In 2015, the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Maryland (UULM-MD) supported SB 40/HB385, The Maryland Healthy Working Families Act..  The first principle of Unitarian Universalism is to affirm the worth and dignity of all persons, but four in 10 private-sector workers – and more than 720,000 Marylanders – cannot earn paid sick days to care for their own health or the health of their family members. More than 80 percent of low-wage workers lack access to paid sick days, and over 50% of full-time Maryland workers who earn less than $35,000 annually lack access to paid sick days. Working women—49% of Maryland’s workforce—lack access to paid sick days 54% of the time, and 2 out of every 10 report job loss or disciplinary action for lost time for attending sick family members. The lack of earned paid sick days feeds the cycle of poverty, and it is the human side of this issue that is most important.

A Public Health Issue
From a public health standpoint, paid sick days just makes sense. A lack of paid sick days exacts its heaviest toll on low-income workers; missing work due to illness can mean being unable to pay for basic necessities, including the health care services that can get them back to work. A loss of just 3.5 days’ pay is equivalent to losing an entire month’s grocery budget. The cost is more dear in families with single mothers, and to Maryland’s African-American population, 24 % of whom live in poverty. Because of the high cost of missing work, many low-wage workers will expose their coworkers and the public to illness when sick. Of great concern for public health and contagion prevention, less than one-quarter of food preparation and serving workers have access to paid sick days. This is a public health issue that affects all Marylanders.

Workers who do not have access to sick leave also expose illness at a greater rate in the schools for the same reasons as in the workplace. In families where sick leave is not available, children are twice as likely to be sent to school/daycare sick and recovery is slower for them. People with low incomes not only suffer from low self-esteem and depression, they have more health problems and live shorter lives than their wealthier counterparts. Their children suffer from poor nutrition, more health problems, do less well in school, and often cost the government more as adults because of their disadvantaged background. Paid sick days and job protection is likewise essential for the 25% of women who need time at some point in their lives to seek assistance due to domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault.

An Economic Issue
When people come to work sick, they risk exposing their coworkers to the same illness, creating lost productivity overall. Delayed medical care often leads to prolonged illness and costly emergency room visits. Some may be forced to rely on government assistance programs like Medicaid and food stamps.

Route to Dignity

The UULM-MD joined the Working Matters Coalition to enhance our effectiveness in supporting this important economic justice issue.  The Working Matters: Maryland Campaign for Paid Sick Days, a coalition of over 100 organizations that support paid sick days, is leading the cause of making sick leave a reality for Maryland families in 2015. SB40—Healthy Working Families Act, if passed, will provide the dignity and protections to Maryland families to which all people are entitled. UULM-MD’s support of this bill will allow low-wage workers job protection and the ability to care for their families and themselves, and minimize the spread of illness in the population at large. The law will apply to part-time as well as full-time workers, and allows workers to accrue up to 7 days paid sick leave in companies with 10 or more employees. It will provide job protection for sick time off for all workers, regardless of size of the company.

A UU Issue: Justice For All
Those who must work when they are sick suffer the indignity of being at the bottom rungs of our economic ladder. This is a severe injustice to those who work to keep themselves and their families healthy. Every worker deserves the right to ensure the health and wellbeing of themselves and their families, regardless of income. The problems and suffering of poverty are repeated generation after generation, becoming virtually hereditary. Wise nations plan intelligently for their future. Tragically, the United States is not doing that with respect to poverty and its consequences. Maryland must take the issue to hand and provide an avenue for health and dignity for its citizens, rich and poor.