This is a story of how Paid Sick Days saved my life.
I’m sharing this because of an upcoming important event in Pittsburgh.
Women from across the Pittsburgh region will gather on March 7 and 8 to underscore the need for paid sick days and call on people to pledge support for the local Paid Sick Days Ordinance making its way to the PA Supreme Court this year.
Pittsburgh International Women’s Strike, a coalition of more than 10 regional organizations and individuals, is convening a panel discussion about paid sick days on Wednesday, March 7 in Downtown, followed by a lunchtime rally and march with speakers throughout on Thursday, March 8.
According to the local Women’s Law Project memo in support of the Paid Sick Days Ordinance, “In a national survey of more than 4,300 restaurant workers, 88% of those surveyed reported not having paid sick leave, and 63% stated that they cooked and served food to customers while sick.”
These events are in solidarity with 2018 International Women’s Strike, a day of action, by women across the U.S. and in more than 30 different countries. Together we demand an end to gender violence and call for reproductive justice for all, labor rights, full support of providing social policies and benefits, an anti-racist and anti-imperialist feminism, and environmental justice for all.
My partner is an employee of the City of Pittsburgh. As registered domestic partners, we qualify for her to use her PTO (sick days) to care for my health needs as well as her own – just like any other family.
When I learned in October that I would likely need a hysterectomy and had to schedule several appointments and tests, she was able to take time off from work to accompany me. She handled the driving, the parking, paid careful attention to the doctor’s instructions, held my hand during the painful moments, and made sure we asked all of our questions.
My health deteriorated between the diagnosis and the eventual date of my surgery (January 10), so she also shouldered a disproportionate amount of household duties, pet care, errands, along with going to work every day. I developed a random virus which postponed my surgery until after the holidays.
Because of her employer-provided benefits, she was able to schedule to be with me for six days starting on the day of my surgery. She was here with me for every moment during those first difficult days. She handled everything so I could 100% focus on my recovery. She called the doctor to clarify questions, she reminded me of instructions, she connected the dots when things seemed amiss. She made sure the meds were on-hand and administered – often times during a hysterectomy recovery, people try to tough it out and not take the pain meds (Tylenol/Ibuprofen) which is one of the number on reasons we experience setbacks and long-term repercussions. That didn’t happen on her watch.
She returned to work on Day 7 with additional twist of having to walk an extra mile to and from work every day because I wasn’t able to drive her to the T. In the middle of January 2018. I was worried about her health, but she decided to take it one day at a time. She did this for two weeks straight during a really tough winter.
About four weeks into my recovery, I had a rough patch. I wasn’t able to get in touch with my doctor and I was overwhelmed & miserable. She was able to take off a sick day to stay home with me, help get me situated and handle the calls to the doctors. I needed her to be here with me to help me avoid a setback. And she was able to do that because she has Paid Sick Days.
She’s been able to flex her schedule a bit so she can drive me to evening appointments. She’s already requested off the day of my final post-surgical appointment.
So there’s a practical benefit to her having access to PTO for our family needs. It is always a good idea to have someone with you at medical appointments of any type, but especially when you are sick. She drives so I am not anxious about that safety issue. She will run to the pharmacy and be informed to address any conflicts or complications. If I’m acutely ill, I can get into bed and start healing instead of dealing with household obligations, at least for that first day or two. The sooner I get to rest, the sooner I regain my health.
There’s also a community benefit. If I’m contagious, I need to stay home and get better. I don’t need to spew my germs around the pharmacy, the store, the parking garage payment centers, etc. If you are like me, you’ve had that reaction when you see obviously sick people in public. My heart aches for them. I’ve been in the situation of being sick on my own and needing something so much, but not having the energy to get myself to the pharmacy or the store. It is a horrible feeling. But dragging myself out and back was equally awful.
