by the Rev. Linda Noonan
Chances are each of us will get sick or need to care for a sick family member this year. Not all of us are able to take time off from work to get better or to care for a sick family member. In Philadelphia, more than two out of every five workers do not have a single paid sick day to care for themselves or a loved one.
Workers need time away from work to recuperate from illness, as well as to tend to family members who are ill. Yet more than 40 percent of workers in Philadelphia cannot take a sick day without losing a day’s pay or, possibly, even their job. More than 200,000 hardworking Philadelphians cannot take time off to care for a sick child or elderly parent.
Our faith compels us to treat others as we would be treated. Many of us are blessed to be able to stay home to care for our loved ones or ourselves when illness strikes. Yet thousands of our neighbors, employees, and others with whom we come into contact regularly, such as the cashier at the supermarket, the waiter at a restaurant or the nurse at a hospital, do not have paid sick days.
They must continue to work – through colds, fevers, and stomach flus on pain of lost wages or even lost jobs. And they cannot take off to care for their sick children or other dependent family members.
Right now Philadelphia’s City Council has the opportunity to change this all too real story for many workers in Philadelphia by passing the Promoting Healthy Families and Workplaces Act. Workers want to be responsible on the job and be able to care for their families. Our policies lag desperately behind this reality – and Philadelphia families are struggling as a result. We can and must do better – and we will, if we truly value families.
This bill is tremendously important to people living and working in Philadelphia. It is perhaps, most immediately needed by some of the most vulnerable workers and children in our city. But, more broadly, it speaks to the kind of city and community we aspire to be.
Respecting the health and dignity of all human beings is a core religious value for all faith traditions. It should also be a core civic value. The least fortunate among us bear the heaviest burden when they get sick. Less than one-quarter of low wage workers have paid sick days, even though they are the workers who can least afford to lose a day’s pay.
Working mothers bear a particularly heavy burden, as they lose pay, promotions, and general financial security when they are penalized for taking time off to care for sick children. The injustice and indignity of having to choose between working while ill and losing a day’s pay – or your job – is a great concern in the faith community and must be addressed.
In a city that claims to value families, workers should not have to choose between their jobs and their health or a family member’s health. I hope City Council and the Mayor are committed to Philadelphia’s working families and will show this by supporting the Promoting Healthy Families and Workplaces Act.
The Rev. Linda Noonan is pastor of Chestnut Hill United Church.