PI Original Ellyn Fortino Friday September 11th, 2015, 10:57am

Report: 44% Of Illinois Private Sector Workers Are Without Paid Sick Days

Forty-four percent of private sector workers in Illinois, or more than 2.1 million individuals, cannot earn paid sick days, shows a recent report by the National Partnership for Women & Families.

At least 43 million private sector workers in the United States, including more than 2.1 million in Illinois, have no access to paid sick days they can use to care for their health.

Illinois workers who cannot earn paid sick time represent 44 percent of the state's private sector workforce.

The National Partnership for Women & Families detailed those and other paid sick leave statistics in recent state-by-state fact sheets released as part of its advocacy campaign around the issue, which was spotlighted by President Barack Obama on Labor Day. He issued an executive order on Monday, under which federal contractors must provide their workers with up to seven earned paid sick days a year. 

The partnership wants to see paid sick leave become a reality for all working families. It argues that the nation's lack of a paid sick leave standard hurts workers, families and the economy.

"Our nation's failure to establish a paid sick days standard is harming people across the country," said Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families. "It is absolutely unacceptable that so many hardworking people risk grave financial hardship if they or a family member get the flu, strep throat or another common illness, and that is because they cannot earn basic paid sick days, even after years at their jobs. Lawmakers at all levels, and especially in Congress, need to look closely at what is at stake for the country's working families and its economy, and take action."

Opponents of mandatory paid sick leave contend that such policies are harmful to businesses and could lead to job losses. The National Federation of Independent Business also argues that paid sick leave mandates are an "example of government interfering with private sector employers' ability to operate and grow business."

Supporters of mandatory paid sick leave say the policies are a net positive for employers because they have the potential to reduce workplace turnover and flu contagion as well as increase productivity.

Only four states -- California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Oregon -- plus several cities have passed paid sick day laws.

No counties or municipalities in Illinois have such a law, though paid sick time advocates are pushing measures at both the state and city of Chicago levels.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has convened a task force that is currently looking into several worker issues, including paid sick leave. The task force was assembled after Chicago voters overwhelmingly approved a non-binding ballot question in the February election asking whether private employers in the city should be required to offer paid sick leave to their employees "in the event of a personal or family illness, an incident of domestic or sexual violence, or a school or building closure due to a public health emergency."

According to the Chicago Earned Sick Time Chicago Coalition, which is spearheading the local paid sick leave movement, 42 percent of private sector workers in the Windy City, or more than 460,000 individuals, can't earn paid sick days.

Earned sick time is particularly important for restaurant employees who handle food and are forced to go to work when they're sick, advocates argue. Ninety percent of U.S. workers employed in the restaurant industry have no access to paid sick days, according to the National Partnership for Women & Families. There are nearly 430,000 restaurant workers in Illinois.

Low-wage workers are also among those least likely to have paid sick days.

According to recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 78 percent of the country's lowest-paid workers, or those making up to $9 an hour, are without earned paid sick days.

"For many of them, one case of the flu can mean the loss of a month's worth of groceries or even a job," Ness said.

Nationally, paid sick time proponents have been advocating for the long-proposed Healthy Families Act, federal legislation backed by the White House that would allow more workers to earn paid sick days.

"State and national level data like these make it painfully clear that employers and lawmakers are not acting quickly enough to establish the paid sick days standards workers and families across the country urgently want and need," Ness added. "Access to paid sick days should not depend on where someone lives or what job they hold. The Healthy Families Act is a common sense proposal that has been tested in states and cities across the country. It is long past time for Congress to make its passage a priority."

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