There’s also psychological benefits. Being sick sucks. Being so sick you can’t function is terrible and knowing someone is around to do the things makes it so much easier. I don’t expect her to stay home every time I sniffle because sniffling doesn’t prevent me from taking care of myself and business. Being too sick to get up and down the stairs on my own does.
She’s not at work worried about me. She’s not distracted by phone calls or texts. She has the privilege of getting things sorted at home and returning to work to focus on doing her job.
My recovery from a hysterectomy has been relatively smooth, albeit with a few bumps in the road. I am fortunate in that regard. Well, maybe not. Maybe I’m fortunate that I had Laura home with me and accessible to support me. Maybe I’m fortunate that neither of us had that additional layer of fear about her job or income when we had to decide to go the Emergency Room or schedule an extra doctors appointment. Maybe I’m fortunate that her boss took the time to drop off a document at our home rather than drag Laura into the office to handle something. Maybe I’m fortunate that I went stir crazy from being confined to my home so long because Laura handled so many things that reduced my need to overextend myself.
I’m in the 8th week of my recovery. I can drive, I can lift things, and I can tell that my body is healing, but not 100% yet. I have to start back to PT soon for my shoulder – something that was postponed due to my surgery. I can drive myself to PT, but when I go to see the ortho doctor – I know Laura can be with me and help me figure out this next phase in my recovery.
Last week, we took our nephews to see the movie ‘Black Panther’ and then went to a local family restaurant for dinner. The theater had reclining seats so I could sit for nearly 4 hours without pain. But in the restaurant, our female server seemed distressed. The boys noticed it, too. They were concerned that she was sick with the flu and or a stomach virus because they’ve heard all the references to that epidemic. She forgot to order some of our meals, she forgot beverages, she brought the wrong thing to the table and finally she spilled a milkshake both on her tray and one nephew’s coat (he was fine.) I asked her several times if she was okay, but she insisted she was. Then someone replaced her with the new milkshake and said bluntly “Her stomach really hurts and she had to sit down.”
I didn’t think about the flu. I thought about my hysterectomy and the years of symptoms I experienced beforehand that made my “stomach really hurt” when I couldn’t take off a long stretch of work time. Or I lived alone without anyone to help me. Times when I was working retail or service jobs.
The oldest nephew asked me why the boss didn’t send her home if she was sick. His experience with his moms is that they stay home if sick or if the boys are sick. His teachers have been sick and so has his wrestling coach – they stay home or send replacements, etc. He didn’t see any difference between these professionals and this server.
Because he’s 11 and doesn’t understand inequity in employment. Because he doesn’t rank people’s value by the type of job they hold (except for professional wrestlers who are gods.) Because he is smart enough to know that her being sick might mean he gets sick or someone else gets sick.
He’s 11 and understood that this woman was not being treated reasonably.
Then he asked us if we were mad at her for messing up the order. I assured him that we understood she just made a mistake, it was nothing to be mad about. I reminded him that I and one of his mom had both recently had surgeries and needed time to recover. He understood compassion.
He didn’t understand treating this woman differently than me or his mom.
I showed him that I left her a HUGE tip (the manager comped our mistaken items) that I hoped would offset any wages she lost.
I don’t believe I’m exaggerating about Laura’s Paid Sick Days saving my life. Without them, I would not have successfully navigated all of this. Without them, I might still be struggling with really awful symptoms and sickness that derailed my qualify of life. Without them, we would have taken huge financial blows. We used to be two women earning women’s wages in the workplace to support our family. Now we are one woman earning women’s wages and one woman living on disability which is a proportion of my former women’s wages. We barely make 1 and 1/3 of our former standard of living and still have a family of two to support.
My nephew JJ was right – everyone deserves this. It is not only fair & just, but good economics and good science.
The Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association is wrong here. They are using their privilege and resources to fight an unethical and immoral court battle that could compromise public health. That’s not hospitality at all. Who is going to reserve a banquet facility from a business that openly discourages sick employees from staying home?
I wouldn’t and I think you should consider that, too.