Seven in 10 women in the fast food industry report going to work coughing or sneezing, with a fever or diarrhea, or vomiting in the past year. The reason? Only 14 percent of women working in the industry, and a mere 6 percent of women fast food workers making less than $9 per hour, say they have access to paid sick days. These are the findings of a new poll released today by the National Partnership for Women & Families. It was conducted by Hart Research Associates and released for International Food Workers Week, which raises awareness about issues facing food workers.
“Fast food workers need the support and financial stability paid sick days provide to pay rent, put food on the table, care for their children and pay for their education. Nobody wins and everybody loses when these low-wage workers, who handle our food and interact closely with customers, must report to work sick because they cannot afford to lose pay,” said Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership. “It’s past time to end the days when food workers must make an impossible choice between losing pay or reporting to work with troubling symptoms. We simply must do more as a nation to ensure that this critical workforce – and all people – have the health and workplace protections they need.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 41 million private sector workers in the United States – 36 percent of the private sector workforce – cannot earn paid sick days. Some states and localities have taken action to help reduce that number. Thirty-nine jurisdictions have, or will soon have, laws that guarantee workers the right to earn paid sick time, including seven states. Two of those statewide laws passed this month when voters in Arizona and Washington state approved ballot measures that mean nearly two million more workers will have paid sick and safe time protections.
The increasing number of state and local paid sick days laws may explain why the new survey results show disparities in access by region. According to the new data, 32 percent of fast food workers in the western United States – where several paid sick days laws are in place, including in California – say they have paid sick days. That is compared to just 8 percent in the South and 7 percent in the Midwest. Eleven percent of the female fast food workers surveyed say they don’t know if they have access to paid sick days, which advocates say suggests more outreach and education is needed on the part of local governments and employers.
“We must have a national policy on paid sick time to raise restaurant industry standards,” said Saru Jayaraman, co-founder and co-director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United. “Workers who take time off, even for illness, are frequently punished. The research is clear: Workers feel compelled to work when sick, putting consumers at risk. Meanwhile, restaurant lobbying groups fight against these needed benefits. For the health of consumers and workers, now, more than ever, we need a national policy on paid sick leave to catalyze change in the restaurant industry.”
The Healthy Families Act, which is currently before Congress, would establish a national paid sick days standard similar to those in place across the country. It would allow workers in businesses with 15 or more employees to earn up to seven job-protected paid sick days each year to recover from their own illnesses, access preventive care, provide care for a sick child or other family member. Workers in smaller businesses would be able to earn unpaid time. According to a 2015 survey, 85 percent of voters favor ensuring all workers can earn paid sick time.
“A national policy that ensures people in all locations and all industries can earn the time they need to care for their health and their families is both urgently needed and overwhelmingly popular,” Ness continued. “It would also have widespread benefits for the public health and for our nation’s businesses and communities. Lawmakers who claim to care about families, our economy and our future should prioritize common sense policies like paid sick days that will make a significant difference in people’s lives. Passing the Healthy Families Act should be a priority.”