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Betty McGuire is employed as a security officer. Twelve years ago her husband of thirty-five years was diagnosed with cancer, and with his illness came sudden emergencies that would force Betty to drop her work and run to the hospital. “I believe everyone everywhere should have paid sick days, at least five or six because so many things happen in our families. Children get sick. You get sick. Everybody somewhere, sometime gets sick…”

Hilda Pizarro lost her job working as a house cleaner. Like 80% of low-wage workers, Hilda was not given any paid sick days. She received written warnings for calling in sick when she had to stay home to care for herself or her children. In November 2009, she was suspended for two weeks because she had to miss work when her two year-old son was hospitalized for asthma. Before her suspension was complete, she was terminated.

Mary Tillman is a Personal Care Assistant. Because she does not receive paid sick days, she has not taken time off of work in 30 years. Mary is the central support for her children, twenty-four grandchildren, and three great grand children. She is deeply involved in the lives of her clients and family. She has repeatedly faced the choice between her job and her loved ones. Mary has often been forced to bring her grandchildren with her to work because she cannot afford to miss pay or risk losing her job. On one occasion, Mary came to work when she had pneumonia, and said she was so sick that “by the time I got the client bathed and dressed, I just had to lie on the floor and rest.”

Manuel Acevedo lost his job as a driver in a program that helps the disabled and elderly get around the greater Boston area. Manuel lost his job because he did not have enough sick days. Manuel suffers from heart problems and was instructed by his doctor not to drive when he has heart palpitations. After each non-paid sick day he was issued a written warning and suspended from work for additional days. Manuel misses his job, “I loved my job because I helped people move who couldn’t otherwise move.” After losing his job, Manuel could not pay his rent and was evicted. He was forced to sell his car and furniture and to move to a smaller apartment.

Terry (whose last name cannot be used for fear of retaliation by her employer) works as a bus driver for a Boston area school. Through her work as a bus driver for various companies, Terry has never received a paid sick day. Since she lives from pay check to pay check, she cannot afford to miss a day’s pay. When she is sick, she does her best to wash her hands and use anti-bacterial wipes, but worries about all the children on the bus that might catch whatever she has. Terry’s son has special needs, and when he sick, Terry cannot afford to stay home to take care of him.

A woman who wishes to remain anonymous lost her job as an operating associate at a Boston hospital. Though she had sick leave, she was intimidated and penalized for falling sick. Suffering from extreme abdominal pains, she had to be checked into the emergency room of the very hospital where she worked. Her supervisor issued a written warning and told her not to get sick again for one year. She lost her job three weeks later. Since high school, when her mother suffered a stroke and was rendered handicapped, she has held multiple jobs as the breadwinner for her family in Haiti. This hardworking woman worries about where the food will come for her family. She misses going to work. Getting up in the morning without a job to go to is one of the hardest things in her life.

Paid Sick Time Keeps Everyone Healther.  By Deborah Knight Snyder
This is a true story.  When my youngest son was in second grade, I was in his classroom one day, helping out as a volunteer, when I noticed that a little girl in his class appeared quite ill. There was a substitute teacher in that day, and I pointed out that the girl should be sent to the nurse. She agreed, and we sent the little girl off. I hadn’t expected to see the little girl again, so I was surprised when, about 20 minutes later, she returned to the classroom.

I asked her what the nurse had said. She replied that the nurse wasn’t able to send her home because she didn’t have a temperature.

Somewhat taken aback, I asked her if the nurse had called her mother, because surely her mother would want to know her daughter is sick.

 “She already knows I’m sick,” the little girl replied miserably. “I threw up twice this morning before I got on the bus.”

Appalled? I know I was. I didn’t know this little girl or her family circumstances. It’s virtually impossible to imagine what outside pressures could have compelled that mother to send an obviously sick child to school. But she did.

This issue of sick kids at school is being brought to the forefront by the swine flu threat. What can we do to keep our families from getting the flu? We know about constantly washing our hands, using hand sanitizer, and keeping our cootie-bug hands away from our mouths, noses, and eyes. These are things we can control.

What we can’t control is our exposure to sick people. All we can do is keep our fingers crossed that those people will stay home and that they will keep their sick kids home.