While many in the LGBTQ community take paid sick days for granted, half of all workers in New York City — and two-thirds of low-wage workers — get no paid sick time. Many of these workers are LGBTQ. These workers don't have the luxury of putting their health first. When they get sick, instead of focusing on getting better, they are forced to choose between going to work sick to make rent at the end of the month or sacrificing their days’ wages and/ or getting fired. No one should be forced to make this choice.
Last week, Queers for Economic Justice returned from the International AIDS Conference to New York City, where a debate over whether employers should be required to give their workers paid sick days has become a leading issue in City Hall and in the media. Lack of paid sick days is a significant problem for New Yorkers living and working with HIV/AIDS, who don’t have the privilege of taking sickness lightly and must prioritize their health above all else when sick. This could mean staying home in bed to get needed rest or scheduling an emergency visit to the doctor’s office. Without the ability to take paid sick time, the health and economic security of people living with HIV/AIDS are jeopardized.
There is legislation pending in the City Council that would alleviate this problem by requiring most businesses to give a modest number of paid sick days to their workers to use for themselves or to care for a sick family member.
The legislation enjoys broad public support as well as a veto-proof majority of votes in the City Council. If passed, the legislation would lift a serious burden off the nearly 1.5 million workers in New York City who currently don’t get a single paid sick day. This is especially true for immigrant workers, people of color, and people with low-wage jobs, who are among the least likely to get paid sick days.
Paid sick days also play an important public health role. When sick workers go to work, they increase the spread of illness. Nobody wants to be served by a sick waiter at a restaurant. For people living with HIV/ AIDS, the risk of complications from influenza and other communicable illnesses make the public health importance of paid sick days particularly vital.
Considering how important this issue is to LGBTQ workers and our brothers and sisters living with HIV/AIDS, it’s disturbing that some of the most prominent and powerful opponents of the legislation come from within the LGBTQ community. The openly gay speaker of the City Council, Christine Quinn, is the single person standing in the way of the legislation’s passage. If she allowed the bill to the floor for a vote, it would fly through the Council.
Two years ago, Quinn chose not to bring the measure up for a vote. A backer of the speaker, Tony Juliano, the general manager of the gay bar XES Lounge in Chelsea, explained in a recent Daily News op ed why he supports her current intransigence. Despite saying he considers his workers to be family, he opposes giving them five paid sick days per year. Almost ninety percent of restaurant and bar workers don’t get paid sick days –– most go to work sick for fear of losing their jobs and many actually do lose them when they call in sick.
At Queers for Economic Justice, we have an initiative called Poverty and HIV/ AIDS Stop Together. Through this project, we are highlighting how issues like paid sick days connect anti-poverty work and HIV/AIDS activism. We are also launching a Queer Survival Economics initiative, which seeks to make visible the impact of the recession on LGBTQ communities. In today’s economy, workers are struggling to stay employed and provide for those closest to them, and they need paid sick days more than ever.
It’s time for the LGBTQ community to come together to support this safe, sane, and sensible policy.
Amber Hollibaugh and Brandon Lacy Campos are co-directors of Queers for Economic Justice.