Campaign launches effort to get paid sick leave for all Austin workers

9:59 a.m. Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017 Local

Austin City Council Member Greg Casar helped kick off a campaign Monday to get an ordinance passed requiring all employers in the city to provide paid sick leave to their workers.

“Almost 40 percent of Austin’s workforce is not allowed to earn paid sick days by their employers,” Casar said in a news conference at the Workers Defense Project on Manor Road.

“If you are a service sector worker or a construction worker, it’s more likely than not you don’t have paid sick days,” he said. “But this isn’t just low-wage workers. Twenty percent of middle-income Austinites are not allowed to earn paid sick days by their employers.”

About 223,000 Austin workers (37 percent of the total workforce) do not receive paid sick days, according to figures from Work Strong Austin, a coalition of community organizations that launched the campaign Monday.

Casar said he will introduce a resolution at the Sept. 28 City Council meeting and hopes to work with the community, businesses and the rest of the council to get an ordinance passed by the end of February. It would apply to part-time and full-time workers, he said.

More than 30 cities and seven states have passed laws relating to employers providing paid sick days, he said, with many requiring employers to provide five to 10 paid sick days a year. The number of sick days in Austin’s proposed ordinance will be determined, he said.

A few workers also spoke at the news conference about not getting paid sick leave at their jobs. Julius Casey said he works at least 60 hours a week at two restaurant jobs and can’t afford to take off when he’s sick.

“I’m a type 1 diabetic,” he said. “I have a lot of bad days, but I still go to work. When those bad days come, I don’t have a choice.”

Construction worker and carpenter Antolin Martinez said through a translator at the news conference that he injured one of his fingers several years ago while working on a bridge in Austin but went back to work against his doctor’s orders because he had no sick leave.

“Out of necessity and a responsibility to provide for my family I kept working to the point where I almost lost my finger,” he said. “I’ve seen other workers seriously injured at work, and they do not receive workers compensation or paid sick days to recover.”

Darnell Franklin, a Sky Chef employee who helps provide meals for domestic and international airline flights, said after the news conference that he did get a few paid sick days per year but not enough to help take care of his brother, who is fighting advanced cancer.

Several members of a national organization called Fight for $15 — which supports a $15-per-hour minimum wage — were also at the news conference to show their support. Many of them had joined a strike Monday morning demanding an increase in the minimum wage at a McDonald’s restaurant on North Lamar Boulevard.

Other supporters at the news conference included Julia Spann, president of the SAFE Alliance, which provides counseling and shelter to domestic violence and sexual assault victims. She said victims with jobs without paid sick leave often have to choose between putting up with abuse or losing their job by taking time off to seek help.

The news conference was sponsored by the Workers Defense Project, Unite HERE Local 23, Fight for $15, the Center for Public Policy Priorities, the SAFE Alliance, Young Active Labor Leaders and Casar.

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