By Sean Raycraft
Yesterday marked one year of mandatory paid sick time for California workers. One year after implementation, the doom and gloom predicted by the big business community about AB 1522 has failed to come to pass. There are no bread lines, jobs haven’t been “killed” and working poor people now can take a paid day off when they are sick. I say working poor people, because typically higher paid workers have some kind of paid sick day policy. Before July 1 of 2015, workers in retail and food service generally did not have any paid sick days. AB 1522 mandates businesses provide up to 24 hours of paid sick time for workers per year, at a rate of one hour earned per 30 hours worked.
Why was this needed? What did that mean? It meant the people who handle your food would often come to work sick. Low wage workers usually cannot afford to take a day off, and still pay their bills, so they will not call in sick unless it’s a real emergency. So sick people would handle your produce at the grocery store, or sick cooks at the restaurant would be handling your meals. This policy has been a home run for low wage workers. I see the results first hand at my job. No longer do I see working poor workers sniffling and sneezing at my job. When a child is sick, the parent can stay home without worrying about a financial catastrophe. It’s a policy that has tangibly made life better for society, and we are all better off for it.
Predictably, Republican law makers, and big business interest groups predicted catastrophe for California’s economy. Quite the opposite has happened since implementation. California’s unemployment rate has dropped to 5.3 percent, outstripping national job growth rates over the last year. Here is a quote from Assembly member Donald P Wagner (R-Irvine) called the bill an “ill-considered, heavy-handed, one-sided piece of legislation,”. The Cal Chamber put it on the dreaded “job killer” list. On the other hand, I will never forget watching the live stream of the Assembly at 1 AM in the summer of 2014. The principle author and force of nature, Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez was on the floor of the Assembly, begging and pleading for her fellow progressive members to vote for AB 1522, after Governor Brown demanded in home service workers be exempted from the law as a condition of him signing it.
This issue is personal to me for many reasons. When I was working on the OUR Walmart campaign (a union backed organization of current and former Walmart workers) in the summer of 2014, this was one of the specific issues I was working on with Walmart workers. Walmart employees did not have adequate hours, sick time, or wages to miss a day of work when they were sick, or when their child was sick, or their aging loved ones were sick. Worse yet, if a worker was to call in sick, the next week, managers would cut their hours, deny requested days off on purpose, or in some cases fire them. The message was clear, if you get sick, your job is at risk. At Walmart, workers are treated as disposable numbers, and not people. I asked a friend of mine, former Walmart worker and OUR Walmart leader Tyfani Faulkner about what AB 1522 meant to her. Here is what she said “The law has helped Walmart workers greatly. California Walmart workers are the only ones who can earn sick time and use it for themselves. Walmart workers in the rest of the country no longer earn sick time and can only use the time they have to take care of another family member not themselves.” Can you imagine having to choose between taking care of a sick loved one or keeping the lights on?
Years ago, I lived a similar life. When I first started at my job, I made 8.50 an hour, and could not afford to miss ANY time at work and still pay my bills. While nowhere near as bad as Walmart working conditions, I could not overcome the sheer economics problem. So I sympathized with single parents, or workers with elderly parents, or anyone who ever caught the flu. I used to have to come in to work sick myself, and soon, 5 other workers would be coming down with the same bug I had. All because I could not afford to take a day off. And I handle your food, at a grocery store! Now, such an occurrence is rare. So the next time you are traveling out of state and find yourself in a grocery store or a restaurant, ask yourself if those people handling your food are healthy. Their well-being is your well-being.
Sean Raycraft is a lifelong Davis resident and a proud shop steward with UFCW 8