This week, we will celebrate the holiday of Passover, when we remember the process that led the Jewish people to become free in the land of Egypt. Part of this process will include discussing the Ten Plagues.
At my family’s seder in Atlanta, we use goodie bags with various small toys that resemble each of the plagues. In these bags there will be three toys that resemble a lack of health: small plastic insects to represent lice, a small rubber cow to represent the cattle disease that killed many of Egypt’s domestic animals and bubble wrap to represent the boils that deformed the Egyptians.
In Jewish tradition, lacking health and adequate health care is viewed as a plague, an issue so damaging that God viewed risking your health as a serious enough threat to cause Pharaoh to free the slaves. In considering the issue of health, we must also think about our workers and if they are able to best care for their health and the health of their families, even with health insurance.
Over 40 million Americans do not currently have access to paid sick days, making workers choose between taking care of their health or ensuring job security. Adults without paid sick days are 1.5 times more likely than adults who have paid sick days at work to report going to work with a contagious illness, like the flu or a virus, which also makes them more likely to infect others. This means that when workers who lack paid sick days, they stay sick for longer. The effort to pass paid sick days legislation is building momentum all over the country, in 20 states and cities in states and in cities. Over the course of 2015, paid sick days laws will also go into effect in three more California cities and six more in New Jersey.
In addition to this municipal work, there is momentum happening on the state level. Nine states – California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin – along with the District of Columbia already allow at least some workers who have paid sick days to use them to care for certain family members. The state of Connecticut has a statewide paid sick days law in effect, and the paid sick day laws in California and Massachusetts will go into effect later this year. As more cities and states answer the call to support their citizens and families with paid sick days, Congress will also be urged to pass similar legislation.
Recently, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) reintroduced the Healthy Families Act (S. 497/H.R. 932). The Healthy Families Act would allow workers in businesses with at least 15 employees to earn up to seven days of job-protected paid sick leave each year. Workers would earn one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. People working in a business with fewer than 15 employees would be able to earn up to seven job-protected days of unpaid sick leave annually.
The RAC’s Passover Labor Haggadah ends with a call for “us [to] rededicate ourselves to fight for workers’ rights in our own generation.” This Passover, let’s work to ensure that all of our workers can be healthy and can have the workplace conditions that they need to have healthy places of work. And may we work for a Passover where we only know about dire situations related to illness from the various objects in a Passover goodie bag. Check out our Passover Guide and our Economic Justice Guide to learn more.