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If there is something I pride myself on it is my work ethic. The importance of hard work is something that was instilled in me by my parents who sometimes worked multiple jobs each to feed our family of six.

In college, I, too, worked three jobs to make ends meet. I wrote articles for two weekly newspapers, answered phones at my school and worked as a waitress. The last job was the most lucrative of the three, which means I put in as many hours as I could. Sometimes I had to go to work sick.

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The one time I asked to clock out early and go home was when I showed up with a viral infection called mononucleosis that I could have passed on to my co-workers and customers with a cough or a sneeze. Having mono was the pits. I had a fever and the worst sore throat I’ve had in my life – it felt like there was knife on fire in my throat! I felt so run down and had aches and pains all over my body that I thought I was going to collapse with tray in hand.

It was a devastating time not only because of how sick I was, but financially as well. I accrued credit card debt to pay my medical bills and living expenses since I had no paid sick days at any of my jobs. A few days of paid sick leave would have made a huge difference as I could have rested knowing that I wasn’t sabotaging the little economy security that I had. This was back in 1997.

I am sad to report that our country still doesn’t require employers to give their workers even an hour of paid sick leave. Many families are forced to go to work sick and make their children go to school sick because they can’t afford to miss a day’s work.

The lack of paid sick days has been tragic for the Latino community. According to a study released last month, 5 million fewer cases of HINI – a worldwide pandemic that claimed at least 11,000 lives in the United States – could have been prevented if workers had the right to paid sick days. In the Latino community alone, 1.2 million cases could have been prevented if our workers had not felt compelled to go to work sick, and unintentionally infect their co-workers and families. From CBS News:

(Lead researcher Supriya) Kumar surveyed roughly 2,000 U.S. adults about their health and behavior during the 2009 pandemic. Since relatively few people who felt sick during that time were actually tested for H1N1 (commonly referred to as swine flu), the survey asked about flu or symptoms of flu-like illnesses. The social factors that had the biggest impact on the spread of flu-like illness were the presence of children in the household and, more notably, (lack of) access to paid sick leave.

Even after taking into account the income and education levels of people who got sick and those who didn't, Kumar's team found that access to paid sick leave and the presence of children in the house led to a greater risk of flu-like illness in Hispanics.

Our lack of a federal sick days policy is not only devastating to families, but our economy as well. Research has shown that people who go to work sick don't get as much done as they think they do and they run the risk of inadvertently infecting their co-workers. For employers, the productivity hit from a sick worker is twice what it would have been had the person simply stayed home because they unintentionally infect their co-workers who then must also take time off to go the doctor or work while sick.

As a Latina from a working class family, these findings hit me in the gut. I remember the swine flu epidemic in 2009, and was terrified as it claimed the lives of members of our community in Texas and my home state of California. I am also insulted. Our families do work hard and are playing by the rules. Yet, we aren’t entitled to any paid sick days? And it hurts our economy, costing $160 billion a year in lost productivity!

To Latino workers, really, all American workers, I say enough is enough. Please join me at MomsRising.org and sign this petition in support of the Healthy Families Act. The Healthy Families Act would allow workers to earn up to seven paid sick days a year to recover from short-term illness, care for a sick family member, attend medical appointments, or seek assistance for a domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault issue.

Almost half, 48%, of private sector workers are not entitled even to a single hour of paid sick leave. We can’t afford to see what will happen the next time a flu pandemic sweeps our nation.  

Elisa Batista is an outreach specialist for MomsRising.org. She also publishes her own blog, MotherTalkers, and contributes a column about the environment in Spanish at the Moms Clean Air Force. When she isn’t at her computer, she is shuttling her two small children or training for marathons.

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Originally posted to Elisa on Sat Dec 10, 2011 at 08:08 AM PST.

Also republished by LatinoKos, Barriers and Bridges, and Community Spotlight.

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