If there’s anything the pandemic has taught us as a society, it’s something most people have probably never given much thought to: how dependent society is on certain workers we interact with. daily.
They work as cashiers or stock clerks in our local grocery stores; they brew beans in our favorite coffee haunt; they prepare or deliver meals to the fast food outlets or restaurants we like to frequent.
Many students, young adults, retirees, or those who need part-time income have these kinds of jobs, which usually have flexible hours.
But for hundreds of thousands more, jobs like these are the only way to earn a living to support a family. These are often low-paying jobs, where people likely put in many hours just to earn a decent check. And they’re owned by anyone (regardless of gender, ethnic or racial group, immigrant or US citizen, or any other category) who really needs the gig.
When the pandemic hit, however, and the company was strongly advised to stay/work from home, these workers were elevated. Suddenly, they were designated as “essential” because everyone who was lucky enough to be able to work from home realized how important these workers were.
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But what happens when these workers cannot get to work because they are sick or a family member is sick? Unlike someone doing remote work, workers who have to physically show up for work have almost no wiggle room. Either they forgo those salaries, or worse, they come to work sick because many don’t have paid sick leave.
Amid the pandemic, work culture has changed dramatically, but some areas, such as gaps in paid leave, have not kept pace with the change.
Lack of paid sick leave “creates crisis for low-wage workers” and affects up to 1.2 million workers in Virginia, including large percentages of child care and food service workers; those caring for vulnerable adults; and at least two-thirds of all grocery store employees, says Kim Bobo, executive director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.
Bobo has spent the past few years championing certain bills that would guarantee mandatory paid sick leave for the one million essential workers who don’t have it. In 2021, her group scored a victory with a small demand that consumer-directed home healthcare workers receive paid sick days funded by Virginia, she said.
This covered some 30,000 home healthcare workers, but “we are still short of a lot of workers,” Bobo added.
A newer version of proposed paid sick leave legislation sought to expand that coverage and would have allowed five paid sick days for “health care providers and grocery store employees,” as summarized in Bill 352. of the Senate, sponsored by Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax. The bill did not come out of committee.
The concept of publicly funded paid sick leave is not unique.
In several cities across the United States and at least 16 states (including neighboring Maryland), there is some version of standard paid sick time that non-government workers can earn for themselves or to care for. a member of the family.
“As a human society, we should have basic standards around…similarly, if you hire someone, you have to pay minimum wage and you have to pay paid workers, right? It’s the law,” Bobo said. “How can we not make sure that people have a few paid sick days, because everyone gets (sick) or every child gets sick?”
Often families can send a sick child to school, or workers end up coming to work sick, posing a public health threat regardless of the current pandemic.
The law already requires private sector companies to provide minimum wages and allowances for all employers, as Bobo noted. There must be a minimum requirement to cover paid sick leave.
As a society, we rely on these workers. With so many more people having the option of working from home, the work culture has changed. It’s time for Virginia to catch up.