Brett Wilkins Pandemic Worker's Rights

Calls for Paid Leave Grow as Workers Face ‘Vicious Cycle’: Their Jobs or COVID Safety

Many workers who do not paid sick face the choice of staying home without pay and getting written up, or going to work while contagious.
A waiter serves food to customers dining indoors at Langer’s Deli in Los Angeles, California on August 7, 2021. (Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

By Brett Wilkins / Common Dreams

As U.S. workers ill with Covid-19 during the Omicron surge face the stark choice of staying home without pay at the risk of losing their jobs or reporting to work and possibly infecting colleagues and customers, progressives on Monday renewed calls for the implementation of paid sick leave at the national level.

“In the midst of a horrific pandemic, two-thirds of low-wage workers still lack access to paid sick leave. That is barbaric,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) tweeted.

“We must guarantee that all workers have a right to paid sick leave,” he added.

According to a report published Monday by Popular Information and the advocacy group More Perfect Union, workers at Red Lobster, the seafood restaurant chain owned by the private equity firm Golden Gate Capital, are being forced to report for work under threat of reprimands that could lead to termination.

The report states that:

James Swartz worked as a bartender at a Pennsylvania Red Lobster for a year-and-a-half starting in December 2019. He was paid $3.50 per hour, plus tips. In an interview, Swartz said when he developed Covid symptoms and told management he was not coming in for his weekend shifts, he was subjected to “threats.” Red Lobster management told Swartz that he “needed to come in for work” and if he didn’t show up or find another way to cover the shift he would “get written up.”

Another Red Lobster employee who did not want to be identified for fear of retribution told The Columbus Dispatch that “we don’t have sick days and yes, I go into work when I’m sick. If we call off, we get written up.”

The worker said they would be fired after four write-ups.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” Daniel Schneider, professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, told the Associated Press. “As staffing gets depleted because people are out sick, that means that those that are on the job have more to do and are even more reluctant to call in sick when they in turn get sick.”

One New Mexico worker, who also did not want to be identified, told the APthat they took time off to get tested for Covid-19 after experiencing symptoms of the illness.

“I thought I was doing the right thing by protecting my co-workers,” the worker—who lost $160 per day off—said. “Now I wish I just would’ve gone to work and not said anything.”

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) echoed the sentiments of many progressives when she tweeted Monday that “there’s a simple answer” to these workers’ dilemma: “Paid leave.”

Brett Wilkins

Brett Wilkins is staff writer for Common Dreams.

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