St. Paul Workers, Business and Faith Leaders Show Overwhelming Public Support for Paid Sick Policy
Tuesday evening, June 21, at a rally before and during a public hearing about Earned Sick and Safe Time the message was clear: workers, small businesses and community residents support this common sense policy that will help address the crisis facing thousands of families in St. Paul. An overwhelming majority of testifiers at the hearing spoke out in support of its passage, with 35 people speaking in support and 7 speaking against.
With nearly 41% of workers in St. Paul lacking access to earned sick and safe time, disproportionately women and people of color, the speakers urged the City to take action to ensure St. Paul families do not have to choose between their paycheck and their family’s health.
At a rally outside of the community center before the hearing, the crowd heard the story of Riley Davis, a St. Paul resident and worker who is part of Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, who works four jobs but does not have any paid sick time.
“I’ve worked shifts at coffee shops with a fever over 100 degrees, having to take breaks to throw up when I’ve had the flu. I’ve worked at a portrait studio with small children coughing up handfuls of mucus, ready to faint. I’ve pushed myself through since I can’t afford to take time off,” said Davis. “A few years ago, this powering through illness caught up to me and I ended up having to spend five days in the hospital. During those five days, I missed a total of eight shifts that I was scheduled to work between all of my jobs.
“I am always afraid that my health will keep me from work when in reality, having to work when I’m sick is constantly keeping me from my health,” continued Davis. “I hope St. Paul can make the decisions necessary to make this an easier choice for me. That choosing my health will not mean giving up my financial security or that my financial security won’t prevent me from keeping the public safe and healthy as well.”
While a few business lobbyists opposed the policy, business owners like Diane Brennan, owner of Fusion Hair Salon and leader with ISAIAH, spoke out in favor of the policy, stating that it “makes sense for business and is simply the right thing to do.” Also speaking before the listening session was Hilario de Leon, a restaurant worker and janitor who lives and works in St. Paul. De Leon, who is with CTUL, highlighted the need to make sure this policy has strong enforcement to protect workers.
“Never in my eight years of having two jobs have I been able to take a paid sick day when myself or my family are sick,” said de Leon. “This policy is important for workers because when we get sick, we don’t have any way to pay for our medicine. If we don’t get paid sick time, how are we going to rest and get better? After eight years working without paid sick days, I would like to be able to take one. It’s time for a change.”
ISAIAH had a strong presence at the hearing, with Rev. Javen Swanson, a pastor at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in St. Paul, hosting the rally before the hearing. More than half of the 130 people at the listening session were leaders from ISAIAH.
“The lack of earned sick and safe time in St. Paul is a crisis. Research shows that more than 72,000 St. Paul workers lack access to earned sick and safe time. And it disproportionately affects people of color,” said Swanson. “Implementing earned sick and safe time is the just thing to do. No one should have to choose between taking care of themselves and paying the rent or putting food on the table.”
The St. Paul City Council task force studying this issue held listening sessions and work groups over the last two months, spending dozens of hours listening to workers and business owners. Today’s public hearing was held by St. Paul’s Human Rights & Equal Opportunity (HREEO) Commission who is currently reviewing the task force’s proposed policy before it’s sent on to the City Council. This all comes just weeks after Minneapolis passed a similar sick time policy, joining over 22 cities, states and municipalities across the country passing this commonsense policy.