Working while sick: If you get sick in a RTW state, you have to choose – your paycheck or your health

DEMANDING PAID SICK LEAVE: Americans want a paid sick day policy. Three-quarters of adults support a policy giving employees a minimum number of paid sick days, and 90 percent of adults support a specific proposal allowing up to seven paid sick days per year. – AP photo by Richard Drew

Union contracts’ paid sick days keep workers healthier while non-union workers will work while ill to protect pay – but risk infecting others


You’ve heard the old saying about “unintended consequences?”

Well, here’s one for union members that’s positive: because unions negotiate sick days in their contracts, you have less likelihood of catching an illness from sick co-workers because they can stay home and not lose pay.

That’s not true for non-union workers who have no contract guaranteeing sick pay. More often than not, they will come to work ill and infect others because they can’t afford to lose the pay.

That is the conclusion of a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that, using Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, shows that 45 million workers (28 percent of the civilian workforce) do NOT have access to paid sick leave.

Another BLS report, from March 2017, shows that 87 percent of union companies have paid sick leave guarantees versus 69 percent of non-union companies.


The latest data, from 2015, showing the numbers of workers in RTW states who have no sick pay available to them, is startling:

• 20 of 27 RTW states (74 percent) have percentages of workers not eligible for paid sick pay that are worse than the national average.

• Compare that with only seven of 27 RTW states (26 percent) that have a percentage of workers better than the national average when it comes to having paid sick days. (See separate story and chart below. There are 28 RTW states; Arizona has a state law mandating sick pay.)


These statistics make a dramatic point. Without a union contract and its sick pay provisions, when workers get ill, they have a choice to make: go to work sick or stay home and forgo pay.

Since the lack of paid sick time is concentrated among non-union and the lowest-income employees (the hallmark of RTW states), millions of ill workers opt to work.

“Multiple studies show that workers without access to paid sick days are more likely to go to work sick than those with it,” noted Christopher Ingraham in a recent Washington Post story.

“That’s a problem not just for those workers, who are literally sacrificing their health for a day’s wage, but also for their fellow workers and commuters whom they expose to their illness.”

A study of the 2009 flu season shows that eight million Americans went to work while infected and caused an additional seven million to get sick as well.


According to a report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “Absent paid sick days legislation in the U.S., many private sector employees faced little choice and attended work while sick, thereby infecting others.”

That is backed by yet another Institute report noting, “Access (to paid sick days) is likely to reduce the spread of disease in workplaces by increasing the rate at which sick employees stay home from work and reduce the economic burden of staying home on minorities, women and families.”


Believe it or not, paid sick leave is a benefit for employers.

The CDC report found that by decreasing the number of work days lost due to flu and other illnesses by nearly four million to 11 million a year, there was a resulting savings of $1 billion to $2 billion.

The CDC’s advice: Stay home while you’re sick, until at least 24 hours after your fever breaks.

Thank goodness for union contracts, because you can afford to do just that. It’s yet another reason to VOTE NO on Prop A on Aug. 7 to support workers and their families.

(Information for this story came from Washington Post, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Institute for Women’s Policy Research and the National Partnership for Women & Families.)

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Far fewer workers get paid sick days in RTW states

Did you get sick in a “right-to-work” state and needed a paid sick day to see your doctor? Tough luck!

Looking at numbers of workers in all states without paid sick days, the latest available (2015) from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and the National Partnership for Women & Families shows:

ALL STATES (42 reporting data)


• RTW – 20 (83%) have a percentage of workers without paid sick days WORSE than the national average.

• NO RTW – Only 4 (17%) have a percentage of workers without paid sick days WORSE than the national average.


• NO RTW – 11 states (61%) are better than the national average.

• RTW – only 7 (39%) are better.






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