access to paid sick leave – except in the 14 cities and 2 states that have enacted sick leave standards.

Public health and family economic security are at serious risk without strong sick leave laws. The CDC advises people to stay home when they have a fever or other symptoms of illness. Common viruses like the flu, Norovirus, and Enterovirus are contagious for a week or more, spread easily through the air and on surfaces like doorknobs – and are sometimes deadly.

And a report just out by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that mothers are more than 10 times more likely than fathers to have to miss work when a child is sick – and most often without pay.

The small business owners that have joined Healthy Tacoma know that healthy workers and customers with secure incomes help build prosperous businesses and thriving communities.

Job and business growth have been strong in the cities with the most extensive paid sick leave laws on the books, including San Francisco, which requires most employers to provide 9 days, and Seattle, which requires 5 to 9 days depending on the size of the business. In the past year, 6 cities in the state of New Jersey have passed sick leave laws, along with Eugene and San Diego.

The question is, where does Mayor Strickland stand – does she really support this watered-down proposal? Say it ain’t so, Mayor. Tell us you stand on the side of drafting and passing a strong sick leave law that will protect public health, build family incomes, and promote thriving businesses throughout our city. Healthy Tacoma stands ready to work with you.

Tacoma City Council, Can You Hear Us?

September 16, 2014

On September 9th the Healthy Tacoma Coalition attended Tacoma City Council’s Citizen’s Forum, with approximately 60 people in attendance! We came out strong with our ‘fans’ of paid sick days, and testimony in favor of passing an ordinance for Tacoma.

In the crowd were State Representative Laurie Jinkins, Pastor Banks of East Side Baptist Church, Pastor Christopher with Shiloh Baptist, Union Representatives from UFCW 367, Teamsters 117, and Unite Here Local 8, members from WACAN and WA Work & Family Coalition, Pierce County Young Democrats, and a number of outstanding community members!

The Coalition is continuing to gather letters of support from local businesses, non-profits, labor leaders, religious groups and community leaders in hopes of showing City Council that paid sick days is an important issue for everyone.

Thank you to all who attended and a huge thanks to all who gave testimony, we appreciate your hard work and dedication to this cause!

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Join Healthy Tacoma for City Council Citizens’ Forum on September 9th

September 4, 2014

Friends, Supporters, and Coalition Members:


A member comments on the need for paid sick days in front of City Council, August 2014

On September 9th, Healthy Tacoma members are joining together at Citizen’s Forum for one last hurrah in support for paid sick days!

Some members of the City Council got the message and are ready to act to get 40,000 Tacoma residents paid sick days. However, other City Council members are still on the fence and need to hear from us now!

We need you now more than ever to come to City Hall to stand in solidarity with us.

Numerous cities have passed paid sick days ordinances (11 to be exact)! With your help, Tacoma will be next. We have built up to this moment and have collected nearly 2,000 postcards from Tacoma residents like you who want the City Council to pass this.

The meeting will start at 5:30 PM on the 1st Floor, Tacoma City Hall, 747 Market Street.

Look for Organizers Sandy and Amanda; they’ll both be wearing Healthy Tacoma buttons.

We look forward to seeing you there with us! Thanks so much for caring about our city.

Does Corporate America Finally Get What Working Parents Need?

June 30, 2014

Originally posted on HBR Blog Network - Harvard Business Review:

At this week’s White House Summit on Working Families, President Obama and others made a moral case for changing the way we work. “Family leave, childcare, workplace flexibility, a decent wage – these are not frills, they are basic needs. They shouldn’t be bonuses. They should be part of our bottom line as a society,” the president remarked.

Yet there was also a strong business case for change, with vociferous and impassioned representation from our nation’s private sector. Bob Moritz, PwC’s US Chairman and Senior Partner, called on his peers to make significant changes, saying that “CEOs need to make this happen.” He reported that when PwC increased their flex options they saw higher productivity in return.  When they transitioned to unlimited sick leave, the actual number of days that employees took as sick days declined.  PwC offers back-up childcare and other family-friendly benefits because they have found that…

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Paid Sick Days: News Roundup

June 17, 2014

Earned Sick Days Bill Approved By Senate Labor Committee


On June 13th, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) successfully passed a paid sick days bill (AB 1522) through the Labor and Industrial Relations Committee in the California Senate. The bill is now scheduled to be heard on June 24th in the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. If passed, AB 1522 will allow California residents to accrue one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked, and would allow them up to 3 paid days off per year.

“As the dynamics of the modern family change, so does a mother’s ability to take care of sick children or hers own self when she falls ill at the same time she’s trying to hold down her job,” Gonzalez said. “Our economy has moved to a place where families cannot rely on a stay-at-home parent in times of illness. As a state, California must adapt to the reality facing today’s working families.”

Push for Paid Sick Leave at Burlington Summit

The Vermont Commission on Women hosted a rally for paid sick leave and other working family issues on June 12th, gaining momentum prior to The White House Summit on Working Families that will be held on June 23rd. In the crowd were politicians, nonprofits and business owners – all there to show support for renewed efforts to pass paid leave legislation. A paid sick day proposal was brought forward in Vermont earlier this year, but ultimately died in the Legislature. There are continued efforts to revive the proposal for next year.

NJ Democrats pledge action on bill to give all workers paid sick leave

Credit: NJ Biz

Senator Loretta Weinberg of New Jersey is moving to pass a state-wide paid sick leave bill with support of NJ Senate Democrats. If passed, it would allow for 40 hours of paid sick leave for employees of businesses with less than 9 workers, and 72 hours of paid sick leave for employees of businesses with 10 or more workers. Senate Democrats have pledged action on the legislation, and beginning this week are going to work with labor leaders to start gaining momentum for the state-wide sick leave campaign. So far New Jersey’s two biggest cities, Newark and Jersey City, all ready offer earned sick leave. Only the state of Connecticut offers the benefit to all employees.


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