Editorial

The Observer-Reporter building in Washington

No one will ever claim that Americans lack sufficient zeal when it comes to their jobs.

The United States has been called “the most overworked nation in the world.” We’re on the clock for close to 500 hours more than French workers, 260 more than the British and 137 more than the Japanese. Since 1950, the productivity of American workers has skyrocketed by 400%. We also take shorter vacations and take fewer days off than our counterparts in the developed world.

And, perhaps inevitably, some Americans end up heading to work while they’re sick. Sometimes, it’s because they believe they are indispensable and must be at their desks to finish some pressing tasks. Many workers, however, show up to their places of employment when they’re sick because they have no other choice. The reason? They have no paid sick leave.

As the coronavirus gained a foothold in the United States in March, there were calls on scores of newspaper editorial pages, including this one, for paid sick leave, arguing that it would help stop the spread of COVID-19. That remains the case, even though the issue is off the front burner, having been replaced by hundreds of other headlines and dozens of other crises in the interim. There is no federal law mandating paid sick leave, and only 11 states and the District of Columbia mandate paid days off for ill employees. Across the globe, 145 countries mandate paid sick leave, including most of our peers in the developed world.

Estimates have it that 3 in 4 American workers have some form of paid sick leave provided by their employers. Professional and managerial jobs are most likely to have paid sick leave, while part-time workers, particularly those in food preparation and child care, lose out. Just 56% of workers in construction or natural resource extraction industries have paid time off, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

On Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf sought to bring paid sick leave back to the fore by encouraging the state House and Senate to pass one of many paid sick leave bills that have been introduced in both chambers. The governor’s office is arguing that a paid sick leave law would help 400,000 Pennsylvanians, and would provide a boost to public health.

State Rep. Mike Schlossberg, a Democrat from the Allentown area and a supporter of paid sick leave, explained, “We’ve heard a lot of talk about essential workers in the last six months. Opponents of sick leave will argue that every worker is essential. That’s a perfectly valid argument to make if it’s one backed up with policy. You can’t tell a worker they are essential and then tell them their health is irrelevant.”

Legend has it that even some of the laborers who built the pyramids in Egypt more than 4,000 years ago were given some form of paid time off when they fell ill. Pennsylvania workers in the 21st century deserve the same.

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