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Paid sick leave countywide benefits all of us

For Cook County residents struggling to get by, getting sick can mean losing a paycheck. It can mean losing a job.

This is the reality for the single working mom whose toddler has a fever, the son whose aging parent ends up in the emergency room in the middle of the night, and the food service worker fighting off infection but hopping on the train to get to work.


With wages stagnating and most new jobs – especially entry-level ones – being created in the service industries, the prospect of missing a day of work often contends with economic insecurity and worry.

This isn’t right. Out of concern for the health and well-being of all Cook County residents, the county board is expected to take a final vote Wednesday to require employers to modernize workplace rules and provide paid sick leave to employees who have earned it.

The rules would protect everyone – not just people who wear a suit and fancy shoes to work.

In an effort to provide predictability and consistency for business owners, the county plan includes all the same benefits and provisions included in a recently passed Chicago ordinance. It would allow employees to earn one hour of leave for every 40 hours worked, up to five sick days a year. Employees must work to accrue the benefit; part-time workers build sick leave more slowly.

Many employers already provide this benefit to their workers, but nationally approximately one third do not. In the face of this problem, President Barack Obama recently signed an executive order requiring paid sick leave for about 1 million federal contractors.

There will be resistance from businesses and towns on the border of Cook County. However, there is no evidence that providing sick leave harms businesses; recent studies from the city of New York marked the additional cost at between 0.8-1.5 percent.

Building a healthy workplace benefits the safety and well-being of the whole community. Employees will not have to choose between losing pay and infecting customers.

As working parents, we know it can be hard to balance the demands of home with those of the workplace. But we are fortunate to have employers who offer good sick-leave policies. Many people in Cook County — disproportionately women, immigrants and people of color — are not so lucky.

It’s high time we join the rest of the developed world and take this step toward healthy workplaces for all. Our proposal isn’t going to keep anyone from getting sick. But it will give everyone the time to get well.

Bridget Gainer and Jesus Garcia are Cook County commissioners.

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