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Take a Sick Day? Not an Option for 1 Million WA Workers

PHOTO: Workers who want the ability to accrue paid sick leave say in many of their jobs, coming to work ill isn't only uncomfortable; it also jeopardizes customers' health. Photo credit: joyt/FeaturePics.com.
PHOTO: Workers who want the ability to accrue paid sick leave say in many of their jobs, coming to work ill isn't only uncomfortable; it also jeopardizes customers' health. Photo credit: joyt/FeaturePics.com.
January 26, 2015

OLYMPIA, Wash. - A paid day off when a worker or their child is ill isn't an option for about one million people in Washington whose employers don't offer them the ability to accrue hours of sick leave. Today in Olympia, a House committee examines legislation to change that.

The idea of paid time off for illness or in cases of domestic violence has surfaced before in the Legislature, not only as a benefit for workers but for public health, to prevent the spread of illness. This year, the bill has more than 40 cosponsors, and Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) thinks its chances are better.

"Now, we've had almost 20 cities adopt sick-and-safe-leave policies, in three states," says Jinkins. "We do hear stories from time to time of people saying, 'Well, this is going to put people out of work; it's going to make businesses go under.' And in the jurisdictions that have these policies, we haven't seen any of that happen."

In Washington, the cities of SeaTac and Seattle have led the way on paid sick leave, and the Tacoma City Council votes on an ordinance tomorrow. But some business groups have pushed back, saying they can't afford it.

House Bill 1356 gets a hearing today in the House Labor Committee.

Some workers say they need more practical sick-leave plans. Kyong Barry is a supermarket cashier whose company offers paid sick leave, but not for the first three days off work. She says especially for part-time workers in grocery, retail and food-service jobs, even one day without pay is a struggle.

"They choose to go to work and be sick while at work, because they don't have a choice – they have to work while they're sick," says Barry. "Since the employers aren't willing to do it, I think legislatively is the right way to go."

Barry says she's often concerned for customers who are older, very young or pregnant coming into contact with store workers who are ill. The U.S. Census Bureau reports the average worker takes four sick days a year.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA