To cheers of workers, aldermen approve sick day mandate

From Chicago Sun Times

By Fran Spielman

The days of dragging your flu-ridden body to work, or forfeiting a day’s pay to stay home with a sick child or elderly parent are about to end for an estimated 460,000 of Chicago’s private-sector employees.

The Committee on Workforce Development made certain of that Thursday to the cheers of restaurant workers who filled the City Council chambers to witness the culmination of a dream.

Aldermen approved an ordinance embraced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel that would require Chicago employers large and small — except those in the construction industry — to provide their employees with at least five paid sick days a year.

“Having earned sick time means not having to lose your job because you need to take care of your family. There were too many times I was sick myself and didn’t get paid and needed a doctor’s statement just to take off for one day. When my son got sick, I needed to take care of him. Who else is gonna take care of my son?” said Nataki Rhodes of the Restaurant Opportunity Center.

“We’re the first ones to kick under the bus. We’re the first ones to have to come begging. But, we’re not begging. We’re telling you. We want our sick time for all working families, no matter where you work. … It’s time for the Council to vote on our side. It’s time for you to stand up with us like you did on minimum wage. It was hard, but you did it. Businesses still opened. The roof didn’t fall out.”

Matthew Brandon, secretary-treasurer of SEIU Local 73, acknowledged there are “costs associated” with paid sick leave.

But, he said: “There are also more serious costs associated with our people when they have to take off sick and they have to go to an emergency room and they can’t afford it. And those costs are passed on to all of us — everyone in this room. Everyone in this city.”

Brandon scoffed at claims that mandatory sick leave is a cost businesses cannot endure on top of a minimum wage hike, a partial ban on plastic bags, tobacco regulations and a never-ending parade of recent tax increases.

“We ask business and even small business to not make a five percent profit. Maybe make a 4.75 percent profit. Or big business. Don’t worry about plastic bags and cigarettes. Worry about the people who work for you. Worry about the people who make this city run,” Brandon said.

“Businesses aren’t going anywhere. Chicago is a world-class city. You want to be here. We want you here. We want to work for you. But we want to be treated fairly.”

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