NEW YORK-While the "right to be sick" sounds like a very unpleasant liberty, New Yorkers have been organizing for that very right.
More than 2,000 people have signed a Working Families Party petition, and hundreds of people, many of them members of the community organization Make the Road New York, marched over the Brooklyn Bridge and then rallied in Foley Square to support a bill introduced into the City Council by councilmember Gale Brewer to give workers exactly that right.
Dan Levitan, Working Families Party spokesperson explained to the World that there are currently more than 1 million people in New York City who have no paid sick days.
"That's just not right," he said. "With schools reopening and swine flu about to make a comeback across the city, it's critical to the public health that people be able to stay home when they're sick and stay home with a sick child, instead of sending that child into school."
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's message to New Yorkers who are sick, especially those suffering so-called "swine flu" (technically, it's called H1N1 and is not actually a swine flu at all), was simply "stay home." According to the Center for Disease Control, staying away from others is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of H1N1.
However, staying home is not an option for these million workers, many of whom are the workers most likely to infect others.
"The people most likely to work without paid sick days are low-wage workers, particularly those in the service sector," Levitan said.
The people who prepare your food are disproportionately likely to have no paid sick leave.
Levitan continued that "one study of restaurant workers showed that 84 percent don't have any paid sick days at all, and a majority report coming to work sick. So obviously, when people don't have paid sick days, they not only put their own health at risk, they put the public health at risk.
The bill is almost guaranteed to pass, as it has 38 supporters, a supermajority of the council's 51 members, and most of those who will become city councilors next year, having won the recent Democratic primary, have signed a pledge to support the bill.
In addition, city Comptroller and Democratic mayoral candidate Bill Thompson voiced his support for paid sick days at least as far back as July at the Working Families Party mayoral candidates forum. Current Mayor Bloomberg would not commit on the issue, however.
If enacted, it would guarantee all workers city workers the right to paid sick time to take care of themselves, a sick family member or to get help if they're a victim of domestic violence. Most workers would be eligible for up to nine sick days. In an effort to protect small businesses, the bill allows these employers to put the cap at five sick days.
Aside from Brewer, co-sponsors include prominent progressives such as Letitia James, D-Brooklyn; Diana Reyna, Julissa Ferreras, and Robert Jackson. Incoming council members who've signaled their support include Ydanis Rodrigues and Jumaane Williams, both of whom were at yesterday's rally.
Also at the rally was Giullermo Barerra who, according to the WFP, "was fired from a Brooklyn Restaurant for asking permission to go the hospital."
"There're certainly lots of stories of people who've been fired," said Levitan. "In New York City now, there's no right to take a sick day. You have no right to be sick. On a fundamental level, your employer can fire you."
Levitan urged every city resident to call their city council member and ask them to get the bill through the council as soon as possible. Further, he asked that people make sure to sign the petition.