December 10, 2020; Virginia Mercury
In this time of COVID-19, we would expect to be hearing more than we do about the need for paid sick leave. The issue came up early in the pandemic relative to grocery stores and other essential jobs, but it has otherwise disappeared from public discourse, although the problems a lack of sick leave causes during a pandemic are clear.
Despite the fact that the corporate sector denies it, we know this continues to be a large problem for low wage workers and public health. How? A recent report by researchers at Harvard’s Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy and the University of California San Francisco looked at the food service and retail industries in Virginia and found that only a third of their employees have paid sick leave.
Whether or not employees had paid sick leave varied less by capital or size of firm as much as by sector.
“We might assume that big firms with extensive HR systems and potentially deep pockets of course already provide paid sick leave, but that’s not true,” said Daniel Schneider, an author of the report and professor of public policy and sociology at Harvard University. “Large shares of workers at these firms report they don’t have access to their jobs.”
For instance, 93 percent of employees at hardware and building supply stores said they had paid sick time, but in casual dining restaurants, only seven percent of workers did.
In Virginia, 39 percent of Hispanic workers and 36 percent of White workers report having paid time off. That figure falls to 26 percent for Black employees. Rates are also lower for parents with children under the age of 10 and higher for workers without children.
The study was part of the work of The Shift Project, “an effort to collect data documenting the experiences and well-being of hourly employees across the country. Kim Bobo, executive director of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, reached out to him for state-specific data as part of the nonprofit’s advocacy efforts for a paid sick leave policy in Virginia.”—Ruth McCambridge