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Essential Workers Urge CA Legislature, Governor to Extend COVID-19 Paid Sick Leave Benefits

February 24, 2021
Contact: Mike Roth, 916.813.1554

All employer-mandated COVID-19-specific emergency paid sick leave expired on December 31, 2020 

Sacramento, CA – California’s essential workers and community and labor advocates today joined forces to urge the California legislature and Governor Gavin Newsom to take immediate action to expand emergency paid sick days and paid family and medical leave protection for workers in the California 2021-2022 early action budget.

Even as public health officials caution California is not out of the woods and new, contagious mutations of COVID-19 present new threats, many workers have exhausted their own sick leave and have been working without a critical safety net: the federal and emergency paid sick leave mandates on employers that expired on December 31, 2020. The result is that workers – particularly workers of color in essential roles – are facing additional months of danger and can’t afford to stay home when they are exposed on the job, putting their co-workers, families and all of us at risk.

“California has rightly championed the principle that no one should have to choose between going to work sick and putting food on the table. Providing paid sick leave to working Californians has never been more important than during this pandemic when stopping the spread of a deadly disease means everyone must have the ability to isolate when they are sick or exposed to COVID-19. No small business wants to be the epicenter of an COVID-19 outbreak, nor do they wish to put the lives of their customers or employees at risk. Paid sick leave saves workplaces and invaluable lives by ensuring less exposure to this virus,” said Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles).

Published research from scientists at Cornell University and in Switzerland found paid sick leave resulted in a measurable and significant decrease in COVID-19 spread. Experts from the University of California at Berkeley published an opinion piece last week in CalMatters stressing the importance of extending California’s COVID-19 supplemental sick leave policy to allow sick workers to stay home.

“We can’t reopen safely without taking immediate action to ensure every worker in California has the right to take paid sick leave if they contract COVID-19,” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) said. “Without the availability of paid leave, workers will be forced to choose between paying their bills, and going to work sick and exposing others to the virus. While Californians are getting vaccinated, paid sick leave is one of the most effective tools we have to stop the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces.”

Both state and federal requirements for employer-mandated COVID-19-specific emergency paid sick leave in the form of the Federal Family First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and AB 1867 expired on December 31, 2020, and workers have since been left with either inadequate or no rights to sick leave while recovering from COVID-19, quarantining following exposure, or caring for a family member sick with COVID-19. The end of these programs, which filled in gaps created by FFCRA, has forced countless Californians to work while sick, endangering co-workers and the public.

“A full year into this crisis, essential workers are still facing real danger every time they go to work in public roles and close quarters with others,” said Bob Schoonover, President of SEIU California and SEIU Local 721. “We can’t ask people to stay home after exposure when staying home means not being able to eat – that’s why we are imploring Governor Newsom and our legislative leaders to add pandemic paid sick leave to the tools California uses to fight the virus, and to take this action in the early budget.”

Millions of working Californians have no choice but to leave their homes and go to work, potentially exposing themselves, their families, and their communities to COVID-19 in the workplace. These are workers in mostly low-income jobs, women, immigrants and workers of color, who are bearing the brunt of infections and deaths in our state.

“Paid sick leave saves lives,” said Katherine Wutchiett, Staff Attorney at Legal Aid at Work. “California workers and their families are already suffering; workers need to be able to take time off for their own health and for the safety of others without worrying about missing a paycheck that they need to survive.”

As California tries to distribute vaccines equitably, many essential workers are looking at months before they might have the opportunity to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Vaccination delays dramatically increase the need for emergency paid sick leave, given how much longer workers will have to do their jobs while unvaccinated.

“Health and safety on the job is the most pressing issue facing California workers as the pandemic continues,” said California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski. “Extending emergency paid sick leave is the least we can do to protect the essential workers who have helped us all weather this crisis by showing up to work, despite the risk, day in and day out.”

From shipping to meat processing, to the garment industry, to grocery stores, to fast food, the spread of COVID-19 in workplaces is more than a devastating headline. Workers in low-income jobs, immigrants and workers of color have borne the brunt of these deaths (source). According to Cal/OSHA, COVID-19 “has killed hundreds of workers in California and sickened thousands, and workers will continue to become ill and die until the pandemic subsides. COVID-19 is an occupational health emergency causing more deaths in less time than any other workplace crisis in the nearly fifty-year existence of Cal/OSHA” (​source​). Workers must be able to stay home when they’re sick to ensure they don’t contribute to the continuing spread of COVID-19.

“UFCW’s essential workers are mostly low-income, women of color, doing everything they can to ensure that Californians have food on their tables during these challenging times, and we must do everything in our power to make sure they are taken care of at home and in the workplace,” said Amber Baur, executive director, UFCW Western States Council. “Paid sick leave benefits only make our workers and communities safer. Governor Newsom and our elected leaders must include paid sick leave in the early action budget so workers don’t have to choose between looking after their health and putting food on the table.”

Additionally, last month, 115 organizations submitted a letter to the California Legislature asking leaders to take immediate action to expand emergency paid sick days and to protect California’s families, and “prevent needless suffering and death.” The California Latino Caucus has also called on our elected leaders to expand paid sick leave benefits “to ensure that California workers – especially Latinos who make up a disproportionate share of our state’s frontline workforce — have access to paid sick leave when they need to get vaccinated, quarantine and/or recover from a COVID-19 infection.”

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