By Rev. Daniel Klawitter
My wife and I have lived in Denver for the past dozen years and in Park Hill for nine of those years. I love Denver and the Park Hill community. It has been a particular joy to get to know the many different neighborhood restaurants here and across the city, and I always try to treat restaurant workers with respect and dignity. After all, these are the folks serving us our daily food and trying to support their own families in a tough industry.
So it’s hard to see some of my favorite waiters and waitresses coming into work sick because they can’t afford to miss a day without pay. But Denver voters will soon have the chance to make Denver a healthier place to live by voting yes on Initiative 300, the paid sick days ballot measure. Nearly 108,000 Denver workers - 41 percent of the workforce - do not have paid sick days. Most of these are lower-wage workers who are forced to go into work sick rather than risk not being able to make ends meet at the end of the month or even losing their job.
A lack of paid sick leave is a huge public health issue. The workers without paid sick days typically have significant interaction with the public. For example, you could be getting more than you ordered with your lunch. That’s because over 72 percent of Denver’s restaurant workers – servers and cooks – do not get a single paid sick day.
Oddly enough, children’s health depends on paid sick days, too. Childcare center and preschool workers frequently don’t have paid sick days, putting the children in their care at risk of illness. And when parents have no paid sick days, many have no choice but to send sick children to school where the health of their classmates, teachers and childcare providers are put at risk. The result is increased illnesses and higher rates of infection for all. Paid sick days policies are good for working families.
If the initiative passes, all private sector workers in Denver will be able to earn one hour of paid sick and safe time for every 30 hours they work, up to nine days annually for full time workers and pro-rated for part-time employees. Smaller businesses with fewer than 10 employees would be able to cap paid sick and safe time to five days per year Companies that offer that much paid time off of any kind – vacation or personal – are in compliance with this measure as long as they allow their employees to use that paid time for sick days and doctor’s visits.
Recently nine professors at the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business came out in support of Initiative 300 because they say it’s good for business. When sick workers are able to stay home, the spread of disease slows and workplaces are healthier and more productive. Employees with paid sick days are more loyal and stay with their employer longer, reducing turnover and replacement costs.
Rev. Daniel Klawitter is an ordained Deacon in the Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Methodist Church and the Religious Outreach Organizer for FRESC: Good Jobs/Strong Communities, www.fresc.org.
Monday, October 10, 2011