Passing Paid Sick Days Shows That We Matter

Yesterday I went to Sacramento to join folks from the Organization United for Respect (OUR Walmart) campaign for a Lobby Day. It was one of those days where a big group gets together and knocks the doors of those legislators who have sworn to make laws that serve and protect the needs of their California constituents.  In a coordinated effort we split up, each sub-group taking its designated floor of the Capitol by storm.

Even though legislator offices were in a steady state of flurry as staff hustled to prep their Senator or to make it to the floor for one of the last days of voting before session’s end, they couldn’t overlook the real faces and stories of those donning bright green shirts as they recounted their struggles trying to get a paid sick day as an employee of the largest and most profitable retailer in the nation. 

Barbara Collins, an organizer with the OUR Walmart campaign told Senate staff members:  

“As a full-time Walmart employee I can tell you firsthand how difficult it is to get an unpaid sick day at Walmart, let alone a paid sick day there.

“When you’re full-time and you get sick, the first day you’re out you do not get paid. Period. It’s not until the second day that you’re ill that it’s even possible–but you may have to provide a doctor’s note and even then, it’s not guaranteed. And if you’re part-time at Walmart, forget about it. You have to come to work and management will decide whether or not you’re sick enough to go home, without pay.”

These scenarios are exactly why such a large group from the OUR Walmart campaign from all around the state converged on the Capitol. These stories of Walmart’s heartlessness and sheer injustice are not the exception, but the rule.

The fact is, like 6.8 million Californians, the majority of Walmart employees don’t have access to even a single day of paid leave for when they or a loved one falls ill. Nearly 70% of Walmart employees are considered part-time, which means health coverage is usually out of reach and a paid sick day is entirely out of the question.

Kimberly Frazier, a pregnant Walmart employee currently on forced unpaid leave from the Walmart store in Sacramento, has been punished by the retailer because as a mother-to-be, her doctor visits alone were requiring Kimberly to take a few days off on the health and wellness of her baby—too many in the eyes of Walmart.

“I dared an attempt at following my doctor’s orders to not lift anything heavier than 25-30 pounds. Apparently, Walmart couldn’t find me a role that didn’t require heavy lifting, and after writing me up three times, management decided to put me on unpaid leave– giving them the flexibility to call me back (or not) at the company’s whim.”

The timing of the OUR Walmart Lobby Day was perfect for a few reasons. First, the Senate will be voting on the bill AB 1522 sometime in the next few days. The measure, which would guarantee three paid sick days for all California workers, has already passed the Assembly and if passed in the Senate and signed by Governor Brown, it would make California only the second state in the U.S. to have such a worker-friendly law. Second, today is Women’s Equality Day. A celebration of how far we have come as a nation since Women’s Suffrage has become the law of the land, but also how far we have left to go.

Passing AB 1522, authored by a single mother, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, will help everyone but will have some of the most resounding impacts on women. According to the Shriver Report, 96% of single mothers say that they would be helped most by having access to paid sick days.   We look to California to lead the charge to further close the gap. Passing the Paid Sick Days bill is a very good start.